18. POISE THROUGH INDUSTRY
The person who said, "I’ve found a great way to start the day --- I go straight back to bed” was very sadly mistaken. Idleness subjects you to destructive thoughts, dangerous impulses, and perilous pressures from without. All these things contribute to anxiety.
Jesus Himself said, "I must work" (John 9:4). He also said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). Work is divine in its inception. The old adage "Idleness is the devil's workshop" is true.
Reflect upon the grief that idleness brought David the king. When he should have been in battle, he was at home, taking it easy. While idling about his palace he saw a sight that stirred his sexual passions. Still idle, he reflected and meditated upon that experience until it festered into the open sin of covetousness and then adultery. Those sins in turn led to the murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. Before long the entire affair was public knowledge. Talk about anxiety! I have no doubt that David at one point would gladly have died rather than lived through the grief and anxiety produced by the harvest of his idleness.
The industry of Paul
Paul the apostle had been pursued by hostility at Berea, and it was necessary for him to flee to Athens — alone! In Athens he could have holed up in some private room and felt sorry for himself. He could have brooded over the mistreatment he had suffered for the work of the Lord. He could have said, "I have been laboring night and day in Thessalonica and preaching faithfully in Berea. Now I will take it easy."
Not Paul. Immediately he began an investigation of conditions in Athens. After acquainting himself with the conditions in this intellectual metropolis, he began to preach in the synagogue to the Jews and among devout people in the marketplace daily. Soon his ministry attracted the interest of the philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics. They requested a speech from him in which he would set forth his philosophy. He could have responded, "Oh, no. I was stoned and left for dead at Lystra. I was beaten and jailed in Philippi. I have just now been abused in Berea for this very thing—preaching the gospel of the Son of God, whom I serve."
Paul was not of this stripe, however. Far from feeling sorry for himself, he shared with them the blessed gospel. At their invitation he walked up the stone steps to the top of Areopagus, the ancient heart of Athens from whose crescent of stone seats the judges had 300 years previously condemned Socrates to die. Standing at this place, the ambassador of the Judge of the earth delivered probably the greatest sermon ever to come from the lips of mortal man.
Thorough preparation marked every facet of Paul's ministry. As soon as God had saved him in Damascus, he immediately started preparation in Arabia and then in Jerusalem, developing the skill necessary for the work to which God had called him (consider this against the backdrop of the preceding chapter). At Athens, Paul was speaking to the intellectual leaders of the world. The laws of this city pronounced death upon anyone introducing a foreign deity. Did that stop Paul? He was a Jewish tentmaker whose "bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10)—but he spoke out in that classic and proud city of the ancient world.
It was in the marketplace at Athens that Socrates, the wisest of men, asked his immortal questions. Over in the nearby olive groves by the brook, Plato founded his academy. To the east was the Lyceum of Aristotle. Near at hand in the Agora were the garden of the Epicureans and the painted porch of the Stoics. Here was the home of ancient Greek drama, where scholars spoke with pride the names of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Here the orators of Greece stood up to speak. Here were historians like Thucy-dides and Xenaphon. In their Athenian temples the national spirit of Athens was deified in the marble images of their heroes and soldiers, in the trophies of her victories, in her multifarious objects of interest. Here Paul introduced a foreign deity, God Almighty.
Here Paul preached:
• The personality of God
• The self-existence of God
• The omnipotence of God
• The unity of God
• The reality of divine providence
• The universality of divine providence
• The efficiency of divine providence
• The spirituality of divine worship
• The non-externality of divine worship
• The unity of the human race
• The possibility of a true natural religion
• The dignity of humanity
• The dependence of humanity
• The absurdity of idols and idol worship
• The essential graciousness of God's dealings with humanity
• The duty of immediate repentance
• The certainty of a day of judgment
• The exaltation of Jesus Christ to the office of supreme judge
• The reality of a future life
Here Paul corrected the errors of:
• Atheism, or the dogma that there is no God
• Pantheism, or the belief that everything is God
• Materialism, or the notion that the world is eternal
• Fatalism, or the superstition that no intelligence presides over the universe, but all things come to pass by necessity or chance
• Polytheism, or the fancy that there are many gods
• Ritualism, or the imagination that God can be honored by purely external performances
• Evolutionism, or the hypothesis that man is a product of natural forces
• Optimism, or the delusion that, in this best possible world, man has no sin of which to repent
• Unitarianism, or the tenet that Christ was an ordinary man
• Annihilationism, or the belief that death is the final end of being
• Universalism, or the sentiment that all will be saved
Talk about skill! Talk about mastering one's field! Talk about industry both in the preparation and in the delivery!
Paul was always engaged in some worthwhile pursuit. Because of his diligence, God was pleased to open up to him doors of opportunity. As a result of Paul's effective execution of his opportunity, God blessed his ministry and at the same time delivered him from fear and anxiety. As Paul himself told the Philippians, "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound" (Philippians 4:12).
Paul was so busy he had no time for fear-producing, worry-loaded thoughts. He refused to worry even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Read 2 Timothy 4:13, where he requests that Timothy bring the "books, but especially the parchments." Again, his mind was on what he could accomplish. Industry! This mighty man of God remained industrious right to the end.
What are you waiting for?
Many people piously assert that they are bound to "wait upon the Lord" and to "trust in the Lord" while they sit on the stool of do-nothing and twiddle their thumbs. Now it is true that we must wait upon the Lord and trust in Him. Nevertheless, the proof that we are waiting upon the Lord and trusting in Him will be revealed in our "always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
By industry I refer to activity with a worthwhile purpose, directed toward a worthwhile goal. This is essential to the poise that conquers worry, since you cannot fasten your mind upon two things at once. You cannot throw all your energies into God-glorifying activity while at the same time focusing your attention upon fear-producing thoughts.
Death is characterized by inaction, life by action. As death approaches, action decreases. It has often been noted, in fact, that decreasing activity hastens death. Do you not know some people who were in good health until their retirement, and then suddenly fell ill and died? The transition from work to inactivity was too much for them. It was in their nature to work. Deprived of the opportunity to be industrious, they had no further reason to live.
There are some who rationalize their idleness by saying they are advanced in years—that they have worked all their lives and now deserve a rest. Don't think to immunize yourself so naively from the responsibility of being industrious. Look how many great personalities remained active and productive well into their so-called dotage:
• Golda Meir was leading the modern nation of Israel at the age of 76
• Cornelius Vanderbilt spent most of his life in ferry transport. He built most of his railroads when he was well over 70, making his hundreds of millions at an age when most men have retire
• The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote some of his greatest works when he was past 70.
• Johann Goethe wrote the second part of Faust after he was 80.
• Victor Hugo astounded the world with some of his finest writings after his eightieth birthday.
• Alfred Lord Tennyson was 83 when he wrote his poem "Crossing the Bar."
• Viscount Palmerston was Prime Minister of England at 81, William Gladstone at 83.
• Bismarck was vigorously administering the affairs of the German empire at 74.
• Christy was premier of Italy at 75.
• Verdi wrote operas after he was 80.
• Titian painted his incomparable Battle of Lepanto at 98, his Last Supper at 99.
• Michelangelo was still sculpting masterpieces at 89.
• Claude Monet was still painting great masterpieces after 85.
More years, more creativity
I believe that one of the reasons Sir Winston Churchill and General Douglas MacArthur lived so long was the fact that they both knew and utilized the value of industry. People like this don't have time for anxiety. Worry is a time thief, and they refuse to be robbed by it.
Norman Cousins, for years the celebrated editor of Saturday Review, more than once asserted his belief in a relationship between creativity and longevity. He illustrated his conviction by referring to meetings he had with two men who, when he visited them, were octogenarians—the musician Pablo Casals and the missionary Albert Schweitzer. He recalls Pablo Casals at eight o'clock in the morning, just before his ninetieth birthday, being assisted by his young wife, Marta, to the piano. Cousins said that watching Casals move made him aware of the man's many infirmities. He seemed to have rheumatoid arthritis, emphysema, swollen hands, and clenched fingers. He was badly stooped, and his head pitched over as he shuffled forward.
Then Cousins tells how Casals arranged himself at the piano and began to play the opening bars of Bach's Das Wobltemperierte Klavier. It appeared as though a miracle were taking place. Casals's fingers slowly relaxed. His back straightened. He breathed more freely. He hummed as he played. Finally, as he plunged into a Brahms concerto, his fingers, "now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dashing speed."
The older octogenarian, Albert Schweitzer, told Norman Cousins, "I have no intention of dying so long as I can do things. And if I do things, there's no need to die. So I will live a long, long time." Schweitzer lived to be 95.
I concluded a long time ago that people who find joy in their work, and who are committed to a life of productive industry, enjoy the kind of poise conducive to good health and longevity. Furthermore, industry is consistent with God's will for your life and mine.