A man had fallen into an old, dry well and was stuck at the bottom. He called out for help and finally someone came by. The person lowered a rope down to the man. The man grabbed the rope, looked at it, and asked, “What happens if this rope breaks?” Fortunately, the person on top had enough rope so they doubled it and dropped it back down. Then the man in the bottom of the well asked, “What happens if the rope rubbing against the stone frays it and it breaks?” So, the person got a blanket and laid it between the top stone of the well and the rope. Finally, the man said, “What happens if you’re not strong enough to get me out?” He heard a sigh of exasperation from the person on top and then this question, “Let me ask you this, what happens if you stay where you are?”
When it’s time for action, sometimes we can get paralysis from analysis. The future belongs to the bold, or as Paul told Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
There’s quite a bit in Proverbs about boldly taking initiative and being industrious. From the ambitious ant (6:6ff), to the worthy woman of chapter 31:10ff, the book is full of exhortations and examples of being pro-active rather than passive in our lives. But just as generosity in Proverbs is most often spoken of under the guise of materially assisting others, industriousness is generally addressed under the topic of work.
In Proverbs, it’s work connected with livelihood, but in principle we should think about any kind of work in our lives—what we do on at a job, in school, at home, in relationships, and especially the work of faith involved in being disciples of Jesus. Anytime there is a task that needs to be done, Proverbs challenges us to get after it.
The ant is singled out as an example for the lazy person in 6:6-8. Have you ever seen an ant that wasn’t on the go? If so, it was probably dead. Ants are known for their activity. Yet they have “no commander, no overseer or ruler” (v. 7). They do this on their own!
On the subject of slackness, Proverbs does not mince words. “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (18:9). We’ve all been dismayed when there’s a natural disaster or social uprising of some kind and a few people use the occasion to loot and destroy property. It’s senseless and sad. Here we’re told the person who fails to give their best at whatever work they do is related to the person who destroys. The message is clear: approaching something halfway is more destructive than productive. After all, do you want to drive a car, a house, or buy any product that someone did a halfway job of making?
There’s no call in any of these texts to worship work, but rather to be industrious and self-initiating in regard to the opportunities that God sets before us.