We are familiar with the work ethic. “Work ethic is a set of values based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. A work ethic may include being reliable, having initiative, or pursuing new skills. Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion. Workers who fail to exhibit a good work ethic may be regarded as failing to provide fair value for the wage the employer is paying them and should not be promoted or placed in positions of greater responsibility.” (Source: Wiki)
Hard work, diligence and productivity are highly-praised as important values and virtues the modern man must possess. That’s why this philosophy has driven man to work even harder and longer making him or her workaholic.
The Bible is replete with praises for diligence and denounces slothfulness and idleness: Prov. 10:4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Prov. 12:24 The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. Prov. 12:27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth. Prov 13:4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Prov. 19:15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. Prov. 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. Pro. 22:29 Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.
Also, the apostle Paul in 1Th. 5:14 urged the Thessalonians to admonish the idle among them. Apparently some members of the Thessalonian church are sloth, lazy and idle -- working not at all, busying themselves with other men's matters, and living upon the church's stock. He reproves them for their sloth, exhorts them to work with their own hands, to do their own business, and with a quietness eat their own bread.
So perhaps it comes as a surprise to you that I titled this article The Beauty of Idleness. It looks like I am contradicting the plain truth set forth in the Bible.
But, what kind of idleness I am referring to, that is beautiful and beneficial for us?
I remember an old but familiar proverb that states “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” This famous quote is from Howell’s Proverbs, written by James Howells (1594 – 1666), a 17th-century Anglo-Welsh historian and writer. (Source: Wiki)
This proverb simply means that without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring. It is not good to work all the time. It is not healthy for someone to work all the time and never play. You need to get out and have fun.
Taking vacation leaves, even sabbatical leaves and periodic time off from work in the course of our working years is proven to be beneficial to our whole being. Introspection (the process of looking inward and examining one's self and one's own actions in order to gain insight) and the "contemplative habit of mind" requires an idleness in which we become light-hearted, playful and able to engage in free chosen activities, which are at the same time constructively and satisfying.
In my own experience as a busy pastor, even a day off from my daily routinely duties of caring for the church afforded me an opportunity to leisurely and idly pass the time away. Breaking the monotony of work by engaging ourselves into some kind of activity is always refreshing for our body, mind and soul. After the times of idleness and just loafing around and leisurely savoring our lives in introspection and contemplative thinking and engaging ourselves with lighthearted and playful activities, we would always come back to our work with renewed enthusiasm, zeal, zest and gusto. Such times as these, they enrich our creativeness, productivity and effectiveness of our work.
In the Old Testament, God gave Israel a very special law regarding the land -- a commandment to allow the land to rest from active agricultural production every seventh year. It was called the "land Sabbath." Observance of this seventh year rest for the land allowed the land to rejuvenate itself. It prevented the exploitation, and forcing and abusing of the ground. It allowed the land to re-gather its strength and fertility. But the land Sabbath was also a benefit for man, the tiller of the ground. It gave the farmer an opportunity to devote his time to repairs on the farm, fences, barns, or even time for travel, education, and to do future planning. It was as well as "Sabbatical year" to pursue the study of God's Word in a more active way.
That's why there is beauty in idleness. What the Bible condemns is "walking in idleness" or our way of life is spent in idleness. But the occasional interval of idleness or just loafing away time is one of the ways we can have abundant life. Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. And God richly provides us with everything to enjoy, including idleness. Idleness then is one way to spice our frail lives during the days of our earthly pilgrimage.