I am convinced that all of us struggle with procrastination, at least to some degree. For many of us, it is a relatively minor problem. We put off doing certain things for a short time simply because we don’t like them, but we always get around to doing them eventually. We may struggle with a form of procrastination, but it isn’t extensive enough to affect the normal course of our lives. For others of us, however, procrastination is much more debilitating. It keeps us from doing the things that we want to do and can makes us feel badly about ourselves as a result. We feel like a failure because we squander so many opportunities or, despite the best of intentions, we just don’t follow through.
Since we all struggle with some form of procrastination, we should all benefit from thinking through what the Bible says about it in more detail. The first thing I want us to consider is that the Bible warns us against putting off all necessary tasks. In Ephesians 5:16, for instance, Paul urges us to “make the best use of the time” we have been given each day, which would certainly seem to preclude every form of procrastination. Furthermore, in Hebrews 3:7 and 13, the apostle calls us to not put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today. And in Ecclesiastes 11:4, the preacher reminds us that if we are looking for an excuse to procrastinate, we will always be able to find one: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” Conditions will never be perfect. If we wait until they are, we will always find some reason—the wind or the clouds or any number of other factors—to put off our sowing or our reaping until another time when the conditions will assuredly be much better.
But the Bible does more than simply warn us against procrastinating. It also warns us about the destructive consequences that flow from it. I am thinking especially of Proverbs 18:9 in this regard, which says: “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” If I put off doing essential maintenance on my house, for instance, I am choosing to let my house run down. This may not be identical with actively seeking to destroy it, but it is surely only one step removed. In the words of Proverbs 18:9, this more passive destruction is a “brother” to the more active variety.
The point is that procrastination in every form is destructive. It never results in good but always in harm. This may be most evident in Hebrews 3:7 and 13, which were mentioned above. Here, the apostle warns us against putting off faith and repentance. And the reason he gives is the passive destruction that always accompanies it: “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (v. 13). If we do this for long enough, the apostle says, we will end up just like that “generation” in Israel who “provoked” God to say, “They shall not enter my rest” (vv. 10-11). In other words, persistent procrastination will always result in destruction.
Think about the example of getting the oil changed in your car. If you put this off, you are passively destroying the engine. If you put it off for long enough, you will end up with the same result as if you had taken a more actively destructive approach.
But this kind of passive destruction is very hard for us to see in the short term. It takes time before my slack in doing essential maintenance on my home shows itself visibly. It takes time before my refusal to repent manifests itself in an obvious hardness of heart. It takes time before my putting off getting my oil changed has any real tangible consequences. These things are virtually invisible in the short run, and because they are, we can easily be lulled into believing that they carry no real destructive consequences at all.
I think it is important to pause here for a moment and to point out that procrastination differs from prioritization. Just because we choose to put something off and do something else doesn’t mean that we are procrastinating. It is a matter of motive and of necessity. If I choose to exercise on a Saturday instead of cutting my grass, and I do so because the former is more important to me and thus carries a greater priority in my life and because I have time enough to cut the grass later, then I don’t see this as procrastination in any way whatsoever; I see it as prioritization. Or if I choose to forego certain tasks at work because they aren’t related to the mission of the institution, I don’t necessarily see this as procrastination either. But if the grass needs to be cut or a certain task at work needs to be done on a certain day, and I choose to do something else instead because I don’t want to do either of these necessary tasks, then it would certainly qualify as procrastination.
There are many factors besides not wanting to do something that lead us to procrastinate. One of the biggest of these factors is fear, which can be manifested in a variety of ways in our lives. Perfectionism, for instance, frequently leads us to procrastinate because we are afraid of not being able to do our best. Busyness often makes us procrastinate, because we are afraid of being unimportant, and so we take on too much and either become overwhelmed or just don’t have time to do everything that we have said yes to. Self-deprecation is yet another factor that makes us procrastinate, because we are afraid that other people will see our real ineptitude on display.
What can we say in response to these things? How can we face up to our struggles with procrastination and work to overcome them? Well, the first thing I would say is that we need to remember that procrastination is most definitely not the unforgivable sin. Final unbelief is. However destructive it may be, procrastination is never beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. It is sin, to be sure; but, as Paul so helpfully points out in Romans 5:20, where sin increases, grace increases even more. All of our struggles in this area, therefore, need to be taken in the light of what Horatio Spafford so eloquently said in his great hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul:”
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
The second thing I would say about procrastination is that we ought to take our struggles to the Lord in prayer. Ask Him for courage, which—in the context of the Christian life—simply refers to living by faith in the midst of fearful circumstances. Ask Him for help to trust Him and to step out in faith—even if we do not like the task or are afraid of failure. God really does showcase His strength in our weakness, as Paul says He does in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. This ought to be motivation enough for us to risk making a fool of ourselves or doing a poor job at something we don’t really like.
The last thing I will say about dealing with procrastination is that we must seek out community and accountability. Far too many of us go through life without anyone else who knows us, our struggles, and our weaknesses and who is, therefore, able to speak into our lives and exhort us in the face of our procrastination. Surely that is why the apostle calls upon us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’” (Heb. 3:13). He knows that each day has unique challenges in store for us and that we need the constant exhortation of others to do what needs to be done each day, as long as it is called today.