Biblical Productivity | Confessions of a Busy Procrastinator
Lazy? Not me. I’m busy. Up early, up late. My schedule is filled from beginning to end. I love what I do and I love getting stuff done. I attack a daily to‐do list with the same intensity I play basketball. Me lazy? I don’t think so!
Or at least I didn’t think so. That is, until I read about the difference between busyness and fruitfulness, and realized just how often my busyness was an expression of laziness, not diligence.
I forget now who first brought these points to my attention. But the realization that I could be simultaneously busy and lazy, that I could be a hectic sluggard, that my busyness was no immunity from laziness, became a life‐altering and work‐altering insight. What I learned is that:
- Busyness does not mean I am diligent
- Busyness does not mean I am faithful
- Busyness does not mean I am fruitful
Recognizing the sin of procrastination, and broadening the definition to include busyness, has made a significant alteration in my life. The sluggard can be busy—busy neglecting the most important work, and busy knocking out a to‐do list filled with tasks of secondary importance.
When considering our schedules, we have endless options. But there are a few clear priorities and projects, derived from my God‐assigned roles, that should occupy the majority of my time during a given week. And there are a thousand tasks of secondary importance that tempt us to devote a disproportionate amount of time to completing an endless to‐do list. And if we are lazy, we will neglect the important for the urgent.
Our Savior understood priorities. Although his public ministry was shorter than one presidential term, within that time he completed all the works give to him by the Father.
The Father evidently called him to heal a limited number of people from disease, raise a limited number of bodies from the dead, and preach a limited number of sermons. As Jesus stared into the cup of God’s wrath, he looked back on his life work as complete because he understood the calling of the Father. He was not called to heal everyone, raise everyone, preach copious sermons, or write volumes of books.
While we must always be extra careful when comparing our responsibilities with Christ’s messianic priorities, in the incarnation he entered into the limitations of human life on this earth.
So join me over the next few days as we discover the root and nature of laziness, so that we might devote ourselves to biblical priorities and join our Savior in one day praying to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4, ESV).
Confessions of a Busy Procrastinator
In the past I thought that as long as I wasn’t idle, I wasn’t lazy. Not true. In fact, my laziness often shows up in the form of busyness.
And this was the same discovery Walter Henegar made in his life, as he explained in his candid autobiographical article “Putting Off Procrastination” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall 2001).
“I procrastinate,” he writes. “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 lazy; I’m actually very busy. I just wait as long as possible to do the really hard stuff. I always pull it off in the end, but it regularly makes me miserable” (p. 40).
Here is a glimpse into his life:
When I got married, my uncle, who married us, joked about my well‐known tendency right in the middle of the ceremony. His sermon was about the necessity of change in marriage, and looking right at me, he said, “One who is a procrastinator...will put that off as long as he can.”
And that’s exactly what I did, though married life made it increasingly more difficult. My designated crunch times now belonged to my wife as well, and I had to push her away to get last‐minute work done....Can’t she just cut me some slack?
She did cut me some slack, but only as much as her chronically ill body would allow. Repeated hospital stays and constant bouts with pain forced her to lean heavily on me to take care of her—and our two children. If marriage is God’s cold chisel for sanctifying us, then children only sharpen the edge. The three of them drove my work responsibilities deeper into my free time and farther into the hours of the night. I slept less and less. I still managed to pull most things off, but the quality of my work suffered, and my list of un‐done to‐do’s grew. I was continually weary, discouraged, and feeling sorry for myself. A couple of times, in the throes of last‐minute working, I even experienced something like panic attacks. I envied my more disciplined friends but saw little hope of becoming like them. (pp. 40–41)
As he began studying his heart, Mr. Henegar discovered that his sin operated from three predictable manifestations of what he calls his “flow chart of if‐thens”:
- If my task is not due anytime soon, put it off.
- If the task is due tomorrow, cast aside all other responsibilities and focus on this one task.
- And after accomplishing a large task, take a break and reward yourself.
As he continued to study his own heart, he began to understand that although his day was filled with busyness—and even with genuinely good activities—he was procrastinating. “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” (p. 41).
Then came the decisive point in his life when he learned more about this procrastinator within.
About two years ago, a counseling class in seminary challenged me to give Scripture a shot at diagnosing my problem and setting a course for change. 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. A hope even flashed that I might uncover the root, and somehow cut it out once and for all. In retrospect, this second hope was a reflection of my procrastinator’s heart, always looking for a shortcut or a silver bullet. (p. 41)
But there was no shortcut.
Next time we’ll discover how Mr. Henegar confronted the procrastinator within.
To be continued...
This post is adapted from C.J. Mahaney's book Biblical Productivity which is also available as a downloadable PDF.
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