We are looking at the book of Proverbs. Like one who seizes a dog by the ears
is a passer-by
who meddles in a quarrel
not his own.
Remember last week we met two women who live in the pages of the book of Proverbs: Lady Wisdom and Madame Folly. The final question is: who are you going to follow: are you going to walk of the road of wisdom and strive to be wise, or will you be a fool and live a fool’s life?
Remember our definition of a proverb: “Short sayings, based on real life experience, that holds truth for everyday living.”
Wisdom is practical: it applies to everyday life. So today we look at a big part of our lives: work. If you are a student, your work is school. If you are a stay-at- home parent your work is managing a home. If you are retired your work is volunteering in the Kingdom of God. There are many proverbs that talk about work. We will focus our attention on this one:
“Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26 coneys are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.”
Introduction: Many people think that work is a 4-letter word. Most people see work as a necessary evil. It is something that they simply endure until the weekend. An means to an end ... just a way to get a paycheck. In fact, according to a Princeton management survey of the American public, 62% of Americans say they hate their jobs! Work can be hard. It can be a drag. Many find their jobs unfulfilling, hate Mondays and can’t wait for Fridays. They live for weekends and vacations. Is that the way it’s suppose to be?
Why aren’t all jobs like working in the Garden of Eden?
Donald Miller has challenged my mental picture of the Garden of Eden, and I like the end result. I’ve always pictured the Garden of Eden as something that might fit in a large estate, a small place that can be pictured in a Sunday School lesson, that a person could stroll across in an hour or two. And Adam’s “job” was to name all the animals. I considered this a menial and boring task that God could have done more efficiently himself.
Donald Miller suggests that the Garden was huge, maybe bigger than Yosemite National Park in California, and far more beautiful. More beautiful than any existing National Park. And instead of viewing a parade of animals and randomly picking names for them (cow, horse, slug), Adam put on a backpack and hiked through this gorgeous paradise and found the animals, observed them in their natural habitat, and, like a naturalist, wrote notes and finally came up with a proper latin name. This was a job, a calling. It was something important and exciting that God had called Adam to do. It may have taken him years or even decades to finish.
Don’t miss this: in the Garden of Eden, in the state of perfection, before sin entered human existence, people had jobs. They worked. They strove to accomplish things, things that God called them to do, things that made the world a better, more orderly place. Work may be a four letter word, but it is not a bad word in itself.
One of the things that it might mean to be made in the image of God is that we work. We first meet God as one who works. In the beginning, God created, he worked.
Look at Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The invisible, spiritual God shows us who he is by his work, by what he has created. We are finite, physical creatures and the only way we can even begin to comprehend God is through the work of his hands.
Part of being made in God’s image is that we work, we create, we are useful for things beyond ourselves.
Proverbs, God’s wisdom, says, if you want to learn something about work, consider some of those animals that Adam searched out in the Garden of Eden. They are small ones. They must have taken a while to find and identify. But if we spend some time considering them and their way of life, we’ll see something of wisdom in them. We can learn from these four small and wise critters:
I. Ants - work hard and work smart.
When ants are referenced in the Bible, they are commended for two things: working hard and planning carefully, or working smart.
Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
A. Laziness is not a spiritual gift. One of the things about human beings, since ancient days when the Proverbs were written, is that fallen sinful people tend toward laziness. Work, especially after the fall into sin, has become difficult.
1. If you read Genesis 3, the account of Adam and Eve sinning against God for the first time, then you see that as a result:
a. the ground is cursed
b. labor become painful - toil
c. there will be thorns and thistles
d. and sweat and pain are part of work
e. No wonder we’d prefer to avoid work.
2. To summarize the Proverbs: being lazy is not wise.
3. Proverbs 10:4 “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.”
a. remember proverbs are generally true, promises are always true.
b. So a person can work hard and not be wealthy, while another man is lazy but wins the lotto.
c. But generally, lazy people are poorer than hard-working.
d. Consider the ant. Don’t be lazy. Don’t waste your energy. Rather, work intelligently and work hard.
B. Proverbs is a book of wisdom, and in wisdom there is a sense of balance. Some people need to be told to work more, some people need to be told to work less. Some people work hard to chase more and more money, or success, or power. Some find their worth only in what they do for a living, some escape the unpleasant situations at home by working constantly.
1. We need a balance between work and play - enjoying what is good.
a. Proverbs 15:16-17 “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” Work and money are not the only things in life, not even the most important things in life.
b. God encourages us to work hard, but to enjoy the fruit of our work. Proverbs 12:27 “The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.”
c. “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).
d. Just as God rested on the seventh day and took in his creation, the work of his hands, so we need time to simply be, and sit back and enjoy the goodness of creation.
2. Some people are consumed with greed and want more and more and are never content with what they have. While others work too much for psychological reasons: workaholics. They are addicted to work. Workaholic thrives on work. It is the only thing they do well. Their family is difficult to control, their marriage is iffy, so they work.
3. How do you know if you need to hear and heed proverbs that urge us to work or proverbs that urge relaxation and rest? I think there are at least 4 ways to know where you are in the balance:
a. your own internal gauge (unless you are a work-a-holic)
b. your close relatives (your mother, your spouse). If you walk through the door of your house and your wife says, “And you are?” you might be spending too much time at the office.
c. your boss (though he won’t tell you that you are working too much or too hard -- in a capitalist economy most bosses will let you work yourself to death)
d. your paycheck.
This second animal in the lot is the most difficult to understand and interpret. The NIV passage says: Prov 30:26 “coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags;”
What is a coney, what is a crag, and why should we care?
Coney is mentioned only here and in Leviticus 11, where OT Isrealites were told that coneys are unclean and not to eat them. They are listed near rabbit. It is believed that they are small furry mammals that live among rocks, looking something like a prairie dog. In other words, in the PNW, a marmot.
What do we learn from marmots? If you’ve ever seen a marmot in the wild, it was near a rock slide or a place with lots of hiding places.
Small, weak, and wise. What do learn from a marmot?
II. Marmots - finding your niche (under a rock)
Some pastors “spiritualize” a passage like this. So, learn from the ant and prepare for the winter ahead: are you prepared for the coming winter of judgement? And then, the coney, the marmot, finds shelter under the rock -- Jesus is the rock of our salvation: are you under the rock of Jesus Christ?
The problem with that is that this passage is wisdom literature. It’s concern is everyday life, how we live and work and play. We need to prepare for judgement day, and Jesus is the rock and the only source of forgiveness. But that’s not the chief concern of this Bible passage.
Consider that marmot again.
A. A marmot knows that it is no match to it’s predators, so it finds security, it finds places were it can live and thrive and be safe. It is small but wise.
1. Admitting our limitations is one of the keys to finding the right job and satisfaction in that job. Finding our niche, that little place in the big world where you belong, where you can be free to be you, little furry mammal.
2. We are told when we are children that you can be anything you want to be: you can go to the moon or be the next great genius or the President of the US. Theoretically that might be true, but practically it isn’t. And we have fostered a great discontent in our national psyche.
3. Look at the coney, the prairie dog, the rabbit, the marmot. Small, defenseless. But it knows it. And so it finds a home in the rocks.
B. You can’t do everything. You can’t be everything. But you can be you, you can do what God created you to do. Find you niche and live in it, and be the best marmot you can be.
1. Most of us at some point in our lives wonder what that niche is: why did God make me? Why am I here, now? What am I to do?
a. We are asking questions about the will of God for us, finding our “vocation”
b. I spent some time with a recruiter, who does recruiting for high- level executives (he wasn’t trying to recruit me). One of the questions he asks potential recruits is this: if you could do something other than what you are doing right now, what would it be?
c. How long it takes to answer that question shows whether you think you are doing what you were meant to do, whether you are content or longing for something else.
d. Finding your niche, again, takes wisdom. Some need to view discontent at work as the Spirit’s prompt to find a new job or career, while others need to see discontent as something to test their character, their resolve to do what God is calling them to do.
2. I find one of Ronald Reagan’s famous proverbs a bit over-simplistic: “The man who does what he loves will never work another day in his life”. You can do what you love to do, but some days it’s hard work, it’s toil, there are thorns and sweat involved even in jobs people love.
3. What about retired people: what is your niche? Obviously you can’t do some of the things you once did. But don’t buy the lie of our culture that old people are useless -- you are still alive for a purpose. And in God’s Kingdom, there is no retirement from serving Christ. We need our elderly Christians to serve in the ways God calls you to serve!!!
C. We are all but small, furry mammals ourselves. We need others. We need to recognize our limitations.
III. Locusts - working together
“locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks” Proverbs 30:27
A. Remember these animals are highlighted as being small and wise. Locusts are like grasshoppers. I can squish a grasshopper. But not a million of them. Their strength is in their numbers. So what is the message here?
1. We need others. We cannot work in a vacuum. We need to build relationships with others, work together for a common purpose.
2. Synergy, the exponential power of working together. “Many hands make light work.” In our economy of extreme competition, we often forget that we can accomplish more together than apart, that working together makes us strong
3. The most valuable employees are those who get the purpose of the company, grasp the vision, and do their part to attain it.
IV. Geckos - becoming useful
One of the weird things you notice in Asia are little lizards crawling around church buildings or in your hotel room, and no one seems to mind. I’ve been amused watching geckos crawling on the ceiling, wondering what would happen if they fell in someone’s hair during the sermon.
They could be caught, but they aren’t. Why? No one seems to mind them. Why are geckos in church? Why are they allowed to stay? Because everyone knows that they are harmless and they catch bugs that are harmful.
“a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.” Proverbs 30:28
The message from these lizards is pretty simple:
A. Don’t be harmful. Rather, be useful. If you make yourself useful, even if your boss doesn’t like you, you won’t lose your job.
a. I worked in a kitchen two summers in college. There was a big guy named Butch who washed dishes. Our boss, the head cook, was a real jerk, always putting people down, degrading them. Finally, Butch had it and chased the cook out of the kitchen and tackled him and started to beat him up.
b. A few interesting things happened. First, one of the other cooks got in the middle to stop the fight. (I asked why: he said cause he didn’t want to be the only cook -- he didn’t like the gecko cook, but he needed him around). I grabbed one of Butch’s arms, because I knew one person could not stop him. Butch got a few good punches in first.
c. Here’s what is interesting: Butch didn’t lose his job. He got a half hour break and was back to work. Why? Cause he was a gecko -- no one else wanted to wash dished eight hours a day. He had great job security. He could take the boss out and woop his hide and still have a secure job.
d. more significantly . . .
B. Finding a purpose (hopefully one higher than eating bugs) adds worth to creation and to ourselves. It gives us a sense of dignity.
a. It is depressing to sit around and do nothing. Fine on vacation. But too long of it and it’s not good for you. It’s not how we were created.
b. It is a great feeling to accomplish something. To get a job done, a job well done builds a person’s character and self-esteem.
C. The Bible teaches us that God uses work to build our self-esteem. Ecc. 3:13- “It is a gift from God to be able to eat and drink and experience the good that comes from every kind of hard work.” One of the gifts of God is work, and the good feeling, the sense of worth, that comes from doing a good job. Your work, when you do it well, will give you a sense of dignity.
1. Bill Hybels in, The Christian in the Marketplace, says, “Dignity is available to every person in every legitimate profession. The farmer who plows the straight furrow, the accountant whose books balance, the trucker who backs a 40’ rig into a narrow loading dock, the teacher who delivers a well-prepared lesson, the carpenter who crafts a piece of furniture, the secretary who types the paper accurately, the mother who tends to her children faithfully.. all experience dignity as they commit themselves to their labors. A lot of our self worth comes from our jobs.”
Our work gives us a sense of personal worth, and it also can be used to glorify God.
Challenge: Work as worship. Adam didn’t go to church. He spent time talking with God, walking with God. And he obeyed, he did what God asked him to do.
“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” Proverbs 21:3
We can worship God here in church, but also out there, in our faithful work.
This passage was written to people with the most awful jobs, slaves:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”Colossians 3:23-24
The movie, "Chariots of Fire" tells the true story of Eric Liddel, an Olympic runner who won a Gold medal for Scotland in the 1930’s. Liddel’s parents were missionaries to China and Eric and his sister Jenny were going to China to be missionaries too. But when Eric decided to delay going to China to enter the Olympics, his sister Jenny was exasperated with him because she felt he should go into missionary work right away. So, Eric takes his sister for a walk in order to explain his reasoning. “When I run, I feel His pleasure. When I win (When we do our jobs well) I honor Him.”
Who are you running for? Our jobs were meant to be so much more than getting a paycheck. Can you go to work on Tuesday or maybe tomorrow with Eric Liddel’s words on your heart?
When we spend some time considering these small and wise critters, the very ones Adam hunted down to name in the Garden of Eden, we learn something about our vocation, our lives work.
Like an ant, work hard and plan.
Find your nitch like a marmot.
Value and work well with others to accomplish more than you can alone.
And be useful, find a purpose higher than a paycheck. Pity the person who works only for a paycheck and sees no higher purpose in their daily work. No wonder more than half of Americans hate their work. Serve God in your job and you’ll end up loving it!