[Note: this column is one of a series. Each column in the “Boy To Man” series is designed for a father to read with his 12-year-old son as he embarks on his journey to manhood. The series is based on the conviction that the book of Proverbs was intended by Solomon to be a manual for fathers to use in turning their sons from boys into men.]
A man works hard; a boy is a slacker
“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” ~ Proverbs 14:23 (NIV)
“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” ~ Proverbs 10:4 (NIV)
As a man, God has made you for work. Working hard with your own hands to provide for your needs and the needs of your family is central to what it means to be a man. You have been called to be both a protector and a provider for your family.
One of my good friends was independently wealthy, and did not need to work a single day in his life. (To his credit, he developed a successful career as a pastor and then a counselor, refusing to coast on inherited wealth.) I wasn’t in his position. If I didn’t work, my family didn’t eat.
I’ve never regretted that, even for a single day, and never wished I could have traded places with him. I drew great satisfaction knowing that my wife and my children were depending on me, and that I was taking care of them. “The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on” (Proverbs 16:26, NIV). I like to eat, and I wanted my family to be able to eat, and that drove me to work hard.
In fact, I’d urge you not even to think about retiring. Sure, you may reach a point where you can slow down, and may shift your energies to a different kind of work. For instance, I have a good friend who “retired” from a long and successful career with a high tech firm, but soon found himself working as an administrator in his local church. As men, God made us to engage in productive work as long as God gives us breath. As I used to tell the men in my church, don’t retire, reload.
Some people wrongly think that work is a consequence of sin, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. God placed man in the garden of Eden “to work it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:16), well before sin entered the human race.
Now to be sure, sin has made work more difficult than God intended it to be. Because of Adam’s sin, God said, ”Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you...by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:16-19).
Notice the promise God has made to us here. Even though work will be tiring and frustrating at times, nevertheless God assures you that through your hard work “you shall eat.”
There is no job that is free of “thorns and thistles,” little things that keep a good job from being a perfect job. I was talking with a friend of mine once, back in the 1980s, before the era of computers had arrived. He was an insurance adjuster, and he loved every part of his work except for one thing: his employer insisted that every form he turned in had to be filled out in triplicate, meaning he had to turn in three copies of every form.
In those days, he had to use a typewriter and carbon paper, which had ink that kept getting all over his hands. It was a perfect job, except for that one little thing, and it aggravated him no end. Every job you ever have will have its thorns and thistles, its carbon paper, but my friend worked hard at his job and it enabled him to support himself and his family.
And so it will be for you. Your “thorns and thistles” may be difficult bosses, difficult coworkers, and maybe even forms you have to fill out. The point is that even a good job is not going to be a perfect job. But stick with it, power through it, and you will learn what Solomon teaches: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).
Your first job will be doing chores for your folks. Your dad will be your first boss. Learn how to take correction from him and make it your aim to please him by doing your chores faithfully and well. You’ll begin to develop work habits - discipline, responsibility, being a self-starter, meeting deadlines, and working without grumbling - that you will need in the workplace for the rest of your life.
Never think that any job is beneath you. Remember that there is nobility and “profit” in “all hard work.” On my glide path to developing my career, I worked in a car wash (making $1.65 an hour), a slaughterhouse, a tomato packing shed, a vineyard picking grapes, a department store, a steel and wire factory, in more than one restaurant as a waiter, and for a company that turned grapes into raisins.
I also worked as a radio disc jockey, a sports broadcaster doing local high school football and basketball games, and for ABC television, working in the production truck for baseball broadcasts from the old Astrodome in Houston and football broadcasts from Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. I learned something valuable in every job.
As you get older, people will start dangling get-rich-quick schemes in front of you that promise instant wealth with little to no work. Make up your mind you will avoid all such quick-strike schemes, for the simple reason that they don’t work and you may lose every dime you’ve invested. “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies (i.e., shortcuts to making big money) will have his fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19, NIV).
I remember a prominent Christian businessman in my hometown who promised his fellow Christians that if they invested their money with him, they would receive an interest rate of two percentage points above prime, that is, two percentage points above the best return they could get anywhere else. Because of his prominence in the Christian community, dozens if not hundreds of churchgoers took the plunge.
It sounded too good to be true, because it was. What he was doing was illegal. He wound up in a federal penitentiary and all his investors lost everything. They had all chased a fantasy and wound up with their fill of poverty.
Solomon has much to say about what he calls a “sluggard,” someone who is simply too lazy to work hard. A sluggards always has an excuse as to why he can’t get to work or apply for a job. “There is a lion outside!” he says, “I will be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13).
Solomon pictures a sluggard as a man who has a bowl of M&Ms in his lap and falls asleep with his hand still buried in the candy. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 26:15, NIV). Quite an image, isn’t it?
At another point, Solomon pictures him as a guy just too lazy to get out of bed to go to work. Instead, he simply rolls over when the alarm goes off. “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” (Proverbs 26:14). That’s another vivid word picture. Instead of getting up, he just turns over on his side, like a door opening and then closing, back and forth, while the day marches on.
The lesson? “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come on you like a bandit” (Proverbs 24:33-34). Solomon’s point? Don’t be that guy.
Father, I pray that you will grow my son into a man who works hard to supply his own needs and the needs of his family. Please direct him to a career and a line of work that will make full use of all the abilities and talents you have given to him. And bless the labor of his hands that his needs may be abundantly satisfied. In Jesus’ name, amen.