Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.

– Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)

A key juncture in my life was during my third year in Junior Secondary School, also known as JSS3. I was getting ready to write the JSSC exams in some months and I was scared out of my mind because I knew I was going to fail. I was a below average student; terrible at math and basically all the other subjects, except Fine Arts. On a particular night while struggling to study, near tears, I shared my fears with my big brother. He reassured me then that I was not born dumb (ouch!) and that he – best student in the school at that time – actually hadn’t always been such a brilliant student. He said things turned around for him when he started junior secondary school and “mastered” mathematics by solving a lot of problems in the New General Mathematics (remember that?) before being taught the topics in class.

Based on his advice, I then worked through all the questions in Books 1, 2 and 3 of the New General Mathematics series. By the time I was done with this, I discovered how easy mathematics really is, most importantly I realized the difference between me being a dull student and a brilliant one was smart hard work over an extended period of time. More on that later. So I attacked other subjects with the same enthusiastic mindset and by the time the JSSC exams came around, I was more than ready and I aced all the papers. I even got better grades than my big brother did when he wrote his (humble brag), which was a huge deal in our house! Going forward, anytime I set a goal or encounter a formidable task, I always refer back to that turning point in my life. Persistent smart hard work never fails. Diligence.

Diligence led to tangible results. It always will, and this principle is backed up by one of my favorite Bible verses (Proverbs 22:29). Don’t you just love the Book of Proverbs! With 31 chapters, it is almost as if there is a one for every day in a month (nudge). There are nuggets of wisdom in every verse of this wonderful collection; and an abundance of common sense, just as in the verse quoted above. Proverbs also best exemplifies what I am trying to do in this series, which is to share principles from the Bible that can be applied by anyone (believers and non-believers) to have success in any endeavor in life.

Now back to diligence, it is defined as the constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind. Smart hard work over an extended period of time. Diligence combines physical and mental hard work with doggedness. At the end of the day, working hard and smart for an extended period of time without giving up will eventually elevate you above the mean. Hard work is not sufficient, smart hard work is also not good enough, but smart hard work with patience until results is achieved is what sets you apart from mediocrity and sets you up in excellence. In my academic reorientation and preparation for the JSSCE, I worked hard, smart, and endured hours and hours of boring calculations until I achieved excellence. At the risk of sounding repetitive (too late?), diligence combines hard physical and mental work with persistence!

The result of working hard and smart is not always immediately obvious, but with persistence, it would surely come. Other versions of the Bible used skillful or efficient instead of diligent in our study verse above. Skill and efficiency is cultivated by hard work over a long period of time. Even if you are born with a particular set of skills, you still need hours and hours of practice to perfect it to a place of relevance. A place in the presence of kings, decision makers, and not obscure men.

The Preacher said in the 11th verse of the 9th chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes (KJV) and I quote: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Some interpret this verse as time and chance being the decisive factor in success, but the preacher here clearly says time and chance happens to them all. It happens to the swift, strong, wise, men of understanding, and men of skill. If time and chance (good fortune) happens and you are none of the above, then time and chance will pass you by. You cannot succeed without being prepared with any of the aforementioned qualities. That preparation comes from the place of diligence.

I am not breaking any news here, if you work smart and work hard at anything in life, you will succeed if you keep at it long enough. This is a life principle that would work for anyone anywhere, and it is applicable to any aspect of life. Sometimes the truth/answer is so simple that reaffirmation is needed, or reassurance when the going gets tough. You desire to excel in anything? Apply your mind. Exert yourself. Stay on it. Your diligence will eventually exalt you to a place of excellence (in the presence of kings).

As I always say, these principles from the scriptures will work for you whether you are a Christian or not. That said, being diligent is not easy, because of course, hard work and perseverance are required. If it was easy, everyone would be diligent and consequently prosperous. But what if I tell you there is a cheat code in Philippians 4:13 (WEB), which assures you “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me”. To access this, you would have to believe.