Procrastination can be deadly.
In some cases, literally. When I was in high school, I would put off doing my term papers until the night before they were due. If it was a particularly tough assignment, maybe I would start it that week. But I put it off as long as I could. Then it was a mad dash to the finish! I’d work all day and sometimes all night to get it done. There were days I literally stayed up all night long. One time, I was printing the last page right before my mom had to take me to school. When my mom would ask me why I waited so long to do it, I told her I thrived under pressure. How many of you have used that same excuse? I THRIVE under pressure! And there was some truth to that statement. There’s nothing like having a deadline looming in front of you to get you to produce something quickly. But was it always my best work? Probably not. When I look back, I can see that my failure to plan ahead was mostly a result of avoiding what I didn’t want to do. Not that schoolwork wasn’t important. I had big plans after all. But that as long as I was still getting the grades I wanted, why change? Why disrupt the way I was used to doing things? It wasn’t until I got to UCLA that I realized my lack of planning had some real-world consequences. Like not getting the grades I expected. In high school, I was near the top of my class. I graduated in the top 5%, but at UCLA everyone graduated in the top 5% or they wouldn’t be there and suddenly I found myself struggling in school. But did I immediately turn things around? Did the realization I wasn’t getting the results I wanted enough to make me change my ways? Nope.
Psychologists believe that procrastination is largely avoidance behavior.
There’s something we know we should be doing, but we don’t really want to do it. It could be for any number of reasons, but whatever the reason, we’re not doing it. Maybe for you it’s doing the dishes. For others, it’s getting that monthly report in to your boss. Some of you might be putting off something really important like going to the doctor or starting an exercise routine. I know too many people who avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid of what they doctor is going to say. But why? Better to hear it early when you can do something about it than too late when there’s nothing left to do. Some of you have put off God. God is important to you, but you don’t spend any time with God. You don’t spend time developing your faith. You figure you have all the time in the world, until you don’t. Whatever it is, you’re procrastinating. You’re making up excuses for not doing what needs to be done. On some gut level, you know what you have to do, but you’re still not doing it. We’re going to read about someone very much like us in our Bible reading this morning so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone would you find Matthew’s Gospel and go to chapter 25 beginning with verse 14. Matthew 25:14. What we want to avoid is going so far down that road that it’s too late. Whatever it is. Whether we procrastinate about the simple stuff like doing dishes or the really important stuff like our health or our faith, we don’t want to wait so long that there’s really nothing we can do. The guy in our story waited and for him there were dire consequences.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 25:14-30
What did the servant with one bag of gold do wrong?
Technically nothing. But that’s also what he did wrong. He did nothing. He kept the money safe, but he did nothing to make it grow. He knew what was expected, but instead of risking failure, he chose to risk nothing. Sure, he didn’t lose any money, but he lost an opportunity. He lost time and as any person who is running short of it could tell you, time is more precious than gold. When we squander it, we are doing a disservice, not only to ourselves but to God, because it’s God who has given us these gifts. In the story we just read, it’s why the servant who buried the money is sent packing. He has squandered the gifts he was given. My dad had a saying, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” I don’t know if that was really his saying or something he just believes in, but it was something he said to me when I was a child and it stuck with me ever since. You’ve got to spend money to make money. And he was right. He was trying to tell me you had to invest in something if you really wanted it to get something out of it, no matter what it was. If you wanted results, you had to be willing to put in the time, energy, and effort to make it happen. Does that mean every time you put in time, energy and effort things will work out the way you want? Not at all. But it’s guaranteed you won’t get the results you want if you do nothing. We need to realize inaction IS an action. Not doing anything is a choice we make like any other, and like our other choices it has consequences, too. And that’s what the lazy servant found out when he told the man what he did. The servant thought he was playing it safe by doing nothing, but instead it cost him everything.
Take a moment and think about something you know you should be doing.
And then forgive yourself for it. Sometimes we dwell too much on our mistakes. We dwell too much on our faults and that alone holds us back from doing the right thing. We wonder if we’ll compound out mistakes. We worry about making the same mistakes again, and then we end up putting it off for fear of failure. Which of course guarantees we won’t get anything done. The second thing you can do is DO SOMETHING. Dr. Tim Pychyl who has been studying procrastination for over 20 years says that too often we wait until we’re “in the mood” before doing what needs to be done. We use our feelings as an excuse for not doing what we know needs to be done. Instead, he suggests taking a task, breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, and then doing that first step. And then the next one. It’s hardly ground-breaking knowledge, but again how often do you still put off doing something you know you should do? So it may not be ground-breaking but obviously we need reminders to do it.
This applies to organizations as much as it does to people.
So many churches are in decline. Mostly because they are unwilling to change. They like things the way they are and even though year by year, week by week, they can see the congregation aging and fewer young people in worship, they fail to realize it’s because they stopped changing a long time ago. They stopped innovating. They stopped trying new things. Most churches explode during their first 15 to 20 years and then they taper off over the next few decades. At a certain point, they start to go into decline. At first it’s slow, but as time continues, the decline becomes more noticeable until it becomes so rapid that a church is barely hanging on. At that point, they start to make excuses for their lack of growth, pointing instead to the past or to programs they are doing to grow in their faith. But rarely do they use the metric that Christ himself gave us – to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As we celebrate the past, let us also look into the future.
Because if we don’t take care of the future, the past is made irrelevant. Every church enters into a season of decline. The churches that are successful in coming out of it are the ones that constantly reinvent themselves. They make change part of their DNA and embrace it. They don’t wait for something not to work before doing something different. They realize how important it is to stay ahead of the times instead of behind them. We are a strong and vital church, and we can continue to be one. We just have to embrace change as part of who we are and realize we do it to help others know a God who loves them. The same is true in our personal lives. We know there are things we’ve been avoiding and we know what we need to do. We just need to do them. Stop avoiding it and get it done. We need to remember that inaction IS an action and it has consequences like anything else. The good news is we can do something about it. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.