Why do I procrastinate?

Slide1Procrastination. At five syllables even the word takes a long time to say. Say it slowly and you’re liable to evoke images of unbalanced checkbooks, people you meant to call back, and honey-do lists that have no end in sight. Each of us has a propensity to put off certain tasks. Perhaps you’re among those who thought that procrastination was your spiritual gift, and that you had been given a double portion.

Most books on procrastination will talk about time-management. But procrastinating is more than a time issue. It’s root cause lies deeper. We can’t simply address how we stop putting off the important tasks, without answering why we were putting them off in the first place. Here are three primary causes. Choose the one that applies to you and start to work on it today – not tomorrow.

Fear: The secret motivator

Jesus told the story of three stewards who were entrusted with various amounts of wealth. The first two invested wisely, but the final steward hid his talent in the ground. Notice his confession when his boss returns home.

Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours  (Matt. 25:24-25).

The unwise steward was afraid. Fear is often the motivator for putting off what is difficult. Perhaps we’re afraid of failure or what others might think of us. This perpetrator works in secret, because rarely do we confess our fear to others until it is too late. How much better to confess your fears early on, seek help, and then walk by faith.

Sloth: The stubborn enabler

A wild sloth can sleep 15-18 hours a day. Which is about as much as a domestic house cat (but that’s another story). Talk about an unproductive life. By contrast, the Bible holds up the ant as a model for the sluggard to examine.

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (Prov. 6:6-11)

The ant is thinking about her future,  and she busies herself over making sure she’s prepared. Even hard workers can struggle with laziness, when it comes to what they don’t want to do. When I received my grandmother’s Bible upon her death, a small note fell out of it. In her own handwriting I read: The longer you wait to solve a problem — the more serious it quickly becomes. Don’t put off tomorrow what should be done today.

Pride: The overconfident optimist

The procrastinator always believes that tomorrow will provide a better opportunity than today. This is pride’s subtle lie. We don’t know that we will have tomorrow. We do know that we have today. James gave this strong warning:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance (James 4:13-16).

James reminds the procrastinator that he has a pride problem. He is overconfident in his optimism.  He has arrogantly assumed  that he will be in a better position tomorrow. But we don’t know that we will have tomorrow, so we ought to make a humble investment in tomorrow by being diligent today.

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Circles of clarification for the anxious heart

3 circle slideControl
The inner circle is the circle of control; because it includes the elements over which you are able exercise control and have been given responsibility. You’ll note that it is the smallest circle; there is very little in this life that you and I can actually control. For instance, I can’t control the traffic on my way to work, but I can control my response to that traffic. I can’t control the world’s economy, but I can control my spending and be fiscally responsible. I can’t control the outcome of my children’s choices, but I am able to control the instruction and discipline I give to them while they are under my authority.  God has intentionally made my circle of responsibility the smallest. His Word gives precepts and commands so that I would know what my responsibilities are and obey him accordingly. As I walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, I am able to do everything that is within this circle (Gal. 5:16, Phil. 4:13).

Concerned
The middle circle contains the areas that touch my life, but over which I exercise limited control. A friend or a family member who is living a dangerous life style would fall into this category. Hopefully, through the years, my compassion and loyalty have won me the opportunity to speak to him about my concerns. Certainly, I have influence as a friend. Still, I have to remember, I do not ultimately control his choices or the outcome of those choices. He alone is responsible. He, too, has a circle of control.

In the areas where I feel concern, I pray, and look for opportunities to minister. But when I think I can control my friend’s choices, I become manipulative. I use tools like shame or silence. I bribe him by holding our relationship hostage. To avoid this pattern, I remind myself of my responsibilities as found in 2 Timothy.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis added](2 Tm. 2:24-26).

Ultimately, I cannot make my friend change his mind. Only the Spirit of God can bring about repentance. In the areas where I am concerned, but cannot control I must learn to trust God. This is why prayer is a valuable replacement for worry. Every time I pray, I am trusting God to do in another’s life what I cannot do.

Consumed
Even when I am not manipulative, it is easy to drift from the middle circle into the outer one. Being concerned is only one step away from being consumed. I go to sleep thinking about the situation and wake up with it on my mind. It distracts me from the important conversations around me. It interrupts my relationship with God, and it intrudes upon my relationships with others. This is the circle of worry. I can’t seem to get my mind off the matter at hand. When I am in this circle, it feels like I should be able to come up with a solution if I only worry for a little longer. That is anxiety’s lie. Without realizing it, I have drifted from being concerned to being consumed.

The three circles clarify an inherent danger when we move from the inner circle to the outer. The outer circle does not touch the inner. Which means, when I am worrying about a matter, I cannot fulfill my God-given responsibilities. My time and energies are wasted in the consumed circle and I have nothing left to spend on the areas that I am responsible for. This is why unchecked anxiety often leads to other sins. We’ve depleted the resources that God had given us to fulfill our responsibilities today because we were worrying about tomorrow. Jesus made this case in his Sermon on the Mount when he said,  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).

When something or someone is beginning to consume your mind, the three circles serve as a vivid reminder that you are not fulfilling your responsibilities. Stop obsessing over what you can’t control and give your best efforts to those areas that you can. Be faithful to do what God has asked of you.

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety published by Biblical Strategies, 2013.

Anxiety and the character of God

Triangle slideAnxiety is the natural result of doubting the character of God. This diagram helps you think properly about God’s character in relation to your well-being. God’s wisdom means he knows what is best for you; God’s power means he has the ability to accomplish what is best for you; God’s love means that he genuinely wants what is best for you. Reflecting upon this triad is a helpful way to overcome anxiety. Whatever storm you face, you are safe within the confines of God’s love, wisdom and power.

Anxiety will occur whenever you doubt one of these elements of God’s character. The diagram is also an excellent diagnostic tool for anxiety. It clarifies where you should focus your Bible study. For instance, if you doubt God’s goodness then study passages about his love (1 John 4:8). If you question his ability choose passages on his power (Jer. 32:17). If you question whether he knows what is best, then study passages on his wisdom (Rom. 11:34).

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety published by Biblical Strategies. Available in Christian bookstores and with online retailers.

Help for the anxious

SISFirst Peter 5:7 is one of the sweetest verses in the Bible. Peter recorded this truth for people who were under severe persecution. He writes, “Casting all you anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We all have the desire to control things that we cannot, and we often forget how deeply God cares for us. If I had authored the verse, I might have chosen a different quality of God to emphasize. Something like his perfect wisdom or his unlimited power. Logically, it would make more sense to think that even though I am not in control, an all-wise, all-powerful God is. But the Holy Spirit saw fit to inspire Peter otherwise, and I’m glad he did. When it comes to anxiety, he chose to emphasize the compassionate, softer side of God. When I am fearful, I find comfort in this truth: I’m not alone in my struggle, and God cares.

The challenge, of course, is that anxiety can wake you up at 3:00 AM. The silence in your house echoes the message: No one’s here and no one cares. In these times we feel so very alone. We stare into the darkness trying to find a reasonable solution to the trouble we’re in. The alarm clock interrupts our thoughts, but not our sleep, a shrill reminder that this is the time we should be waking up had our anxious thoughts not awakened us earlier. As we enter into the day, all those around us seem to interact quite naturally with one another. They laugh about their weekend. They complain because it’s Monday. They tell stories about their relationships or listen to others who do. We smile and exchange formalities as if we’re part of the group, but our anxious thoughts are all our own. They whisper deceitfully: No one knows, and no one cares. But the Bible tells us this is not entirely true. It may be true that the smiling people around you are clueless to your difficulty. It might even be true that some of them, if they knew, wouldn’t care. But God knows, and he cares. This is why the first principle of overcoming anxiety is belief. You and I must learn to believe God’s Word, not our feelings.

We live in a world where feelings reign supreme. Listen attentively to the conversations around you, and I’m sure you’ll agree. Every day, people are making life-changing decisions from a feelings-foundation. Statements like, I feel like this is the best decision for me, or I just don’t feel like I love him anymore are commonplace. This mindset has even drifted into our spiritual conversations. I often hear people say I feel like this is God’s will for me or I just had a feeling that it was the right thing to do. Because our feelings are personal, deeply felt, and sincere, they are easy to believe. But that doesn’t mean that we should believe them. The root word for “believe” occurs 241 times in the New Testament. Nearly half of those times it is used by the apostle John. He directed us to believe the Father, his promises, his Word, and his Son. But not once did he say we should believe what we feel. This is the necessary starting point for victory over feelings of anxiety. It’s time to ask yourself: what do I really believe?

Excerpted from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety, p. 9-10. Available at Christian bookstores and online retailers.