A quick search of sloths online will point you to an avalanche of all things associated with the world’s slowest-moving mammal. T-shirts, movies, books, and photos document our love affair with these furry creatures. There must be something that draws us to them. Is it the slow pace of their lifestyle? Is it their relaxed attitude? Is it their apparent chill vibe?
Ironically, sloth, the word so closely associated with these beloved creatures, is listed as the last of the seven capital sins. Tsh Oxenreider explains, “It might seem like a strange bedfellow with the likes of pride, wrath, or greed; could it be that God considers laziness to be as bad as those vices?” (p. 115 Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter)
Tsh explains that sloth, according to Thomas Aquinas, means “sorrow for spiritual good.” Growth and vigor in our spiritual life require regular exercise and effort. Autopilot in the area of discipleship doesn’t work. Spiritual apathy can overtake us far too quickly. We must actively and regularly seek the Lord to avoid slothful outcomes.
An Active Role
The psalmist in the second half of Psalm 34 reminds us of the action needed.
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:11-14 ESV)
Fear and respect for the Lord do not come to us naturally. Active and regular time scheduled daily provides learning time. Years ago, the pastor I served with said the decision about whether to attend church each week doesn’t occur on Sunday. Church attendance results from a series of choices that must be made days earlier and planned accordingly. Choosing to rest on Friday and Saturday sets you up to be ready and energized for church on Sunday. A decision to go to bed early on Saturday night provides enough sleep to get up and go the following day.
Weekly time spent in a faith community with God builds up believers and provides companionship on the faith journey. Jesus modeled this by traveling with his disciples. Lone ranger Christians struggle in isolation.
Seek and See Good
Humans love to see good (vs.12). We are drawn to the beauty in a baby’s smile or a piece of art. The Lord knows that we need to see what is good and beautiful.
Human flourishing is energized by active and regular exposure to beauty.
Meanwhile, evil in this world has the opposite effect. Being in the presence of evil leads to spiritual corrosion. Hence the commands in verses 13 & 14, “keep your tongue from evil” and “turn away from evil.”
An area of real challenge for every follower of Jesus is to turn away from the evil the entertainment industry serves up. There is some excellent content right next to some dismal choices. An active and regular effort is required to curate what is taken in for entertainment. It is far too easy to allow fatigue to lower resistance and reduce discernment. Auto-play features on streaming services take me to places I don’t need to go. I can’t afford to be slothful with my media habits.
Turning from Evil
Simply turning away from evil is not enough. One has to take an active and regular pursuit of peace. Strife multiplies in our modern world, and offense is taken like a daily vitamin. Peace eludes those unwilling to seek the Lord.
Ultimately the Lord calls me to turn away from evil because He refuses to be in evil’s presence. If I am keeping close company with Him, I will lack any desire to seek out evil.
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. 20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. 21 Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. 22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:15-22 ESV)
Verses 15, 16, and 17 remind me that as I am tuned into the frequency of the Lord’s wavelength, He is also tuned into my wavelength. I actively and regularly listen to hear His voice, and He hears mine.
Finally, the last section of this psalm, verses 18-22, speaks to the Lord’s promises to practice the ministry of presence in my life.
The Lord can look into each of us and see our hearts. He is not confused or distracted by our outside appearances. While other human beings can never really understand our sufferings, the Lord can.
The Lord is willing to be near the brokenhearted and keep company with us in times of suffering. Our friends and family can become overwhelmed by our brokenness, but He never does.
If I am right with God, can I avoid all afflictions? No
Verse 19 says righteous people may experience many afflictions, yet the Lord delivers His people. The outcome is always in the Lord’s hands.
The Lord “keeps all his bones,” and not one is broken, refers to how His Father held Jesus together. No bones were broken is a prophecy fulfilled. While we don’t have the guarantee of no broken bones, we do know that our Heavenly Father pays close attention to every aspect of our suffering. Nothing escapes His notice. He is actively and regularly checking in on me.
God specializes in reclaiming what others might have written off. He redeems the lives of those who actively and regularly seek the refuge of salvation made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In spiritual warfare, believers are encouraged to don our spiritual armor. One key piece is the “helmet of salvation.” This piece plays an essential role in reminding us whose we are. The helmet of salvation covers our minds with the knowledge of our salvation and our new identity. Take time to regularly and actively thank the Lord for our new identity. This truth should never become worn out, and we should walk as a child of the light. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)
Lord, help me not to become weary of seeking You and doing what is right. Please help me to actively and regularly seek you first and avoid slothful solutions. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.