Identifying laziness and learning to overcome
In the hypercompetitive, stressful world we live in, it is possible to look at the outward signs of inertia in someone and jump to the conclusion that they are just being lazy when in reality, there could be various other reasons. How do we recognise genuine laziness and what does the Bible have to say about it?
A lazy person has an outright aversion to work or exertion. The Bible shows us that lazy people will:
- Chase after worthless pursuits | Proverbs 12:11 ESV Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
- Tell fanciful tales in order to avoid work or activities | Proverbs 26:13 ESV The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!”
- Be unwise and yet think of themselves as wise | Proverbs 26:16 ESV The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.
- Love sleeping | Proverbs 26:14 ESV As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.
- Squander their provisions and blessings | Proverbs 26:13-16 ESV The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
- Bring shame to their family | Proverbs 10:5 ESV He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
- End up not having enough | Proverbs 10:4 ESV A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
What laziness is not
This is different from someone who is struggling with:
- Depression | They have lost the motivation to do anything, even the things they love. Also, see Acknowledging the spiritual roots of depression.
- Discouragement | They have given up for various reasons. Perhaps other people have put them down with malicious and discouraging words or they have experienced repeated failures.
- Low self-esteem | They don’t believe that they can achieve anything worthwhile, so they don’t try. Also, see Breaking the curse of low self-esteem.
- Procrastination | They suffer from anxiety and drag their feet to come to any decision. This leaves them in a state of inaction.
- Emotional overload | They are overwhelmed by emotionally disturbing events and feel helpless to move forward.
- Self-hatred | They loathe themselves and rather die. Hence, they have no motivation for life. Also, see A prayer to overcome self-hatred.
- A witchcraft spell | They are under a witchcraft hex or curse. Hence, they are filled with unexplainable fear and dread, have difficulty thinking clearly, and become stuck. Also, see Breaking free from witchcraft curses.
Each of these states can be confused with laziness at times. We need to note that they have different roots and are best addressed separately.
Other times, someone can be wrongly accused of being lazy, as a result of:
- Different motivations | They aren’t motivated to do the things assigned to them to do due to a conflict of personal morals or values.
- Need for rest | They are in a much-needed season of rest, particularly after burn-out.
- Season arranged by God | God may arrange a time where they step out of the rat race as He prepares them for a new season in life. Moses, for example, wandered in the desert for 40 years before God called him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelite slaves and lead them to the Promised Land. During those 40 years, Moses became very familiar with the desert terrain. In addition, the people who wanted him dead passed away during those four decades, making it safe for him to return to Egypt. We too may go through “desert” seasons where we don’t seem to be as active as before because God is switching gears in the pace of our lives for His higher purpose.
Exodus 4:19 ESV And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.”
Productivity is the opposite of laziness. Yet we also need to understand that productivity for the sake of doing lots of things is meaningless.
God’s Word shows us that we are to “do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord” at the “proper time and procedure.” Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to lead us. We simply need to ask Him for the wisdom to discern His timing and His ways.
Ecclesiastes 8:5-6 NIV Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.
Deuteronomy 6:18 ESV And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
In general, here are some things that believers are called to do.
- Work heartily for God and serve Jesus Christ | Colossians 3:23-24 ESV Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
- Lead a quiet life, mind our own business, work to provide for our own needs, and not rely on others | 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 ESV … But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
- Not just look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others | Philippians 2:4 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
- Share what we have with others | Hebrews 13:16 ESV Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Genuine laziness is a form of rebellion
A lazy person does not lack motivation. He or she just lacks the motivation to do meaningful work. Most of all, a lazy person is not interested in obeying God’s will, building His Kingdom on earth or bringing Him glory.
Let’s look at the parable of the lazy servant in Matthew 25 as an example.
A master gave three servants talents to steward. When called to give an account of his work, a lazy servant claimed to be afraid of his master, accused him to his face, and then finally reported that he had made no progress whatsoever. He made his lack of productivity his master’s fault.
This servant could have gotten other people to do the work for him in order to appease his master, by depositing the talent with the bank in order to earn interest, but he did not even do this. Instead, the only “work” that he did was to bury the master’s talents in the ground, which is arguably more strenuous than going to the bank.
Matthew 25:24-30 ESV He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
We see that the lazy servant’s reasoning did not make any sense. If he was truly afraid of his master, he would have worked diligently so as not to upset him. Instead, he did just the opposite. The servant wasn’t incapable, depressed, or given too much to handle. The fact is that he despised and rebelled against his master. For this, the servant was punished in hell i.e. “the outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is a very serious consequence for sloth.
Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We see that laziness is a form of rebellion and idolatry. We spurn God’s will and entertain our own frivolous desires. We will “eat and drink and rise up to play” and ignore God’s intent for our lives. We squander our spiritual gifts that are mean to build up His Kingdom.
Colossians 3:5 NLT So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
1 Corinthians 10:7 ESV Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
God created every person with good works to fulfill while we are on earth. Lazy people try to get away with doing nothing, usually at other people’s expense. They do not consider others first or try to honour them. Laziness is not compatible with following Jesus.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
1 Samuel 15:23 NLT Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
1 Corinthians 10:24 ESV Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
Romans 12:10 ESV Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Laziness will ultimately lead us into a state of spiritual slumber. If we don’t choose to wake up from our laziness, we will fall into a “coma” that eventually lead to spiritual death.
Proverbs 19:15 ESV Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.
A prayer to repent of laziness
If we recognise that we have been rebelling against God through our laziness, here is a prayer we can pray to repent.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
Today, I confess that I have been lazy and willfully spurning Your good and perfect design for my life. For all the times I ignored Your Spirit when You nudged me or when I wasted the opportunities You have given me, please forgive me.
James 4:17 ESV So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
I confess that I have been influenced by various people and worldly teachings, (please name them), and have allowed slothfulness to become a stronghold in my life. I forgive those people for leading me into foolishness and cut ungodly soul ties with them. They are not my teachers. Father in heaven, You are my Teacher and I will honour and follow You.
Proverbs 13:20 ESV Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Matthew 23:8-9 ESV But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
My own spirit has been dulled by slothfulness and I ask You to wake my human spirit up, in Jesus’ name. Please renew a loyal spirit within me, oh God.
Psalm 51:10 NLT Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
I confess I have few results to show from my salvation and have not been a good testimony to others. I invite You to give me a new heart and a new perspective so that I desire after what pleases You and have the power to follow through.
Philippians 2:12-15 NLT Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
Have I been like the wicked and lazy servant and judged You wrongly? Please forgive me for thinking that You are (please list all judgments of God).
James 4:12 ESV There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Please search my heart and show me if there are emotional issues that I have tried to ignore and numb myself to by resorting to laziness. Do I silently hate myself or suffer from low self-esteem? Am I discouraged, depressed, or overwhelmed emotionally? Is my slothfulness the result of witchcraft? Have I done anything that invited a spirit of laziness into my life or have I been placed under a witchcraft spell?
As I fast (from food) and wait on You, please show me the spiritual, emotional, or mental strongholds that I may need to break free from. I want to seek You with all my heart. Please how what You want me to do next.
Joel 2:12 ESV “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
How have I been deceived into chasing “big and quick wins” and other frivolous ideas, have feared failure, pain, and other people, have struggled with shame, or have developed addictions that keep me from You? Please show me the roots of any false belief, fear, and addiction, so that I can confess them and be freed from them for good.
Father in heaven, thank you for Your grace and forgiveness. Teach me to number my days so that I no longer test Your grace or provoke Your anger.
Psalm 90:11-12 ESV Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
As I study the Bible, please convict my heart and change the way I think, so that I am renewed to be more and more like Jesus, Your Son, every day.
Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
Help me develop the self-discipline I need in order to follow You all the days of my life. Thank God that nothing I do will be in vain when I obey Your will and follow Your commands.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
James 1:2-4 NLT Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
May I not stray away from You again. Help me to understand Your good and perfect will and turn away from evil.
Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
In Jesus’ name, amen.”
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