I am a procrastinator. Whether or not that makes me qualified to write this post, I will let you be the judge! Over the course of my life I have fallen victim to the clutches of procrastination. Even down to my last seminary assignment before graduation, I was up until 2 AM the night before the due date, sitting in a 24-hour McDonald’s, and furiously typing away at the keys to finish my last paper. And I confess, as I type this post now, I am already past the day the editor requested even though I was given a month’s notice and a 1-week reminder.
As I have been thinking about the significance of procrastination in the Christian life, I came across a TED talk given by a “master procrastinator.” All the seats in the auditorium were filled as he confessed that he procrastinated organizing his speech for the TED talk. In his discussion, he described how our minds can have three drivers: 1) rational thinking; 2) instant gratification; and 3) panic. At first we may have all the best intentions in creating plans and being rational, but then we get distracted. Instant gratification sets in by watching YouTube videos, being on social media, or doing things that may have priority, but ultimately we put other responsibilities aside. Then, when the task that has been put to the side becomes urgent, we panic. We hurriedly finish the task, most likely at a lesser quality, and finish it nearly on time.
I believe there is a lot of truth, here. But I also believe Christians should understand procrastination on a deeper level. To address procrastination for what it really is, we need to meet it face to face.
Procrastination is a bigger issue than putting off a homework assignment, job task, or home responsibility. It is a habit, pattern, and way of life that is grounded in the stain of sin. When we look for the word “procrastinate” in Scripture, we may be surprised to find that it isn’t there. The word “procrastinate” does not appear in the Bible. However, we can define it simply as “delaying.” When we procrastinate, we are slowing a process down, postponing it, and making it late.
Although “procrastinate” does not appear in the Bible, the word “delay” does appear. When we see the word applied to God, it emphasizes how He does not delay:
Deuteronomy 7:9-10, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.” (Emphasis added).
Psalm 40:16-17, “Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God. (Emphasis added).
Psalm 70:4-5, “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; And let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified.” But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay. (Emphasis added).
Stated simply, God is not a procrastinator. He does not delay and does not expect that behavior in His people.
There are a few ways procrastination convinces us to delay what we are doing and replace it with something or someone else.
1. Convincing us there is more time.
When someone assumes that they can push off whatever is they are doing, they assume there is more time to do it. A simple example is when a project is not due until a later date and there are more assignments due before that time (or more entertaining things to do before that time). That assignment will easily be pushed off.
2. Convincing us something else is more important.
I remember a professor in seminary not allowing phones or any electronics in the classroom. He didn’t want any distractions during the lecture and said something to this affect, “Unless it is an emergency, what you are doing on your phones is not more important than what you have paid me to do for you during this class time.” He was absolutely right. When we procrastinate, we are assuming that something else is more important and delaying the task at hand.
3. Convincing us into more denial.
When we start telling ourselves, “Oh that can wait!” we are setting up a whirlwind of denial for that task in the future. Essentially, when we say “no” we begin to create a pattern of saying “no” to the point where it becomes a pattern of poor behavior rather than out of good intention.
Although the word “procrastination” doesn’t appear in the Bible, I believe the roots of procrastination are addressed throughout Scripture in selfishness, laziness, and a lack of self-control.
At the root of all sin is selfish ambition and pride. James 3:15-16 address this when the author writes, “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” When we procrastinate and put off a task for selfish ambition, we convince our minds that it is the right thing to do. However, according to James, such ambition is demonic and evil. Acting in this way only regards the interests, cares, profit, and pleasure for one’s self. When one procrastinates they are pursuing that which needs to be instantly gratified for oneself rather than caring for the importance of others and of God.
To be lazy is to be selfishly unwilling to work. Proverbs 15:19 speaks of being lazy in a negative light, “The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns.” Likewise Proverbs 19:15 states, “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.” The word here for laziness literally means to be “sluggish.” Throughout the Proverbs, the sluggard is addressed and is told to arise from his sleep. Especially in Proverbs 6:6-11, the sluggard is given advice by Wisdom to learn from an “ant” who is an example of diligence and planning. Verses 9-11 state, “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest’— Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.” The Proverbs point out how a lazy man is a sluggard who convinces himself that his comfort is more important than his condition, which eventually leads to his ruin. For a procrastinator, “procrastinate” could be an easy replacement for “sleep” as their form of comfort of indulging in their self-interests.
Lack of Self-Control
To have self-control means to be self-disciplined. It means to have a sound mind and to be prudent, thoughtful, and in control of oneself. Having a lack thereof means to have the character of a dissolute or licentious person – living morally wrong and incorrect according to God’s standard. Although taking a different form, procrastination has the same root in a lack of self-control. Someone who procrastinates loses control of their schedule, desires, and disciplines to satisfy the need of the moment. This is morally wrong in God’s eyes. The Lord equates this in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 to show the severity of this sin:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (Emphasis added).
Although we may not consider the consequences, procrastination has its effects whether on ourselves or on others. As the passages indicate above, procrastination leads to our own ruin. We convince ourselves that what we do in the moment is right, but it creates a pattern for wrath and destruction. Romans 2:8, “but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” Those who pursue self ultimately pursue wrath. The Lord’s anger will come upon those who practice selfishness.
Not only this, but procrastination also affects others. Rather than realizing how delaying will impact others, the procrastinator cares only about how it will impact himself. Yet the consequence it may have on others includes their time, relationships, attitudes, responsibilities, etc. One person’s delay could cause another’s delay, causing an endless domino effect of delay.
So what if you are a procrastinator like me and you want to overcome the endless cycle of procrastination? Here are some helpful reminders.
1. Be eternally-minded.
Although God does not procrastinate, He does delay. Passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation indicate that He will not delay His wrath against the ungodly. We need to have an eternal mindset and perspective. Each day He delays is another day we should not delay. This life is too short to be wasted. We need to live in light of eternity and live each moment for His glory.
2. Be others-minded.
As Philippians 2 indicates, the product of a person who is selfless is one who regards the interests of others as more important than themselves. Being others-minded in this way also means to be considerate and intentional.
3. Have a self-controlled mind.
Being disciplined isn’t easy, but learning to say “no” to pleasures and learning planning skills can be helpful in developing discipline. When learning to be disciplined, it means having a self-controlled mind that yields to the Lordship of Christ. However, when we try to be disciplined we start with big goals. Start small and seek dependence on the Lord as you seek self-control in every area of life under His authority.
4. Have a repentant mind.
To stop the cycle of procrastination, we need to have a “change of mind” by turning from sin and turning to Christ in prayer and repentance. We need to depend on Christ every hour to overcome our sin. We also need to pursue the race to repentance and confess our sins to our brothers and sisters whom we may have wronged because of our procrastination. This is a summation of being eternally minded, others minded, and having a self-controlled mind.
Christians, this is procrastination. In what ways has procrastination affected your life? How have you overcome it? Please comment below and share!
Masters of Divinity, The Master’s Seminary
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Harris Connection: I met Dr. Harris in 2010 while attending The Master’s College. His influence and teaching has shaped the way I understand Scripture and how that applies to the way I live my life. After having Dr. Harris as a professor at The Master’s Seminary in 2014, he invited me to be a Pastoral Intern at Lake Hills Community Church. Because of his impact, I consider him my professor, my pastor, and my friend.