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The Effects of Procrastination on Our Spiritual Lives
"Felix is the type of the millions whose spiritual life is ruined by procrastination" (Philip Henry, seventh century preacher).
His story speaks volumes not only to Christian believers, but to followers on all spiritual pursuits. He once stood at the crossroads, prompted by his conscience to detour from the path of self-indulgence onto to the path of personal faith. His response to the messenger was one which many have thought or spoken:
“Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25 NKJV).
Using Felix's story to illustrate the effects of procrastination, we will find ourselves relating to the experience of self-sabotage which results from delay. Moving forward, we will reflect on ways to prevent these dangers to our spiritual growth.
Prisoner Paul before Governor Felix
(1) Altered Convictions
"It cost you a struggle to resist conviction the first time . . . now . . . you can resist every appeal without effort." - J. M. Sherwood, D.D.
The Apostle Paul, standing in prison chains before Felix the Governor of Judea, discussed morality—to which the governor’s public life was the opposite; and judgment—which was a natural consequence both from man and from God. Felix panicked, but instead of acting on the truth which confronted him, he claimed that the time was not right.
Felix and Paul continued to meet, but Felix focused on obtaining a bribe from Paul for his release from prison. Never mind that the first time they met, Felix was convinced of Paul’s innocence. Eventually, neither his knowledge of Paul's honesty, nor his conviction of the need to change his evil ways seemed to bother his conscience anymore.
How often do we reflect on attitudes and actions which previously made us feel uncomfortable, but not anymore? Whatever the reason (distraction, fear, self-absorption) procrastination can make us outgrow our desire to improve spiritually.
(2) Inner Conflict
"When we know what we ought to do, and we fail to move from intention to action – what we commonly know as procrastination – we experience guilt." - Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D.
Chained by a Guilty Conscience
Knowing that Paul was innocent, Governor Felix should have set him free. Instead, with conflicting motives, he imprisoned the apostle.
Keeping Paul confined made the governor popular with the Jews who hated Paul; but allowing him privileges appeased the Romans, because Paul claimed Roman citizenship. While the prisoner in chains experienced freedom in his spirit, the governor experienced imprisonment by a guilty conscience.
The conflict within Felix was not unlike the conflict which procrastination creates in the minds of believers who wait to see what would happen. Instead of following our convictions, we weigh the pros and cons of obedience and generate conflict for ourselves and for those under our influence. When “Just do it” seems difficult, it is time to turn to God for divine empowerment.
(3) Excessive Busyness
"A man does not need to . . . defy his God, nor sell his soul voluntarily. He only needs to say, "Suffer me first to do this lesser thing." The moment that is done, there will be another "Suffer me first" in its place." - H. W. Beecher, Congregationalist Clergyman
What kind of activity do we engage in when we put off doing the right thing which God tells us to do at the time He tells us to do it? Something less urgent? Something unnecessary? Something wrong? All these are possibilities when we allow ourselves to be distracted from our spiritual priorities. Sometimes we keep busy to drown out the voice of conscience.
For Felix, issues like maintaining his popularity and obtaining a bribe took priority over his spiritual growth. For us, the issues may be similar: securing a position, rebuilding a relationship, even establishing a ministry. Nothing is worth our immediate attention if it makes us postpone our connectedness with, and our obedience to God.
(4) Stunted Growth
"Procrastination saps power; completion gives relief." - David McCasland, Our Daily Bread
Procrastination in our spiritual lives delays our spiritual growth. We can even procrastinate by praying repeatedly to know God's will about things He already revealed in His Word. And how long will we remain lazy, pig-headed, selfish creatures when our teachers have already taught us how to improve our lives?
The Roman historian, Tacitus, said of Felix: “He exercised the authority of a king, with the spirit of a slave.” Born a slave, Felix worked hard to change his social status all the way to becoming the Governor of Judea. Still, in the company of Paul the free-spirited prisoner, the political achiever showed no progress in spiritual or moral stature.
How much improvement, over the past year, have we noticed in our spiritual growth? Is it more teaching that we need, or just a sense of urgency to apply the lessons we already learned? The research says that it takes the same amount of effort to procrastinate as it does to act timely.
Prayer: A Procrastination Tool?
(5) Lost Opportunity
The road of ‘by and by’ leads to the town of Never. - H.R. Burton
In the material world of deadlines, procrastinators muster up reserved energy and brace the performance tape at the last minute. In the spiritual life, because of the ongoing uncertainty about the time of the end, as long as procrastinators live, they expect to live a little longer. "By and by” is their favorite song.
Felix never found a convenient time to listen to Paul; he lost that one valuable opportunity. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “His leaving Paul in bonds was but a final instance of one who sacrificed duty and justice for the sake of his own unscrupulous selfishness.” His later life was also described with words like evil, cruel and disgraceful.
Might his life have been different if he took the opportunity to embark on a new beginning? Does his experience encourage us to stop procrastinating when we are offered spiritual guidance? Imagine the sweet, fulfilling, divine fellowship we could enjoy if we never put God’s voice on hold.
Whenever we remember Felix, let us also remember, "Scripture says, 'If you hear God speak today, don't be stubborn. Don't be stubborn like those who rebelled' " (Hebrews 3:15 GOD'S WORD® Translation).
Which of the following caused me to procrastinate in the past but, with divine help, will be less of a problem in the future?
Acts 24: 22-27
Bible Hub: Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Acts 24: 25, Copyright 2004 - 2015 by Biblos.com
Felix, the Procrastinating Governor, Copyright Jerry Shirley and Grace Notes Ministries®
© 2016 Dora Weithers