A Reflection on Procrastination

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

This article is long overdue. I have been putting off writing it for over 18 months. Since it has been neglected previously, I have now bumped it up to the top of my priority list. It is time to get it done.

To begin, let me provide some background about my experiences with procrastination, at home and at work. Next, I will explore some biblical principles that relate to this topic. Then, I will focus briefly on what may be the root cause of procrastination. Lastly, I will share one practical idea from a seminary class taught by a favorite professor from many years ago that may be helpful to you.

What does this habit looks like?

One source defined the noun procrastination this way: “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention”. When used as a verb, to procrastinate, it was defined as such: “to defer action; delay” or “to put off till another day or time”.

Admittedly, I sometimes procrastinate, at home and at work. I put things off that I do not want to do that could have/should have been done a lot sooner. Sometimes I wait until the last-minute to get things done. In my position, multiple requirements come to me simultaneously. It is not humanly possible to do every one of them before I go home. Long-term projects that can wait until later will often be on hold for a while before they are done. (Note: This topic is somewhat related to an article I wrote a while back on the subject of doing the unpleasant tasks. I invite you to check it out.)

What does the Bible say about it?

There is a key verse on this topic in Proverbs.  It warns us to not put off doing good until tomorrow for our neighbors who need it when you have the power to do it for them today (Prov. 3:27-28).

In addition to the good intentions that we have with people that require us to follow up in a timely manner, when we make a promise to God, we must fulfill our promises (Num. 30:2; Eccl. 5:4).

Possible root cause

Let us take a look at what may be a root cause of this bad practice and how we can grow in grace.

If we look at what procrastination is from a spiritual perspective, we can see that in many cases (but not all), it can be a fleshly, sinful habit. When we put off projects indefinitely that were assigned to us by those we work for (who we are supposed to submit to) or have been requested of us by those we love at home (who we are supposed to sacrificially serve), we are not being faithful to the callings to which God has given us, which are marked by relationships and responsibilities.

I propose that the character trait that is on the other end of the spectrum from procrastination is faithfulness, which is one of the fruit of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul lists in Gal. 5:22-23.

How can we develop faithfulness?

In the mid-90’s, thousands of Christian men (including myself) were involved in a movement called “Promise Keepers”. The name was appropriate, as Christian men do not always keep our promises. Promise keeping is another way of looking at faithfulness. We know that God is faithful because He always keeps His promises. His children, who should be like Him, should be faithful also.

How do we go about keeping our promises to our employers and our families with respect to the tasks and “honey-do” lists we get, and become faithful men and women that finish what we start?

For Christians to make progress in developing this fruit of the Spirit, it has to begin with an attitude of submission and servitude. These qualities were exemplified by Jesus Himself (Phil. 2:5-8).

Once you are truly committed to submitting to your employer’s authority and serving your family, you have to be committed to faithfully maintain a list of assigned projects to be done in a reasonable amount of time, based on other higher priorities and availability of resources. (I haven’t always done this well. I often make lists and then do not regularly review it to make progress on it.)

Let me share one concept that may help you to reorder the way you think about your priorities.

One way to look at priorities

One of the best seminary classes I took the first time I went in the mid-80’s was “Spiritual Life”. It was taught by the late Dr. Grant Howard. He had written a revolutionary book entitled Balancing Life’s Demands, which put the conventional concept of a sequential listing of priorities on its head.

Dr. Howard wisely offers one way to help us decide what relationships and responsibilities may be our top priority that requires our immediate attention and action. He writes, “At times we have to emphasize certain relationships and certain responsibilities. Why? Often because of present needs.” He cites several examples such as starting a new business, getting married, or starting a new job.

He continues, “Another reason for special emphasis is previous neglect. Been away on a business trip? Like it or not, you’ve been neglecting your wife and kids. Now you need to bring things back into balance by being totally available to them for a few evenings, or maybe all weekend.” Spot on!

Closing challenge

I know I have barely scratched the surface on this complicated issue that many of struggle with. What I am hoping is that we learn to boldly come before the throne of grace, and ask the Lord for wisdom, courage, and discipline to become faithful keepers of promises made to those we serve.

Perhaps there is just one thing you can do now that you have been putting off for a bit.  For me, that will take the form of taking time to finish and post this article that I decided a while ago that I would write to help others like me.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)