Working During the Wrong Season
Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest. – Proverbs 20:4 NLT*
by Barry C. Black, Chaplain, United States Senate
I once had breakfast with Stephen Covey, the celebrated author of a great book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was at a conference, seated at the breakfast table by myself when I heard a familiar voice say, “May I join you?”
I looked up and stammered, “Oh course you may, Mr. Covey.” He sat down, eventually ordering his breakfast, and while he waited for it to come, I seized the opportunity to harvest his wisdom.
“Mr. Covey,” I said, “what nugget of wisdom can you give me to help me navigate through life?”
“Barry,” he responded, “remember that you can’t cram on a farm.”
“That sounds clever; what does it mean?” I asked.
“It means, if you work with great diligence during the wrong season, you will fail.”
Immediately I remembered these words in Ecclesiastes 3:1: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” I also thought of the proverb that begins this essay (Proverbs 20:4): “Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.”
The next thing I thought about was the ants described in Proverbs 6:7-8: “Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.” In short, harvest time can be missed if we fail to plow at the right time. You should not wait until the season of harvest arrives and then seek to cram seeds into the ground.
Why should we avoid working during the wrong season? Why should we refuse to plow at harvest time, or seek to reap when it is time to plant? We should refuse to work at the wrong season because some opportunities once lost are never found. Shakespeare declared in his play Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Perhaps Omar Khayyam was also alluding to lost opportunities when he penned these words in his immortal Rubáiyát: “The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”
Khayyam seemed to be making the case that some lost opportunities will have escaped us forever. We will lament with the prophet Jeremiah, “‘The harvest is finished, and the summer is gone,’ the people cry, ‘yet we are not saved!’” (Jeremiah 8:20).
Could it be that God was seeking to help us avoid working at the wrong time when He inspired these words: “For he says, ‘in the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation’” (2 Corinthians 6:2). We seem to hear the same divine urgency in Hebrews 3:15: “Remember what it says: ‘Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.’” We must work as the seasons dictate or lose our venture.
A second reason we should avoid working during the wrong season is because such labor can bring eternal poverty. This poverty comes because of our accountability to God expressed forcefully in the words of Ecclesiastes 12:13-14: “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” When God brings every work into judgement, with every secret thing, will we fall short because of a failure to embrace the notion that to everything there is a season, a time and purpose for everything done under the heavens?
A third reason we should avoid working during the wrong season is because a time for life’s planting is brief. We have a very narrow window to get our seeds of intellectual, spiritual, physical, and social development into the earth. The Holy Bible seems to be making this case when it states the following: “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right” (Proverbs 20:11). Perhaps this is also why in Ecclesiastes 12:1 we are admonished to remember our Creator while we are young. The time to plant the seeds that will bring the inevitable harvest is brief.
A fourth reason we should avoid working during the wrong season is because our present moments are intended to shape our future. God expects us to work out our personal salvation with reverential awe (Philippians 2:12). He also expects us to look with intentionality toward the future, setting goals at which to aim like targets. Perhaps this is the kind of planting that Luke 14:28 is referring to when it states: “‘But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?’” Perhaps the apostle Paul was thinking about his future when he declared these words in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” Our future is inextricably tied to our present.
A fifth reason we should avoid working during the wrong season is because our powers are not unlimited. We will not always be this strong, or this smart, or this energetic. Life is like the fading grass of the fields. Our bodies are described as earthly tents that are deteriorating (2 Corinthians 5:1). We are told that our outer bodies are wasting away, even as our inner person is being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16). Never forget that your powers are not unlimited.
The final reason why we should avoid working during the wrong season is because the time of death is uncertain. Proverbs 27:1 puts it this way: “Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.” Psalm 90:12 echoes this sentiment with these words, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Notice it does not say teach us to number our years or months or weeks, but our days. Time is just that fleeting. Our lives are so uncertain that James 4:17 warns us to trust in God with these words, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” Do not attempt to cram during a harvest, work at the right time, and plant your seeds in season.
Imagine how much better our world would be if each of us would seize the right seasons, refusing to lose opportunities. Wouldn’t our lives be more enriched if we avoided jeopardizing our eternal future by laziness? We would accomplish so much more in life for God’s glory if we remembered that planting time is fleeting, and that how we use our present moments will shape our future. Remembering with King David that there is but one step between us and death (1 Samuel 20:3), let us seize the opportunities of the right seasons. May we use our limited powers while it is day, remembering that we must do the work of the God who has sent us while it is day, for the night is coming when no one can work (John 9:4).