That picture is what 6 tons of Texas topsoil looks like, and I shoveled every inch of it. Let me back up…
If you watched our new show Battle Cry last Monday I talked about the three things that hold us back from our dreams: lack of prioritization, being a perfectionist, and procrastinating. As we wrap up the week I want to talk a bit more about procrastination, which is a bit funny given that this very blog post is coming a full week late due to my own procrastination. Hey, I never said I didn’t suffer these problems, too!
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Certainly the most obvious story about procrastination and its effects in the Bible is the story of the prophet Jonah. God tells him to go to Nineveh to give a message and he expends a thousand times more effort to, instead, run from God. He spends a few days in the belly of huge fish because of his stubbornness.
But, as with anything we need to do that we’re putting off, Jonah’s work doesn’t go away. On the other side he has done his task, but wasted a ton of time and caused himself a lot of heartache trying not to do it first. And there is what all procrastination is: a prayer that the thing we don’t feel like doing will just go away.
But why does that happen? Let’s talk about dirt for a second.
I had that big pile of dirty delivered in early September a couple years ago. I hadn’t accounted for exactly how much 5 cubic yards of dirt was, so I planned a day off work to get it done. It ended up taking 3. The guy dropped it off around 8am, right as the sun was beginning to peak over the houses across the street, which meant that as I took that first shovel of dirt I was under direct sun.
It had been a hot year, and on this particular day it was well over 90F. I didn’t use sunscreen. I didn’t drink enough water. I didn’t enlist any help. I didn’t have a proper shovel for my height. I didn’t wear enough clothes. I didn’t have the guy drop it in the right place. I hadn’t prepared the flower beds it was going in.
The only reason this dirt was necessary in the first place was that I never had a sprinkler system installed and I didn’t water enough. Item by item down the line, if I could have done it wrong I did it wrong. All due to procrastination.
I simply didn’t keep up with the things I knew I needed to.
Chain of Fools
If you’d asked me why I wasn’t drinking water I’d have said: “no time.”
If you’d asked why I didn’t wear sunscreen: “I don’t burn that easily.”
Why no sprinkler system? “I don’t have enough money.”
If you asked Jonah why he ran: “I’m scared of the people’s reaction.”
Do you see the common thread? It’s lack of prioritization! Jonah put his feelings above the lives of others. I put a new TV or a vacation above installing something helpful for my home, and because of that lack of care, I ended up putting speed over my own personal safety.
And there’s the crux of it: procrastination always starts with a screwed up priority list. Always. You delay doing the thing that you need, or even want, to do because there’s something else you put as more important. That thing is almost always our own comfort.
I Can’t Help Myself
This is exactly what Proverb 6:10-11 and Proverb 24:33-34 are talking about when they read:
“Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.”
They are saying that putting relaxation — putting comfort — above your personal growth will lead to a painful paradox: you will be bereft of substance and yet desperately, cripplingly craving more. Procrastination is born of bad prioritization, and it breeds more corrupt prioritization which results in more crippling procrastination.
Literally: the less you do to grow the more you prevent yourself from being able to grow. But how do you break that vicious cycle?
Solving a problem always begins with acknowledging it and then understanding it. I don’t think many of us would deny that we have a procrastination problem: our entire first-world society is built around increasing your comfort and escaping your drudgery. We have product after product aimed at helping you to be more comfortable: TV’s to bring theatre to you, cars to keep you from walking or biking, e-books to keep you from having to heave up an entire printed binding, messaging and social media platforms to keep you from having to engage with actual people who, let’s face it, can be exhausting.
I am not some Luddite here decrying the luxuries of modern living, but I am asking you to take a look at the life you’ve built up around you and ask yourself how much is built to sustain your comfort versus how much is built to support your goals? Can you even recite to me your top 3 goals in life? If you can’t, don’t feel bad: this is a problem of prioritization that has been whispered to us for over 6,000 years: “Don’t trust what God says. Trust what your heart tells you.”
Blowin’ in the Wind
To understand procrastination you need to understand where the source of that corrupt prioritization comes from. It’s easy to label it “the devil”, but the truth is more subtle. Satan didn’t cause Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. He didn’t even convince them. What he stole from them was not their innocence or their choice, it was their discernment. He simply gave voice to what was already in their hearts. He gave an external approval to solidify for them that what they wanted — to eat that fruit — wasn’t wrong.
“God created us to rule the earth,” they reasoned, “so why would He make a fruit right here in our midst that would kill us? That just doesn’t make sense.” That curiosity, that kernel of doubt, sits in us all. We don’t have all the information we need — the apostle Paul says it “we see as through a mirror, darkly” — so we make presumptions about truth. One of those presumptions is that anything that requires internal motivation isn’t as fulfilling as relaxation.
But let me ask you: when was the last time a box of cookies held down your hunger the way a salad does? We know, today. We know food science, and we understand the difference between empty calories that kill us and fuel calories that sustain us. I submit that there are also empty decisions that sap us and fuel decisions that propel us.
We make these empty decisions, these corrupt priorities, based off of bad information, and so it’s that bad information we have to confront. And the first pillar of proper prioritization is understanding your purpose.
There is a thing that sits in your heart that you want to chase. A book you want to write, a film you want to make, a trip you want to take, a charity you want to build… whatever it is, there is a thing that delights you; that dances through your mind, and any time you spend actually working on it are the happiest moments of your life.
But that thing seems impractical and hard and risky, and are you really even good enough to have that kind of success, anyway? You allow your purpose to become a fantasy because you just simply don’t see yourself straddling the hurdle to make it real.
What you need to know, what you have to understand, is that God made that dream for you, and He did it so you can achieve it. It’s custom-made for you, and you are the only one on earth who can make it real. That is your light, and your light is made to shine to all the earth.
Then He Kissed Me
The final, and most important lesson, I learned shoveling this dirt was about the grace of God. Let me tell you: I do not have the physical strength to shovel 6 tons of dirt in 3 days. The first day I shoveled approximately 4 tons of it. The first two were easy enough, but when the sun had zapped every bit of strength and I was sweating every drop of moisture left in me I was sure that 4 tons of dirt were going to sit on my lawn for weeks.
Laying out on that pile of dirt, heaving and sweating and burning under direct sunlight I confessed to God that I couldn’t keep going. I had built up a problem so large I had no “out.” Never one to miss a teachable moment the Spirit echoed back to me Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” But then He pointed out something new about that verse: it’s translated a little wrong. It’s closer to “always the anointing of God empowers me to Jesus,” where “to Jesus” means to walk in the purpose God made for you.
This verse doesn’t just mean that Jesus supports you; it literally means that the anointing of God gives you the power to fulfill your purpose. That’s what Paul was explaining in Philipians. I shoveled 2 more tons of dirt that day and, despite being sore, sunburned, and tired, I shoveled the rest the next day and did cleanup the following. Not through my own motivation, but because it was necessary for the health of my home, and my home is the investment that, today, is going to provide the funding for me to live the next steps of my purpose. I was empowered by knowledge that this needed to be done to walk in my purpose.
I shoveled that dirt so I could write this post, and to tell you that the hard part is not the shoveling of dirt! It’s in trying to avoid shoveling that dirt — it’s in the procrastination. The hardest thing on earth is to not follow your purpose, and yet we do it every day.
You Keep Me Hanging On
What you need to understand is that no matter how many times you fall down, no matter how much you delay… God isn’t mad at you. And He isn’t losing patience with you. He made a purpose for you and no matter how long you try to put it off it is your purpose and it will be fulfilled one way or another. What you get to do is decide how much kicking and screaming you do trying to cling to your pajamas along the way.
Because your dream is not yours.
Every single beating heart on earth needs you to fulfill that dream because our growth depends on it. You are not an island, and that dream is not about you. It is about me and about the rest of the planet, just as my dream is not about me! My dream is about you, and about all of my brothers and sisters across the earth.
I need you to fulfill your dream so I can grow and you need me to fulfill mine so you can grow. We don’t get that done by reserving our time to eat ice cream on the couch and relax. We have to re-calibrate our priorities. That starts with believing that the empty decision to sit and eat empty calories staring at an empty video isn’t relaxation, it’s escaping. And escaping doesn’t make things go away; it just makes them more urgent and more pressure and drives more need to escape.
True relaxation comes in the glow of completion, in the satisfaction of taking a solid step forward.
I’m a Believer
Try it and see. Instead of taking Saturday off to chill, sit and make up your list of your top 3 goals in life. Then take concrete action towards at least one. Commit 4 hours of your day to it. I can promise you: you will never find rest as thorough as that had while walking in your purpose.
Father, please help them to hear what you said to me and not just what I am trying so feebly to get across. I want so much to help them want to grow, but I know all motivation is Yours to provide, so please bless them with the fire, with the burning desire to do what You put in their hearts. Let them find a desire they cannot quench and grant them clarity and expedience in their testing of this theory. Guard them and guide them as only You can. In the mighty name of my Brother, my King, my Savior, and my Teacher; in the blessed name of Your Word, Your Son, and Your Anointed servant, Jesus, I pray. Amen.