“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
It is likely that you have heard some version of this quote before. It is a common one in our vernacular. The advice, though often called a “proverb,” is not biblical; you cannot find it in the Book of Proverbs. In fact, Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying these words. So although they’re old, they’re not ancient. Though they’re wise, they’re not divinely inspired.
But what does the Bible say about procrastination?
The Bible does not use the word “procrastination,” nor is there direct teaching that calls out the practice of procrastination, specifically. There’s no “blessed are the timely, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” in the Beatitudes of Matthew chapter 5. There’s no “woe to those who put off what they are called to do” in Matthew chapter 23’s list of wrongdoings. But there is a story we can turn to in order to learn what happens when we put off a task that God asks us to do: the story of Jonah.
In the opening lines of Jonah, we learn that “the Word of the LORD came to Jonah” (Jonah 1:1). When God spoke, God gave Jonah instructions: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah put off what the LORD asked him to do; in the very next verse, the story’s scribe reports that instead of heading directly to Nineveh to share God’s message, Jonah “ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3).
Though God had tasked Jonah with a trip to Nineveh, Jonah set sail in the opposite direction. That’s sometimes what procrastination looks like—taking a detour from the intended destination, doing something else (anything else) rather than what we’re supposed to be doing. After Jonah’s decision, we find him doing something else (anything else) rather than delivering God’s message: riding out a storm at sea.
But the ironic part is that Jonah couldn’t forget what he was avoiding. The other sailors drew lots and realized that it was Jonah’s disobedience causing their calamities at sea. When they questioned Jonah, he didn’t need convincing; he knew he was circumventing God’s plan. So Jonah asked to be tossed overboard.
Even in the waves, Jonah could not avoid God’s call. God sent a fish to gulp Jonah down, and inside the fish, Jonah had no more distractions. He had to confront the truth: he was disobeying God.
In the end, Jonah delivered the message God gave him, and God’s salvation plan was carried out. God had provided salvation for Jonah at sea, and God would provide salvation for Nineveh out of their repentance. A procrastinating Jonah put off God’s plans. An obedient Jonah fulfilled them.
In addition to the story of Jonah, there are other teachings in the Bible that add to the conversation about procrastination. Hebrews 12:11 teaches that although having discipline is difficult, the results are worth the effort. Ephesians 5:15-17 adds that we ought to use our time wisely. And James 4:17 makes the case that when we do not do what we know we ought to do, we sin.
So procrastination is, in fact, addressed in the Bible, though not by its contemporary name. When we wait to do what we ought to do, we behave without discipline and wisdom. When we procrastinate, we sin.
Why include a devotional about procrastination in the midst of an Advent series on waiting?
Because procrastination is a form of waiting. We wait to do what we ought to do. But this kind of waiting is different from the waiting we’re learning in Advent. Advent waiting anticipates what only God can do: the restoration of all things, the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Procrastination-type waiting puts off what we have already been called and empowered to do.
Where is God calling you to stop waiting because you are actually procrastinating? What tasks should you no longer put off because God is calling you be part of divine plans?
Because the truth is that God can do his work in the world despite us. God would get his message to Nineveh whether Jonah cooperated or not. But God preferred to include Jonah, and God prefers to include you and me. When Jonah participated as God’s messenger to the people of Nineveh, Jonah encountered God’s character and experienced God’s grace.
Imagine what God could do in you if you take action toward the areas where He is prompting.
What if you were to take action in the direction of God’s purposes? What might happen?
What distraction are you pursuing in the meantime?