We spend nearly half of our waking hours working. That’s a significant chunk of life. Whether it’s paid or unpaid work we’re engaged in, the Bible has a lot of guidance. God himself is a worker and has designed human beings to reflect his image through working and creating in the world (see Genesis 1:28).
The Old Testament book of Proverbs is a goldmine when it comes to wise living, both in reference to God and other people. True wisdom begins with a personal knowledge of God through relationship with him (Proverbs 9:10). I’m amazed at how frequently the subject of work comes up within the thirty-one chapters of Proverbs. Then again, when you consider how central work is to our existence, it really isn’t that surprising.
One of the most difficult things to teach associated with work is a healthy “work ethic.” A variety of complex factors, things like our personality, upbringing, past habits and internal motivation, have shaped our work ethic.
Here’s 7 ways to cultivate a work ethic in your life that is shaped by biblical wisdom:
1) Work Hard.
There’s something deeply satisfying and rewarding about a hard day’s work. Proverbs describes the man or woman who doesn’t work hard as a “sluggard” (Proverbs 6:6-11; 24:30-34). A sluggard is basically a lazy, unwise and foolish person who ultimately destroys their life through a refusal to work.
Two of the primary enemies of hard work are laziness and a love of sleep. A lazy, sleep-loving person is more likely to experience financial disaster (Proverbs 20:13). The sleep-lover is humorously pictured as fastened to their bed like a door hinge (Proverbs 26:14)! There’s a tension here. On the one hand, you can love sleep too much. On the other hand, you can rob yourself of rest, which is also unwise (Psalm 127:2).
2) Work Smart.
Proverbs 24:7 says, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” There’s an important principle in this word of wisdom. All work is not of equal importance, urgency or priority. If you have a great house, but nothing to eat, you’re in trouble. Work hard, but also work smart.
3) Work Righteously.
Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” Character matters. Cutting corners, shaving a little off the truth, distorting information to manipulate customers or clients may actually “pay off” in the short term. But, beware, the little compromises we make in our integrity will eventually run us off course toward a catastrophic shipwreck of our character! When it comes to character and integrity, it’s the little things that matter.
4) Work Diligently.
The antithesis of the “sluggard” in Proverbs is the “diligent” person. The diligent worker doesn’t follow worthless pursuits or get-rich-quick schemes (Proverbs 12:11; 13:4, 11). Diligence includes a willingness to dive in and get your hands dirty (Proverbs 14:4). To labor diligently means being a person marked by faithfulness, who will follow through with responsibilities (Proverbs 28:19-20). They can be counted on!
5) Fight Greed.
If you’re a slave to your own consumption and appetite, you won’t be able to cultivate a God-honoring work ethic. Greed can take a lot of forms. It’s not only limited to money and material things. Proverbs describes greediness with food and drink as gluttony (19:24; 26:15). Are you fighting greed in every dimension of your life?
6) Fight Fear.
The sluggard is controlled, even paralyzed, by fear (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13). The perceived dangers and threats of the world become an excuse for not taking action. Do something! For the sluggard, it’s better to not try than to try and fail. The sluggard is the ultimate pessimist. If you live in fear of failure, you’ll never make a significant impact with your life. You’ll never realize the potential of your work. Many of the most successful people in history failed more than they succeeded!
7) Fight Pride.
Proverbs describes the prideful person as being “wise in his own eyes” (26:16). Pride comes before a fall. Pride is at the root of all sin, because at its core it’s the worship of self rather than the worship of God. Pride is the desire to be God. Don’t pursue your own personal glory. Seek to glorify God. When you experience success in your work, shine the spotlight in humility upon your Creator. Take yourself off the pedestal that is reserved for God alone.
What next step will you take to cultivate a wise work ethic in your life?