Counseling involves several issues different from the presenting problem. Secondary issues add complexities that challenges the counselor to make wise decisions regarding the best course of action to help struggling counselees. Most of the times, it is wise to keep the main thing in focus. However, there are times when it is necessary to deal with secondary issues as fast as you can.
Laziness is a common secondary issue that aggravates any presenting problem. Laziness is not secondary because it is not a sin, but because it is rarely the presenting problem. Usually, counselees are not seeking help because they are lazy and want to change. However, laziness becomes a powerful, aggravating issue. Laziness hinders true change because it keeps the counselee away from God-given sources of change.
Therefore, we need a biblical understanding and a Christ-centered solution for a common issue in counseling that aggravates any presenting problem. This is not a systematic approach on how to counsel the sluggard, but a biblical introduction to the matter.
Identifying the Sluggard
The Bible clarifies who is the sluggard. There are three main categories to identify a sluggard in the book of Proverbs. Note how laziness is going to hinder your attempt to counsel on each one of the categories below.
1. By What He Does
- “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15, ESV).
- “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” (Proverbs 26:14, ESV).
- “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4, ESV).
Proverbs pictures the sluggard as someone who loves his sleep and has many cravings. None of his cravings is satisfied because the sluggard does not work on them. The sluggard might be honest about the desire to see changes, but this desire is not leading his heart. The sluggard loves his pleasure and comfort, even to the point of remaining in his sin. The sluggard admits that changing would be a good thing, but not at the expense of comfort and pleasure.
2. By What He Does Not
- “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth” (Proverbs 12:27, ESV).
The sluggard does not do his work. He is someone driven by comfort, not diligence. When this is true of your struggling counselee, he is not seriously engaging spiritual disciplines. Counsel is going to fail because laziness disconnects the counselee from the true source of change: God’s Word written and incarnated.
3. By What the Community Says
- “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him” (Proverbs 10:26, ESV).
Eventually, the community is going to recognize the sluggard. Laziness is not a personal issue alone, but also a community problem. Laziness affects those who are around the sluggard.
The Heart of the Matter
- “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’ As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:13–16, ESV).
Proverbs helps us to see what the heart of laziness is. Pride is at the core of a lazy heart. Excuses given are masks of a prideful heart who knows it all. The sluggard does not wash his dishes because they are going to get dirty in the next meal. He does not make his own bed, because he is going to mess it again at the end of the day. He does not read a book, because he knows that he is not going to understand all of it. He does not work on his spiritual disciplines because he knows that a week later he is going to drop it anyway! Why bother? The sluggard is certain that he heard the roaring of the “lion in the road”!
The Hope for Change
1. From Creation
- “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6–11, ESV).
Laziness is not a neutral character issue, but a sinful habit that affects the person as a whole. Confessing and repenting are the immediate responses for real change. If pride is the issue, Solomon humbles the sluggard with a humbling example: ants. Solomon humbles the sluggard with appropriate irony: “how long,” “when.” Solomon admonishes the sluggard with long-term consequences to short-term decisions.
2. From the Creator
There is sufficient hope on seeing the book of Proverbs in light of the big picture of the Gospel. The bad news of sin finds the good news of the Gospel for real change. The path of wisdom is a requirement that all failed. We are all born foolish in sins. However, we find our hope in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Sin on top of sin robs the hope that counselees need for real change. Therefore, there might be occasions when secondary issues are going to take priority. It might be a good idea to stop a little bit to observe some ants in order to continue to grow and change. Little ants picture the diligence of their Big Creator. It is through the sacrifice of the most diligent One, Jesus Christ, which we might encounter the power to change from laziness to diligence.
Join the Conversation
People do not have just one problem (the presenting problem). How do you prioritize what you are going to deal during the course of your counseling? Do you see the need to stop and deal with secondary issues in order to continue to help your counselee? What are some of these issues?
Do you see laziness in your counselee? How are you responding to “vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes”? Are you showing loving patience or irritation?