You know that most people have a den of lions on their property? I do. It’s likely that you do too. The book of Proverbs discusses these vicious predators encamped outside our homes that prevent us from stepping out and fulfilling our responsibilities.
“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets” (Proverbs 22:13). This pithy scripture may be understood by few, but it is practiced by most. It captures a fundamental quality of human nature.
The human mind, motivated by selfishness and laziness, will go to great lengths—even to the point of concocting the most ridiculous excuses—to avoid work and fulfilling responsibility.
The word lion in Hebrew means pictures or images of lions. The lion outside the lazy man’s house in this proverb is not real; rather, it is an image or picture that has been fabricated.
Bible commentaries explain further. By concocting images of lions prowling outside his door, the Soncino Commentary says, the lazy man “invents a fantastic reason for not going about his business.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary explains that the slothful person invents “imaginary dangers to excuse his indolence in staying at home, instead of going forth into active business.” Lange’s Commentary says the lazy invent the most “senseless and ludicrous” excuses to avoid labor or to avoid fulfilling responsibility.
How often do we create imaginary lions to avoid fulfilling our responsibilities? Do you invent excuses to justify inactivity? Are imaginary lions prowling outside your door?
Lions of the Imagination
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lions roaming the streets of the human mind. Even the least imaginative mind can be surprisingly creative when it comes to fabricating excuses to avoid attending Bible study, attending Church services, fellowship (particularly with the elderly or children), entertaining, serving at Church services and the list goes on. Here are just a few of those imaginary lions:
Time. Stretched between work; fulfilling our responsibilities as husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, grandparents and children; and devoting time to God’s Work and our spiritual growth, our lives can be action-packed and hectic.
As full as our schedules may be, however, how easy is it to exaggerate our busyness to justify inactivity or avoid fulfilling a less-exciting responsibility? It can be easy to inflate certain of our responsibilities in order to justify shorter prayer time or less time in meditation or Bible study.
I just don’t have time is an excuse we are all familiar with.
Sickness. The Bible provides guidelines when it comes to the rules of quarantine and protecting others from contagious sickness. But do we ever exploit those guidelines to avoid responsibility? If we do, then we are concocting an imaginary lion. Compliance with the laws of quarantine is critical, but we must not exaggerate an ill-feeling or headache to sidestep our responsibilities or to avoid spending time with God’s people.
Money. This is a popular lion. This world is lubricated by money, and a lack of money can be the perfect excuse for inactivity. I have often looked out my window, seen this lion—with its mouth watering—prowling by the door, and concluded that I cannot take my wife on a date. There is no doubt money can inhibit many activities, but should a lack of money immobilize us from fulfilling our responsibilities?
Children. Our children can be fantastic imaginary lions. The kids are too tired to attend Bible study. My children are too unruly to visit this elderly person. The children will not enjoy dinner at this person’s home. As parents, we can easily turn our children into excuses to avoid fulfilling responsibilities.
Of course, there are genuine reasons that can prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities. Sickness, especially if it is contagious, must prevent us from fellowship with God’s people, for example. Time and business can be justifiable reasons to remain exempt from some activities. There are genuine reasons for not being able to work or fulfill responsibility.
There are, however, physical issues the human mind will easily exaggerate and use as excuses to avoid responsibility. There are also character and psychological issues that can be exaggerated to justify inactivity. Our minds will inflate minor personal flaws, character traits or intellectual weaknesses into lion-size problems.
Exodus 3 and 4 record the attempt by Moses to evade his responsibility to free the Israelites by exaggerating his vocal impediment. “And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Did Moses think God didn’t know about his speech impediment? In an effort to avoid the responsibility God was putting on his shoulders, Moses exaggerated a kitten-sized problem into a lion-sized issue.
Our speech impediments or lack of speaking experience can become exaggerated excuses to avoid attending Spokesman Club or other public speaking opportunities. A perceived lack of intellectual capacity can be used to rationalize a lack of in-depth and focused Bible study. Poor reading skills can be embellished to justify not reading. Shyness can be exaggerated as an excuse to justify avoiding fellowship and building friendships.
The human mind can easily transform kitty-cat-sized issues—whether physical or mental—into bloodthirsty lions that menace our lives and prohibit us from fulfilling our Christian responsibilities.
The question is, how can we rid this den of lions from our property?
Conquering Your Lions
The first step to overcoming this proclivity is to understand the force motivating these thoughts. Regarding Proverbs 22:13, Matthew Henry’s commentary states of the slothful person: “He talks of a lion without, but considers not his real danger from the devil, that roaring lion, which is in bed with him, and from his own slothfulness, which kills him.”
The real lion in this proverb is not the imaginary one outside our door; it’s Satan the devil lying next to us in bed! Our adversary is not just outside our homes; he is inside them, seeking to maul our minds, influence our motivations and cause us to shun our Christian responsibilities.
The verse that Matthew Henry alluded to is this one from the Apostle Peter: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is the real lion prowling in our lives, and he is often the source of the imaginary lions concocted to justify inactivity and spurn responsibility.
In his booklet The Epistles of Peter: A Living Hope, Mr. Gerald Flurry warns us about the subtlety and canniness of the devil: “Satan is subtle. He has different messages for different people—he knows our weaknesses and how to attack us specifically.” The wily devil knows exactly which imaginary lions to concoct in our minds to prevent us from working and fulfilling our responsibilities.
In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter warns God’s people to be “sober,” which means to be calm and collected in spirit, to be temperate and circumspect. This means being self-aware and clued in to our thoughts and motivations. Be on guard against our proclivity to concoct excuses. When our minds are alert to our motivations, discerning excuses becomes easier. Strive to develop the mental discipline to see when we are concocting an imaginary lion.
The second step to overcoming imaginary lions is to destroy them through activity and energy. In 1 Peter 5:8, the Apostle Peter warns that vigilance stays the blow of the lion. The word vigilant means “to watch,” “give strict attention to,” and to “be active.” Satan and the imaginary lions he seeks to concoct in our minds are defeated through robust action.
If we find ourselves formulating excuses to avoid entertaining, for example, avoid procrastinating (which only gives the mind more time to develop the excuse), pick up the phone and invite someone over. If we struggle with fellowship at Church services, try not to stand in the corner mulling over the reasons for our lack of fellowship—walk boldly toward a person or group, smile, put your hand out and join the conversation. If you are hesitant to join Spokesman Club and find yourself exaggerating a voice impediment to justify not joining, briskly conquer the excuse by signing up!
Activity, energy and commitment will quickly put to flight imaginary lions.
When we conquer imaginary lions through activity and energy, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are doing more than overcoming excuses created to justify inactivity and laziness—we defeat the influence of the real lion in our lives. We conquer the devil by conquering our imaginary lions.
Become a more effective Christian: Conquer your lions!