Redeeming the Time Pt Three: Putting Off Procrastination
Passage: Ephesians 5:15–5:17
Redeeming the Time Part 3: Putting Off Procrastination
We are up to chapter 5 in Ephesians, and we been looking at Paul's instruction to "redeem the time" in verse 16. We've looked at the importance of prioritizing, and planning, and this morning we are going to talk about one of the biggest culprits of unredeemed time: procrastination.
Procrastination is defined as putting off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness. To postpone or delay needlessly. There's actually a National Association of Procrastinators. Their motto is, never put off til tomorrow what you can forget forever!
Somewhere on that site I found a very helpful "procrastinator's flow chart". There's a lot of flow in this chart, but ultimately any work that isn't due in the next hour has you enter the "procrastinator's loop" - a nearly endless loop that leads you to do things to procrastinate like get something to eat, check your e-mails, instant message people and other things to put off work until it's an hour away from being due. Finally when the work needs to be done in an hour then you just need to do it.
On the more serious side, procrastination can be a real problem and hindrance to redeeming the time. Edward Young (not our own Ed Young, but a poet born in 1683) said, Procrastination is the thief of time. Year after year it steals, till all are fled.
How do we capture this thief and stop his looting of our time so that we can redeem the time God has given us for the glory of God? First I think we need to be honest about the root cause.
•I. The root of procrastination is sinful laziness
Procrastination is one of those things that we can find easy to laugh at - almost lovable. But we need to recognize that the root of procrastination isn't lovable - it's root goes deep into our sinful heart and is and expression of laziness. And the results aren't usually harmless either - it significantly affects the fruitfulness of our lives.
This is even more convicting when we realize that this isn't just true of the idle person who sits around all day doing nothing. It can also be true of the very busy person whose schedule is full from morning to night. You might think, how could that person be lazy? Because procrastination isn't necessarily putting everything off - it might just be putting off the most important tasks all the while doing less important secondary tasks all day long.
In an article called "Putting Off Procrastination", Walter Henegar takes an honest look at his own tendency to procrastinate. He says this:
"I procrastinate. I've been doing it most of my life. If a particular task is even remotely unpleasant, my first and persistent tendency is to put it off. It's not that I'm [idle]; I'm actually very busy. I just wait as long as possible to do the really hard stuff... There I was, buzzing diligently around the room, while that thing, the one thing I needed to do most, sat unheeded in the middle of it. I wasn't just a procrastinator; I was a work-around-er"
We can be busy "work-around-ers", working, but avoiding that one important thing that really needs to be done.
As a pastor, there are deadlines to a lot of what I do through the week, but especially preparing a sermon has a very concrete deadline. And yet, especially early in the week, I can find it hard to buckle down and concentrate on the message in the time I allot to it. I keep busy - I enjoy working, but I find it easier to be distracted by less important things.
And so I'm distracted every time the e-mail bell chimes. Now if the e-mail is urgent (or important - remember the two aren't always the same) then it might need quick attention. But I can be distracted with less than important e-mails. For some reason lately I have been receiving a lot of spam e-mails from a Charlotte Maxwell saying that if I'm not currently making $108, 939.66 month then here's a link I need to check out. Well, after ignoring a dozen of these e-mails curiosity got the best of me and the other day I went to the website listed to see what it was. Didn't click the link - pasted the website in. Knew it was a scam, not something I would consider for a moment - but I was just curious how scammy it was. It was an amazing sales job- a real study in how to tap into people's greed to rip them off. Took 5 minutes of my time. Now it wasn't a total waste of time because it turned into an illustration I can use in this message - so I guess in a way it became message prep time...but interruptions can add up and distract us from the important things we are supposed to do.
•a. Procrastination can rob us of fruitfulness
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. Prov. 20:4
There are many ways we can put off the hard work of plowing in the proper season and then when it's time for there to be a harvest - there is nothing there. Redeeming the time for the kingdom of God is as much about plowing and sowing as it is about reaping. If we don't do the hard work in the plowing season we won't have the harvest in the harvesting season.
Procrastination appeals to our desire to put off til tomorrow what we don't want to do now and whether I plow today or not won't make any immediate difference in my life. Both plower and non-plower's lives look the same - until harvest season. Then the non-plower has nothing.
Application: Plowing can have so many applications in our lives. It can be starting that project long before its due, not because its crunch time but because it's the right time. It's doing the hard work of plowing and sowing godly character in our children. It can be doing the right thing when no one is looking. Having those quiet times consistently each day even though some days you don't feel any different. Spiritual harvest, like natural harvest, generally isn't instant. Do we want the fruit of the Spirit without sowing to the Spirit? Takes time and faithfulness.
Procrastination robs us of the fruitfulness that God intends for our lives.
•b. Procrastination deteriorates our lives over time
Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. Prov. 18:9
Procrastination is destructive over time - through the slow process of deterioration. One of the most vivid descriptions of this is Prov. 24:30 -34.
Image of a life falling apart from deterioration. The field is overgrown with nettles and thistles, and the wall is falling apart - leaving the field vulnerable to more destruction from wild animals.
Then he goes on to describe the attitude that landed this landowner where he was: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
Putting off what he should be doing to get a little more sleep and little more slumber, a little folding of the hands. Notice the word little. It's destruction a little at a time. The procrastinator thinks, I'm only putting it off till tomorrow. But one tomorrow blends into another - suddenly they are surprised as they look at the deterioration that occurred a little at a time.
How do we arrest this thief that steals our time from us? How do we answer this call to redeem the time - to steward it and squeeze it for all we can for the glory of God?
•II. The cure for the procrastinating heart: the gospel
- Recognize that the roots of procrastination go deep into our hearts
Henegar writes about a class in seminary that challenged him to take a deeper look into his heart:
What captured my imagination was the biblical metaphor of a tree, and the suggestion that my prickly branches of procrastination were being nourished by unseen roots growing deep in the chambers of my heart.
If we don't get to the roots, we won't see lasting change. Once again we find the answer isn't time management, the answer is the gospel. We need a heart change more than we need a calendar change.
Personal application: I know that one of the heart issues for me is a love of entertainment and diversion. So for me checking e-mails or getting coffee or checking what new stimulus bill has been signed on the news is a form of diversion and entertainment. By themselves they are harmless, but the deeper question is why does my heart crave entertainment? To change for me has to begin by identifying the idols of my heart.
Your roots may tap into something different - but know that its root tap deep into the heart.
- Put off the root of procrastination through repentance
Once we identify the sinful root of our procrastination, scripture calls us to put off that sin through repentance. Repentance is having a change of mind about our sin and acknowledging that what God thinks about it is true. Repentance brings us to God in humility - and God gives grace to the humble.
Image of a root deep in our heart helps us to understand that repentance is digging up that root, not just dealing with the surface issue. If we just get our calendar out and resolve to try to do better - root lies underneath untouched. Even if we change somewhat in that area, the sinful craving just manifests itself in some other way. God's answer to sin is to repent - to have a change of mind and ask God for His forgiveness.
Through the blood of Jesus Christ we can know that we are forgiven and that God is eager to give us grace to change. That leads us to next step: the put on.
- Put on a passion and vision to serve the Lord's will with what time we have
We need a fresh vision of time and how God wants us to redeem the time. We are to redeem the time, for the days are evil. The influence of the days we live in is inevitably evil - currents that influence people's lives and their choices pull relentlessly toward sinful rebellion against God. Our lives are to inject a different influence - an influence towards God and towards the life that God offers through the gospel. God wants to use our lives as a redemptive influence in a corrupt generation.
How do we redeem time? Buy it back for the Lord? Vs. 17 directs us - don't live foolishly (procrastination is an expression of foolish use of time), but seek to do the Lord's will. Comes back to priorities - seeking kingdom of heaven first. Seeking our Lord's will and yielding to it.
Affects every area of life: how we plow our fields, how we maintain our stone walls. How we keep our yards and how we work our jobs. How we study if we're a student. How we treat our spouse and how we raise our kids. How we handle our finances, how we bear witness to our faith to non-Christians and how we treasure God's word and our communion with the Lord. Don't compartmentalize life into spiritual and non-spiritual - it's all yielded to the Lord. And what we can't do in faith - we don't do.
We redeem the time through a life increasingly yielded to the Lord and that yieldedness is lived out in time. Days. Wake up every morning and see it as an opportunity to be an instrument in the Lord's hand. No greater way to live. Patrick experienced that while in Uganda - there to serve the Lord and be an instrument of redemption in an evil day. I think Patrick would say he never felt so alive. We don't need to go to Uganda - God wants to use our lives - use our days - as instruments of redemption right where we are.
Question becomes: are you willing? Ready to surrender? John McArthur's grandfather wrote this prayer in his Bible, it's a good one for us to ponder as we close:
When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ And He shows me His plan for me;
The plan of my life as it might have been Had He had His way, and I see
How I blocked Him here and I checked Him there
And I would not yield my will,
Shall I see grief in my Savior's eyes;
Grief though He loves me still?
Oh, He'd have me rich, and I stand there poor,
Stripped of all but His grace,
While my memory runs like a hunted thing
Down the paths I can't retrace.
Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break
With tears that I cannot shed.
I'll cover my face with my empty hands
And bow my uncrowned head.
No. Lord of the years that are left to me
I yield them to Thy hand.
Take me, make me, mold me To the pattern Thou hast planned.