How your fears make it easy to procrastinate and what you can do about it

Procrastination is a man-made defense in response to fear. Perhaps you haven’t stated it that boldly yet, but whether you’re putting off a difficult project or a potential confrontation, there’s a good chance you’re afraid. Jesus reveals this truth when he tells the story of the three stewards. A steward is one who is given charge over certain assets by his master. He is not the owner of those assets, nor has he earned them. In the story, each steward was given responsibility for a sum of money that they were to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable each steward was entrusted with certain talents by their master. The word talent describes the value of the assets with which they were entrusted. The three stewards were given 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. In biblical language, a talent was a financial measurement and could be valued in silver or gold. A talent of silver was worth approximately $384,000 in modern US dollars; a talent of gold about $5,760,000. By the gold standard, the first was entrusted with 29 million dollars, the second 11.5 million dollars, and the third 5.75 million dollars. That’s a lot of somebody else’s money to be responsible for.

Stewards one and two invested the money wisely, doubled their investment, and fulfilled their master’s expectations. The master commended them for a job well done. But the third steward chose not to invest the talent. As hard as it is to believe, he took a shovel, walked into his back yard, dropped nearly six million dollars into a hole in the ground, and covered it up. He then returned to his home and waited for the master’s return. Don’t you want to jump into Jesus’ story, grab the unwise steward by the shoulders, shake him and shout, “What are you thinking?!  How can you bury six million dollars in your back yard?” But upon the master’s return, the one-talent steward told us what he was thinking. As we listen in, we will discover the hidden motivator behind our own struggle with procrastination. Here was his confession: 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. Fear can be debilitating. It can freeze your thoughts, lock down your emotions, and paralyze your ability to choose. When it comes to procrastination, there are two elements in our fear that prevail—a sense of our inadequacy and the memory of past failed attempts.

A Sense of Inadequacy: This is too difficult. If you put it off, it will get easier.

When we put off today’s trouble because we feel inadequate, we often discover that the situation only becomes more difficult, not easier. The unwise steward claimed he was inadequate for the task. He believed his master’s standard was too high for his ability. Succumbing to fear, he put off his responsibility as a steward to invest the money. When we read the story, it is easy to empathize with the one-talent steward. We understand his fear. If we were entrusted with six million dollars, we’d feel inadequate too!

As a counselor, I’ve noticed often that when people are facing a task for which they feel inadequate, well-intentioned friends are prone to tell them that they can do it—they simply need to believe in themselves. These words, while meant for encouragement, can actually be quite dangerous. The Bible teaches that when you feel inadequate in your own strength or ability, it may actually be justified. Proverbs says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths”

When you do not feel up to the task to which God has called you, it should motivate you to trust in him more than you do in yourself. This is how you overcome your sense of inadequacy.

A memory of a past failure: Since you failed before, you will only fail again. Don’t try today.

Your past may be haunted with disappointments; personal failures may clutter your memory. Wherever there were breakdowns in your past, you’ll find it easy to procrastinate in your present. Your thoughts whisper: if you’ve failed before, you’ll only fail again. Our fear of repeated failure has barred the door to change. We wait for a motivation that never comes. Perhaps you have struggled in your past with maintaining a weight-loss program. You were motivated when you started and you saw some early success, but then you failed to keep up the regime. The weight came back on, discouragement crept in, and now you’ve lost the motivation to begin again. You don’t remember the brief successes, you just remember the feeling of failure. Better to put a smile on it, and act like it doesn’t bother you. You put off the notorious “first day” until tomorrow. After that, you put it off further, always looking for the motivation that never comes. To rediscover the motivation necessary to crawl back on the treadmill, you will need to address the fear of repeated failure.

The Bible says that “perfect love casts out fear.” I have always been fascinated by that verse. You would think that perfect courage, endurance, or bravery might be one of the best candidates to cast out fear, but the Holy Spirit chose perfect love. Our heavenly Father’s perfect love is best understood through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. For the Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Often, because of past failures, a person is afraid to try. They aren’t motivated by “perfect love,” they are motivated by their own perfection. They refuse to try again unless they are guaranteed success. But whenever we worry about personal success our pride is at work. We don’t simply fear failure, we fear the humbling process that comes with it. It’s easier to say, “I’m going to start a weight loss program tomorrow” than to say, “I started one yesterday, but I couldn’t keep it up.” The first position is easier, because it doesn’t acknowledge our personal weakness. We admire humility in others, but we dislike the failure that brings it about in us. Failure forces us to admit that we lack the strength to accomplish our goals. Our pride is like an angry pit bull—aggressive, defensive, and never looking for help from others. This latter position, “I started a weight-loss program yesterday but couldn’t keep it up,” forces you to ask for help from God and from others.

If we will let personal failure accomplish its intended purpose, it will humble us, and we’ll ask for help next time. We won’t attempt to operate in our own wisdom; we’ll ask God for his. We’ll trust in him, not ourselves. This is the value of personal failure, and you can be certain that the devil and all of his angels don’t want you discovering it. They whisper the lie: Don’t ask for help. Just put this off until you have the strength of will to do it on your own.

Consider this: if you start today, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fail, humble yourself, try again, and become a little bit more like Jesus in the process. But so often our nagging fear of failure prompts us to put off the things we’ve messed up in the past. Our fear of failure is fruitless because it doesn’t encourage planning; it offers unproductive waiting instead. The longer we put off the task we’ve failed at before, the harder it is to get started. We need to admit that we are weak and insecure. Left to our own, we would fail again. Such an understanding allows you to take a step forward by faith. You will never discover the motivation you lack by waiting to start. The one who is growing in faith acknowledges his past failures and trusts God with future endeavors. You go forward with a confidence in God’s perfect love, not your past achievements. That is how we get started when we tend to surrender to our fear and procrastinate instead.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination




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