We all know that it’s important to spend time in God’s Word. We probably even want to spend time reading His Word, listening to Him speak afresh to us and enjoying a loving relationship with Him. Why then don’t we do it as often as we should? The simple answer is procrastination.
“My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time” – Charles Dickens
The worst thing about procrastination is that we often have convincing reasons for why today is not good. Think of the time you went to bed with a resolve to wake up early to read your bible, but then you had a rough night and you kept hitting the snooze button. Or maybe when you opened your Bible app on your mobile phone only to realize you have been tagged in a Facebook photo that you just have to check out before you proceed. Or maybe you decide to fix a cup of coffee to sip it as you study but as soon as you walked into the kitchen, you realize there were still a pile of dirty dishes from the night before and before you knew it and you just had to clean them, and before you knew it, you were already getting late for work.
Procrastination is a subtle vice. It creeps on you so gently that you might not even notice it at first. By the time you realize it, it will probably be a full-blown problem. But the good news is that it is a habit that can be easily broken. And that is what these series of articles are all about – I want to share with you some of the practical tips that can help you deal with procrastination and start enjoying a daily devotion with God.
But first things first, read the scripture below slowly and take a minute to reflect on it:
Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:17, NIV)
That’s a bold statement don’t you think? It applies to so many areas of our lives too! If as I am sure you will agree, reading God’s Word and having a daily devotional time with Him is a good thing, anytime we skip our devotion, by James’s definition we have sinned. We knew the good thing we ought to do and yet we didn’t do it. So it is accurate to say that procrastination is, in fact, a sin. I don’t’ say this to make you feel bad. I am only trying to show you how serious skipping our devotion time is.
We already know the importance of having regular Bible study. The question that we need to answer then is why do we procrastinate? If we really understand why we keep on pushing our devotion time away, we will be one step closer to solving the problem.
1) The absence of structure.
This is arguably the biggest reason why we keep procrastinating our devotion time. Whenever there is a collapse of the delay between impulse and decision, the impulse is inevitably favoured. (e.g., checking Facebook instead of doing work); our easy online access makes urges easily to gratify. One solution to this is to design your environment in a way that makes your desired goal more likely to happen. For example, if you tend to check your email or Facebook too often, schedule your internet to only work during set hours.)
There is a little known Bible Character by the name Jotham but the Bible has something really interesting to say about him:
So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the LORD his God. 2 Chron. 27:6
Evidently, his success was pegged on his preparation. And that is true of us even today. If we take time to prepare, we will enjoy good success. You have to structure your devotion time way ahead of time because whatever gets planned gets done. If you have not decided what time you will do your devotion and how long you will do it, you will never find time for it. When structuring your devotion time, it might be a good idea to have an accountability form and an accountability partner. An accountability form should clear outline the details of the devotion time e.g. how many verses of the Bible you will read and how long you will pray. Every day at the most convenient time, you should have a sit down with your accountability partner (e.g. your spouse, roommate or friend) and discuss your devotion time achievement for the day.
Anxiety is another big reason why we procrastinate our devotion times. Avoidance is a well-known form of coping with anxiety. When you are anxious about something, the temptation to procrastinate is usually very high. This must be the reason God commands us not to be anxious whenever we approach him in prayer.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Anxiety and worry are twins. The word worry is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word which literally means “to strangle.” Whenever you worry, you are more or less strangling your hope. The Greek word for anxiety, as used in scripture, is merimnao and it means, “to be torn apart.” Anxiety comes when you are confused on what you should do about a challenge or a decision you have to make. The sad part is that when anxiety pushes you away from your devotion time, it kills the chance you had to find a lasting solution in the word of God. See, the word of God has a solution to every human problem and that is why we should endeavour to be good students of it.
Worry and anxiety comes when we focus on the wrong things. Paul understood this and that is why he went ahead to offer an interesting solution to anxiety.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8
Worry and mediation work the exact same way. When you spend the entire day thinking about a problem you have, you are worrying. On the other hand, when you spend the entire day thinking of God’s faithfulness and how he will come through for you as he always does, you are meditating. So the only difference between meditation and worry is that one focuses on the bigness of your problem while the other one focuses on the greatness of your God. So Paul gave us the antidote for anxiety in the verse above. We should be careful what things we allow to enter into our hearts for as King Solomon warns, everything else we do depends on what is in our hearts.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
The reason we have to guard our hearts is because it is always under attack from the enemy. Satan not only opposes God but he will also do all he can to oppose whatever the child of God tries to do. A 2010 article in the New York Times reveals how much the devil is trying to fight God’s people:
“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.” (New York Times, 2010).
We should never be oblivious of the devil for he uses all kinds of weapons. Sometimes, all he does is introduce a bad thought while other times, he introduces situations and circumstances that make us feel disillusioned, discouraged and anxious. If you lose your heart, you have lost everything so must guard it to ensure anxiety doesn’t creep in.
3) Sin – We feel unclean to go into God’s presence.
Sin is another big one. Every Christian feels convicted whenever they sin. The purpose of this conviction is to take us back to God. However, the enemy often capitalizes on this conviction to condemn us and this leads to feelings of unworthiness and this could easily make one to feel too bad about themselves to the point that they opt not to continue with their devotions. The Bible has a lot to say concerning sin but we should always remember that God deals with sin differently in the New Testament than he did in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, every sin had to be atoned for by a sacrifice as stipulated in one of the over 600 ordinances that were given by God through Moses. There were all manner of sacrifices and punishments for all manner of sins. Then Christ came and the story changed.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Romans 5:12, 15-17, KJV
Jesus came as the second Adam to deal with sin in our lives. And just as the sin of one man made the rest of us sinners, so did the sacrifice of one man, Christ Jesus made us righteous. The implication is that we no longer need to atone for every sin we commit. All we need to do is to ask God for forgiveness and he is just and faithful to forgive us of all our sins.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:11-12
Jesus paid it once and for all. That is how the new covenant works. No more sacrifice is needed. All your sins past, present and future have already been atoned for on the cross of Calvary. All you have to do is repent, believe and accept the free gift of forgiveness!
Sometimes, the devil keeps reminding us of sins we committed years ago even before we received Christ and that can really weigh down on us. However, you should not allow the enemy to make you feel bad about the sins of yesteryears. Whatever you did in your former life was blotted out when you received Christ and a new page was turned in your life:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Cor. 5:17, KJV
The redemption of Jesus from the power of sin also means that we are totally guiltless. How can you be guilty of a son whose sentence has already been paid in full? So whenever the devil tries to make you feel guilty, just remind yourself of the work of the Cross and refuse to be deceived by the beguiler and accuser of brethren. Here is a good scripture to use:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1, KJV
We live in a fast paced world. The average Christian has to juggle between more than one job, family, ministry and social life. It is almost like we spend all the time we have moving helta skelta from one pressing responsibility to the next. And this lack of free time is the reason many Christians end up postponing their devotion time. Many years ago, Martin Luther was faced by a similar predicament. He was just too busy with his numerous responsibilities. But, he had a somewhat unorthodox view of his devotion time. He is quoted to have said,
“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther
Why would he say that? Well, there are two answers to that question. First of all, he had prioritized the kingdom of God above all else. If he had little time, he would drop whatever needed to be dropped in order to create time for his personal devotion time. But secondly, he had caught a very important revelation. He realized that he was fully dependant on God for his day to day activities. The busier the day was, the more he needed God’s help. And that explains why he had to spend the first three hours of the day everyday even though he was probably busier than most of us.
Martin Luther must have learnt this from our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ. By all standards, Jesus was a busy man on earth. He was so busy with the work of ministry that he often lacked time for mundane things like eating even when he wasn’t fasting (John 4: 31- 34). His day was always jam-packed with activity. He was either preaching a sermon, healing the sick, or travelling to the next city. But even with such a crazy schedule, Jesus always made time for his personal devotion. He always spent the first few hours of the day in prayer. Other times, he was on the mountain all night in prayer.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16, NIV
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. Luke 22:39, NIV
The scriptures above show the discipline that Jesus had in the area of personal devotion. He probably chose dawn and night as his time of prayer because that was when nobody would bother him. If Jesus was able to make time for his devotion albeit his busy schedule, we simply have no justified excuse. In fact, he wanted this lesson to be passed to his disciples and that is why he often took them with him. One time, he observed them as they were doing ministry and did something startling.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-31 NIV
Jesus wanted them to realize the important of unplugging from the busyness of life and to take some moments of reflection and rejuvenation in God’s presence. He wanted to underscore the first reason why he called them – to be with him.
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Matthew 10:1
Before Jesus called the disciples to preach the gospel, before he gave them power to bind devils and cast them out, before he gave them power to heal, he first of all called them to himself. He wanted them to realize that he was more interested in their relationship than he was in their performance. And since we serve an immutable God, we can be sure that has not changed even today. However busy we get, we need to always find time to be with him.
Remember when you gave your life to Christ and were all excited to start reading your Bible? If you were not lucky to get a new believers pamphlet or book that gave you some practical steps on how to get started, you most likely felt completely lost. But this feeling is not just a feeling for new believers alone. In fact, everyone has at some point been at a point where they feel so overwhelmed that they do not know where to start.
The Bible is a library of 66 books. In total, these 66 books have 1189 chapters. That means that even if you read 4 chapters daily, it would take you an entire year to read through the Bible. And then there is the issue of the length of chapters. While some chapters have less than 10 verses, others like Psalms 119 have a whopping 176 verses. The Bible is clearly no ordinary book and you can easily get confused on how to go about it.
But this overwhelming feeling is not always about reading of the Bible. Sometimes, it is about prayer. It could be as a result of so many needs that you get completely lost on how to begin. Other times, you might not just know how best to approach God in prayer and that can easily lead you to procrastinate. There are many examples of people in the Bible who had to deal with this challenge but David is an epic example. He not only went through this but he knew exactly what to do in such situations
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalms 42:5, NIV
Notice the comeback? Even though his soul was downcast, he spoke to himself and encouraged his soul to keep on trusting that God would give him a reason to smile. He never allowed external factors to overwhelm him. In another instance, David found himself between a rock and a hard place. He had led all his men into battle only to come back home and find his enemies had visited and stolen everything they had left behind including their wives and kids. It was a day of distress and his own men turned against him and were ready to kill him. Even though he had a good reason to feel overwhelmed and possibly give up, he chose a better way of dealing with the situation:
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. 1 Sam. 30:6, KJV
So whenever you feel overwhelmed, do not turn away from God for that is when you need him most. In case you are just confused on how best to move on with your devotion, keep reading. We will share more practical steps in the next article.
6) Lead by emotions
If you are married, you probably have figured out that even though feelings are very important, you can never rely on them alone to have a healthy relationship. If you woke and you didn’t feel married, it doesn’t mean you are not. In the same way, you cannot afford to allow feelings to control your devotion times. There are many times when you do not feel like praying but if you push yourself to the place of prayer anyway, you will end up enjoying it so much. And this is the approach that Apostle Paul took:
But I keep control of my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:27
Paul knew first-hand how stubborn the body can be. At some point, he was having a serious challenge as he outlines in the book of Romans.
5 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. …
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Romans 7: 5-20
That was the case when he was writing to the Romans but by the time he is writing to the Church at Corinth, his language had changed completely. This time round, he had learnt the secret – he would not allow his body to tell him what to do but he would tell his body what to do. You can take that approach too! Ignore the feelings of the flesh and direct the flesh in the direction that you need it to go.
In the next week article, we will look at simple tips to overcome procrastination in your devotional time.
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