I came across the verse below for the first time at a prayer retreat last year. Although arriving late meant that I missed the majority of the context in which it was used, the text itself spoke volumes.
“The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (Proverbs 13:4)
Desire vs Diligence
There are many ways to express something that you want, but have yet to attain. Therefore, whether you prefer to use ‘desire’, or another term, the point is that we all have aspirations. Aspirations, however, are nothing by themselves. I could sit here and wish for a multitude of things and not a single one would happen without effort.
Desire doesn’t accomplish things. Diligence does.
Whilst desire is definitely the catalyst for change, it’s impact is short-lived in the absence of action. On reflection, a lot of my desires die because they aren’t given the time to bloom or flourish. This time last year I bought a coursebook and two phrasebooks with the intention of learning basic Indonesian prior to arrival. Fast-forward 12 months (6 of which have been spent in Indonesia!) and I have yet to read even a quarter or any of them. Shameful. My excuse? I don’t have time. How on earth will I ever be able to hold a conversation, let alone be fluent, if I don’t make time?
Desires come in many shapes and sizes; however, excellence in each area is predicated by diligence. Habitual diligence.
Let me tell you about my ill-fated foray into ‘gym life’… Once upon a time I decided that I wanted to ‘get fit.’ I joined a gym near work, got myself a personal trainer, and then attended classes that seemed ‘fun’ (I’m using that term loosely). I lasted a whole 2 months! Woeful, right? Although it’s fair to say I’d done my best to turn my desire into diligence – it turns out I wasn’t that great at being diligent. The wonderful Myleik Teele posted this quote on her Instagram last year and it’s stuck with me ever since:
“Excellence is mundane. Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesised whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence” – Daniel F. Chambliss
The trouble was, I held the people in the gym on a pedestal, whilst simultaneously making excuses for my lack of progress. It was far more soothing to assume: “they enjoy coming here, this isn’t work for them”, “it’s only because they drink protein shakes”, or “they have more time than I do.” The real issue was: I couldn’t be bothered.
Excellence is within your reach.
Although excellence is somewhat subjective, nobody aspires to be mediocre. The quote above is a reminder that excellence doesn’t come by chance; you have to be diligent about being diligent. The fact that Chambliss highlights that it’s small skills/activities that are drilled into habit is important. Too often it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the desire, and forget that in isolation each skill/activity isn’t that hard. However, in making way for good habits to be formed, one must not neglect the bad habits that need to be broken.
An Excellent Christian
Desiring to be a ‘better’ Christian, have an ‘improved’ spiritual life, or ‘draw closer’ to God, is very vague. What exactly does better look like? How will you measure improvements? What does closeness mean to you? Even saying you’ll read the Bible and/or pray ‘more’ isn’t quite specific enough. We all have different flaws. Ask God to help you narrow it down, and then distil your version of excellent into manageable chunks.
To desire God, is to desire excellence. To wilfully be anything less than that, in any area, is an affront to Him.
Don’t do yourself the disservice of desiring without being diligent. There’s no shortcut to excellence. It’s very mundane, but very attainable.