Ecclesiastes 10:10 and The Key to Accomplishing Any Task

sharpen-the-axeThroughout life we are confronted with many jobs, tasks, and projects we have to accomplish. No matter what the extent of them are, there is one key to completing any of them: preparation. If we prepare well, it makes the task so much easier. Ecclesiastes has a proverb within it that gets to the heart of this idea:

If an ax is dull and one doesn’t sharpen it first, then one must exert more force.

This saying is also known in its reverse format, and popularly attributed to Abraham Lincoln (although the evidence shows he never said it) like this:

If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.

When we prepare for whatever job we have to accomplish, it makes the job so much easier. Whether it is school, work, or even some task of enjoyment in life, a proper amount of preparation before we begin will, many times, mean the difference between finishing the job and quitting or the difference between finishing the job in a reasonable amount of time and working too hard on it.

 

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Proverbs 31:10-31 and A Woman of Worth

TBW2_small-coverI have heard many different people in churches have a very bigoted and sexist view of women. In some congregations (and even in some denominations) women are second-class citizens that are not quite as important as men. There are verses in the New Testament that are taken out of the context of the letters within which they are found to justify this and seem to give divine support to the notion that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God–which is blatantly not true.

What is also frustrating to me is when some of these same people turn to Proverbs 31 to show women what kind of wife and mother they ought to be. The image that is projected or preached out of this passage is a woman who dutifully takes care of her house, her children, and her husband. It is the perfect “little homemaker” who could slip into a Donna Reed episode. Yet an honest reading of this passage does not give that idea at all:

A competent wife, how does one find her?
    Her value is far above pearls.
11 Her husband entrusts his heart to her,
    and with her he will have all he needs.
12 She brings him good and not trouble
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks out wool and flax;
    she works joyfully with her hands.
14 She is like a fleet of merchant ships,
    bringing food from a distance.
15 She gets up while it is still night,
    providing food for her household,
    even some for her female servants.
16 She surveys a field and acquires it;
    from her own resources, she plants a vineyard.
17 She works energetically;
    her arms are powerful.
18 She realizes that her trading is successful;
    she doesn’t put out her lamp at night.
19 She puts her hands to the spindle;
    her palms grasp the whorl.
20 She reaches out to the needy;
    she stretches out her hands to the poor.
21 She doesn’t fear for her household when it snows,
    because they are all dressed in warm clothes.
22 She makes bedspreads for herself;
    fine linen and purple are her clothing.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates
    when he sits with the elders of the land.
24 She makes garments and sells them;
    she supplies sashes to traders.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
    she is confident about the future.
26 Her mouth is full of wisdom;
    kindly teaching is on her tongue.
27 She is vigilant over the activities of her household;
    she doesn’t eat the food of laziness.
28 Her children bless her;
    her husband praises her:
29     “Many women act competently,
    but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Let her share in the results of her work;
    let her deeds praise her in the city gates.

This is a successful businesswoman! This is someone who has financial resources to purchase land, start business ventures, and provide for the home just as much as the man does. This is not a woman who is subordinate to her husband, but one who works diligently just as he does in order to have a successful home.

This kind of work can take several forms. For some it is being engaged in the business world, either by choice or necessity. For some it is having a home business. For some it is staying home with little ones because the cost of daycare (which can be huge) cancels out the potential income from working. For some it is homeschooling because that, in essence, earns the tuition of the best private schools in America (which, again, can be huge). And there are others.

The take-away, though, is that the woman is just as much a decision-maker and just as much a provider for the home as the man. They are equally tasked with doing what they can to have a home that is not in want. This is the vision of a Woman of Worth.

Proverbs 6:6-11 and The Value of Hard Work

work-in-DenmarkSeveral years ago, we were living in an area where the parsonage backed up to some government-assistance housing. We had a four-foot chain link fence that separated our yard from the development. During the Spring, my wife and I were busy putting in a rather large garden. One day, as my wife was tilling up more dirt, a woman from the development walked over to the fence and said, “I’ve been watching you for a few days. What are you doing?”

My wife’s response was, “I’m putting in a garden.”

“Why?”

“Groceries are getting more and more expensive. This will help.”

To this statement the woman said, “Well, girl, just go down and get you some food stamps. The government will give you your food.”

This attitude reminded me of this passage in Proverbs:

Go to the ant, you lazy person; observe its ways and grow wise.  The ant has no commander, officer, or ruler. Even so, it gets its food in summer; gathers its provisions at harvest.  How long, lazy person, will you lie down? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to lie down—and poverty will come on you like a prowler, destitution like a warrior.

When we depend upon government assistance to meet our needs, we run the risk of a) teaching the next generation not to work for what they get since they see us do the same and b) become utterly destitute because government programs can become de-funded easily. The same is true when we depend upon the charity of others to meet our needs. Charity only lasts as long as other people can have their own needs met. When it becomes difficult for them to provide the essentials for their own families, charity dries up. Working for what we own is blessed by God and it gives a bit more security than depending upon the government or others for our basic necessities.

I do realize that there are some people who work, and work hard, but still receive public assistance. Those situations are why those government programs exist–to help ensure people who are trying hard do not slip through the cracks of society because wages have not kept up with the cost of living. This is a sad commentary on the state of our economic society today. Nevertheless, the reality is that funding for even these programs can be reduced or cut.

Just as Proverbs recorded nearly 3000 years ago, it is much wiser to work hard than to depend upon others for the necessities of life.