Biblical Strategies Blog

The importance of self control to overcome procrastination

Exercise self-control. While analyzing, prioritizing and biblicizing are all necessary steps, exercising self-control with your daily decisions will be essential to overcome procrastination. This is the purpose of the phrase in the Ephesians 5:17 passage—“do not be foolish.” The fool in the Bible describes the one who should have known better, but did not. Despite being entrusted with the necessary knowledge to change, he stubbornly refused to live differently. He repeatedly did the same thing the same way, but for some reason expected a different result. This is a perfect description of the chronic procrastinator. In the past, he or she may have run out of time to give his or her best effort to the task or relationship, and though they should learn from such history, they sadly repeat the same error and run out of time again. The memory word to help the procrastinator make these necessary changes is the word exercise. In order to break his foolish habits, he will need to exercise three elements of self-control.

While self-control may conjure up a self-help kind of mentality, it is actually given by the Holy Spirit, being a part of the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires

The Old Testament book of Proverbs adds these warnings: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls,” and “A wise man keeps himself under control.” Self-control is the mark of the wise, not the foolish. Once the procrastinator has worked through all the steps of discovery mentioned earlier, he will still need to do the hard work of exercising self-control regarding legitimately pursued pleasures. If he doesn’t learn to control what he enjoys, he will tend to put off his important priorities and fall back into the habit of procrastination.

Exercise self-control by doing the hardest task first.

Years ago I discovered that, if the first task I chose to do was the one I didn’t want to do, I usually had time left over to do the things that I enjoyed. But, if I started with the things that I enjoyed, I never seemed to have the time to do the difficult tasks that I was avoiding. The procrastinator will often choose to do the things he enjoys first and put off the more difficult task for another day. The struggling student plays video games before he studies for tomorrow’s test. The stressed out dad races home from work to fit in nine holes at the golf course instead of spending time with his demanding 3-year old son. We tend to do the task we enjoy the most first, and—because we enjoy it—we find that we haven’t left sufficient time for the task least preferred. Self-control is needed to take on the hardest task first. I have friends who told their teenage kids, “Always eat the frog first.” Spirit-empowered self-control is needed to consistently develop that pattern. A simple way to do this is to make a list of your unfinished tasks, and then, after you have prioritized them, take the one you are least fond of, and move it to the head of the list. Once you have completed the least pleasant task, move on to the others. You will find greater fulfillment in the pleasures you genuinely enjoy when you know that the difficult challenges are behind you, not waiting for you on tomorrow’s calendar.

Exercise self-control by doing what you do in moderation.

In his book Respectable Sins, author Jerry Bridges describes self-control as follows:

[Self-control is] control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful [emphasis added].

Time is a limited resource. The wise person understands this truth and practices moderation with those things he legitimately enjoys. The fool does not see the need for moderation. He will binge on the movies he enjoys and push back those unfinished tasks and troubling relationships until tomorrow. The fool believes that time is his own to do with as he pleases. He recoils at the thought of  accountability. This is why the Bible teaches that the fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” Sadly, the procrastinator makes the mistake of thinking of himself as sovereign. Until this is corrected, he will never see the need to exercise the activities he enjoys in moderation, and he will push back his responsibilities for another day. To break this habit, you must “learn to say no when you should say no.” You must remember that God alone is sovereign. You are a steward of time he has entrusted to you, not the owner. By the Spirit’s power, exercise your pleasures in moderation so that you can make the best use of your time to fulfill your God-given responsibilities.

Exercise self-control to persevere when you are discouraged.

Mason Cooley was an American aphorist known for his brief, witty statements. He is reported to have said, “The time I kill is killing me.” One of my favorite statements attributed to him was:

Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.

When we procrastinate, it feels as if things just got easier, because we don’t have to do the work right now. But in truth we just made a decision that will make tomorrow more difficult than it  would have been. When tomorrow arrives, you not only have that day’s work, but yesterday’s as well. As you push two days of unfinished work into the future, the mountain grows and becomes more difficult to scale. It’s easy to see how discouragement can creep in.

When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey Coast, our church participated in the cleanup effort. We partnered with Samaritan’s Purse in helping people restore homes to their previous condition. Atlantic City, New Jersey is built on a barrier island just off the mainland. The storm surge pushed four to six feet of water across the breadth of the island, damaging everything beneath the high-water mark. Marge was an elderly woman on the west side of the island. Our supervisor, having visited the location, warned us that Marge was a hoarder; care would need to be taken to not offend her in the clean up. Marge lived on the second floor of her home because you could not walk through the first floor. Every room was filled with her effects: years’ worth of newspapers, clothes, bedding, stuffed animals, and various other possessions sat soaked in Sandy’s aftermath. A crew of 25 volunteers worked the entire day, pulling those waterlogged belongings to the curb. I can still remember how hard it was for Marge to make a decision about what to do with her things, even though they were damaged beyond repair. Early on, the decisions were laborious, but her spirits lifted as the day progressed. She seemed younger, more talkative. She smiled as we pulled twenty years of hoarding to the curb for disposal. The local news station interviewed her, and she expressed gratitude to her “new-found friends” who had “done for her what she could not do for herself.” Her relief was palpable. Decades of indecision had paralyzed her ability to make a decision.

When the procrastinator keeps pushing back decisions that need to be made, his life becomes overwhelming—like the first floor of Marge’s apartment. It’s easy to grow discouraged when our failure to make decisions renders our lives a soggy living space overflowing with trash. This is where self-control needs to step in. Don’t succumb to your desires, cravings and impulses, no matter how insistent they are about being obeyed. Self-control walks by faith, not by feeling. By taking small steps, it perseveres in the face of discouragement. So don’t succumb to that overwhelming feeling. Just get started. Take your first step today.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination


Biblicize It! Defining your roles and responsibilities from the Bible

To overcome procrastination you will need to analyze what you’re doing wrong with your time, and you will need to make a list of priorities. But ultimately, you must always remember that you are a steward of time, not its owner. When you begin to see that you are a steward of time, you will treat it differently. Remember, it is God’s will we are after, not our own. This is why the apostle warns “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Note the second phrase in our time passage: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.”.

The Bible speaks a lot about wisdom, and Psalm 90:12 reveals an important step in attaining it: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” The ESV Study Bible comments:

This refers especially to the ability to make the most of one’s days, since they are so few. The heart of wisdom would enable the faithful to live by the right priorities.

The procrastinator doesn’t number his days, he presumes upon them. He isn’t counting down the time, he assumes he has more of it. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once said,

It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.

This is why the wise person in Psalm 90 is likened to a meticulous accountant. He sees time as a limited resource and will be selective in his investment of his time.

A practical way to “number your days” is to list out your roles of responsibility. These roles require different times and commitments. As an example, these are some of the responsibilities that God has entrusted to me:

  • I am a Christian
  • I am a husband
  • I am a father
  • I am an employee (a pastor)
  • I am a student
  • I am a mentor

These roles are relational; they involve my interaction with others in real time. If you are lazy, you will let others determine the use of your time based upon their perceived needs. When you let others define your roles, you will move from the important and into the realm of the urgent. For instance, the culture (or your church) will tell you what you should do as a Christian. Your boss will tell you what you should do as an employee (which usually means more work with less help). Your spouse will attempt to hold you to their expectations of your weekend, and your kids will make demands on your time morning, noon, and night.

Pop culture counters that with all those demands by others, you need to spend more time on yourself. But this position forgets the truth that time was never yours or theirs. It was a gift from God and should have been used accordingly. This is why simply listing your responsibilities is not sufficient to overcome procrastination. You need to clarify how you are to spend your time in those roles. I have found the Scriptures to be a tremendous help when it comes to defining our roles and responsibilities. Occasionally, you just have to make up a word to get your point across. Biblicize is that kind of word. I analyze, I prioritize, and then I biblicize. If I am really serious about doing the will of God, then I will need to get serious about understanding the Word of God. If I don’t let the Scriptures inform my specific responsibilities, I will give my time to what others want, and I will revert to procrastinating on the important things that God has called me to do. Notice how even just a handful of Biblical passages help clarify these roles:

  • As a Christian I am to love God and love the people around me (Mat. 22:36-40)
  • As a husband, I am to love my wife sacrificially (Eph. 5:25) and live with her in an understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • As a father, I am to instruct my kids in their relationship with the Lord (Deut. 6:4-7), discipline them as necessary (Eph. 6:4), and avoid provoking them to anger (Eph. 6:4).
  • As an employee (pastor), I am to spend time in the Word, in prayer (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim. 4:1-5) and in community with those in our church (1 Cor. 12:14-20).
  • As a student, I am to discover and apply God’s truths to my life (Ezra 7:10; Jam. 1:22).
  • As a mentor, I am to seek out, instruct, and encourage the next generation (1 Tim. 4:13-16; 2 Tim. 2:2).

You are a steward of time, not the owner. As a steward, you first check with the master to see how he wants you to spend your time. This is why we biblicize our roles and responsibilities.

The Importance of Setting Priorities to Overcome Procrastination

The apostle Paul offers helpful advice for the procrastinator in Ephesians 4:16 when he says “make the best use of the time.” Paul’s not comparing good and bad, implying a moral decision. He’s speaking of better and best, underscoring a priority-based decision. Some translations render this with the phrase, “redeeming the time.” Redeem is a biblical word with a rich heritage. It literally means “buy for the purpose of setting free.” Purchasing time for the sake of freedom. Now that’s good news for the procrastinator who is shackled by his many unfinished tasks. He needs to make better use of his time, and this is possible when he begins to make decisions in light of chosen priorities. The Bible often speaks of priorities.

Consider these two familiar passages:

  • But seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.
  • And this is the first commandment, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

One of the areas where laziness slips in for the procrastinator is in the setting of priorities. When we don’t establish our priorities and make choices in light of them we will find that, often, decisions are made for us. Then, out of necessity, we will put off what is really important because the less important task has risen to the level of urgency. Jesus makes the same observation when he addresses Martha. She was doing the urgent task while neglecting the important.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

R.H Stein comments,

Martha also wanted to hear Jesus, but the tyranny of the urgent prevented her from doing this. Martha was too easily distracted by less important things. […] There is a need to focus on what is most important, for although serving is good, sitting at Jesus’ feet is best.

Dwight D. Eisenhower served as the General of Armed forces as well as President of the United States for two terms. Making the case for what is truly important, he is reported to have said,

Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.

There is a thought-provoking matrix that bears Eisenhower’s name. The matrix has the support of numerous biblical passages, and is helpful for evaluating our priorities in light of how we spend our time. The Eisenhower matrix comprises four quadrants. It is important to remember these boxes are never static. Picture the four boxes together as composing a 24-hour period. Then imagine that the individual boxes enlarge or contract based upon how you spend your time. In order for one to increase in size an accompanying box will need to decrease. As you attempt to determine priorities, the events of your day fall into one of these categories.

Quadrant 1 is the important and urgent. When the good Samaritan came upon the man who had been robbed and left for dead it was both important (this is how we love our neighbor) and urgent (something needed to be done immediately).

Quadrant 2 is the important but not urgent. This is where preparation is done. The life of Jesus is an excellent example of this kind of activity. He prayed early in the morning on his busiest days, learned the Scripture well in advance of temptation, and always thoroughly prepared to teach and explain the Scriptures. Your spiritual disciplines fall into quadrant 2. This is where the procrastinator spends the least amount of time because putting off quadrant 2 activities has no immediate consequence. This quadrant lacks urgency. The world will not come to an end if, for instance, you miss a day of prayer, Scripture reading, or Scripture memory. But you will not be spiritually prepared when an opportunity presents itself in the future. This is the procrastinator’s trouble spot—he is always less prepared than he could have been. Quadrant 2 is where the procrastinator needs to spend more time. It is the quadrant of preparation.

Quadrant 3 is not important but urgent. While we must spend some time here, through adequate planning we can spend less. Jesus’ dinner with Mary and Martha provides a good example. Dirty dishes have a place, but not first place. Martha’s serving may have felt like it needed to be done right away, but when Jesus is seated at your table, the dishes can wait. Giving your undivided attention to the words of Jesus is of greater importance than your acts of service. The procrastinator lives in the urgent quadrants. Actually, if you put off anything long enough, it will eventually become urgent and you’ll have to do it. But such a pattern keeps you from doing what is really important. Goethe said,

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Finally, there’s quadrant 4. These are the items that are neither important nor urgent. Because the procrastinator has not developed proper priorities, he is prone to spend an inordinate amount of time in this category. Mindlessly surfing the internet, excessive online gaming, entertainment, and social media fill this category. The average young person ages 8-18 spends 44.5 hours of screen time per week. More often than not, this is quadrant 4 activity. When you put off the important (because it isn’t urgent) you often replace it with the unimportant. Proverbs 12:11 warns us: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” The word worthless can mean empty, unprincipled, or vain. It is used to describe a cistern that is empty of water. It is also used to describe the pursuit of desires that are unfulfilled. It’s a good word to describe quadrant 4. Time spent here is a waste of time. Furthermore, worthless desires will always remain unfulfilled—wanting more of your time, no matter how much you give. Most procrastinators find they spend a significant amount of time in quadrant 4. This is why, when a procrastinator claims: I just didn’t have enough time, they are deceiving themselves. They did have time, they just spent too much of it in quadrant 4.

The procrastinator spends most of his time in quadrants 1, 3, and 4. He allows something or someone to set his priorities with the urgent marker (quadrants 1 and 3). Then, as he falls further behind with the important things that he didn’t get to, he will give himself to the unimportant (quadrant 4). As this pattern continues, the urgent list grows longer, and he pushes the important issues off until tomorrow. Jesus gave a powerful promise when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will added unto you.”Because God holds you responsible for what you seek to do first, you cannot allow the tyranny of the urgent to set your priorities. To overcome procrastination, you will need to reevaluate your priorities and invest your time in things of lasting value.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination, pp. 45-50

Next Week: Step 3-Biblicize

Biblical Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

Step 1: Analyze

Most procrastinators operate without personal accountability for their time. While they may admit to having not planned properly, they usually are unaware of how they spent their time. They only know they didn’t seem to have enough of it. The phrase “look carefully then how you walk” (Eph. 5:15) challenges us to diligently evaluate our use of time. The word carefully is translated in other biblical passages as closely, exactly, accurately. It brings to mind an analytical evaluation, one that focuses on the details, not the generalities. This is helpful counsel for procrastinators. They typically do not think of time in small increments (minutes and hours). They think in terms of days, weeks, or years. The procrastinator lives like someone who is constantly going into debt, because he assumes he’ll make more money later. The compulsive shopper and procrastinator have a similar problem: they are frivolous with a God-given resource. For the spendthrift, it’s about dollars; for the procrastinator, it’s about minutes. The solution for both is to look carefully how they walk. They need to live by a budget. One needs to carefully plan how he’ll spend his money; the other needs to carefully plan how he’ll spend his time.

A few years ago, I found that I was growing increasingly discouraged with events in my life. Each week it felt like Friday came upon me too fast, leaving an ever-increasing mound of unfinished tasks. Those unfinished jobs cluttered my desk and my mind. I felt the emotional weariness that comes from falling further behind. I confessed my struggle to a friend and mentor. He challenged me to keep a journal of my daily activities in 15 minute increments for two weeks. I remember thinking: I don’t have the time to do this! I can’t complete my unfinished projects now and you want me to spend my time recording activities every 15 minutes? But, out of respect for his wisdom I began the process. It was both humbling and revealing. After two weeks I began to see patterns in my life. I discovered areas where I was both unproductive and inefficient. I could also see where some of my relationships were not getting the time they needed, while others—because I hadn’t planned properly—were getting an inordinate amount of time. Having not made priority-based decisions about my time, I was at the mercy of what others viewed as important. At the end of the journaling, I had to admit I was not making the best use of my time—a truth I would not have discovered if I had not taken the time to analyze. Heed the biblical warning: look carefully how you walk. It’s a simple process to get started. Just keep a record of your time.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination

Next Week–Step 2: Prioritize

Faith On The Field Show

Faith on the Field

The danger of the subtle idol

You would think that a Christian shouldn’t struggle with idol worship, but the battle with the desires in my own heart tells me otherwise. The Bible describes the heart as the dwelling of our thoughts, emotions, and choices. There is a daily battle there, as to whether we will worship the true and living God or the gods of our making.

In his book Worship Matters Bob Kauflin explains,

Throughout the Scripture, idolatry is the greatest snare the people of God encounter. God condemns idolatry repeatedly in his Word. He hates it when we pursue, serve, or are emotionally drawn to other gods, which are not really gods at all. Idols enslave us and put us to shame (Isaiah 45:16; Psalm 106:36). Idols are powerless to help us and end up making us into their image (Psalm 115:8).

When some of us hear the word idolatry, we picture primitive tribesman bowing down to statues of wood, metal or stone. . . But idol worship is a daily ritual in America. too. Only it’s more subtle and therefore more dangerous. Idols are all around us. Can you spot them? They come in different forms. Material comforts. Financial security. Sensual pleasures. . . Things like reputation, power, and control.

As Christians we’re sometimes like the people described in 2 Kings 17:33: “they feared the Lord but also served other gods.” We fear the Lord externally, doing all the right things on Sunday morning–singing, strumming a guitar, lifting our hands–yet actively serve false gods throughout the week. We profess to love the true God but actually love false idols. It’s a condition that God, in his mercy, is committed to changing (p. 21,22).

The subtle idols are often invisible to the human eye, but the worship of them is not. When you feel your anger rising because you didn’t get what you wanted, you are worshipping the idol of your expectations. If you can’t exercise Spirit-given self-control over your sexual desires, you are worshipping at the idol of your sensual pleasures. If you are characterized by worry and anxiety, you are worshipping at the altar of your security.

The heart is the alarm mechanism for keeping God worshippers from becoming idol worshippers. Whenever you are willing to sin in order to get something you want you are worshipping an idol.

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