(The following article is the written form of a sermon I preached on Sunday, February 24, 2008 in our church. It is based on Matthew 25:1-13. It might help to imagine me speaking…or it might not. Either way, I hope you enjoy it and that it encourages you to stop putting off the things that are important in your life.)
The Parable of the Ten Virgins…Jesus told this story after his disciples asked him when the end of the age would come. He told them about a group of women – two groups of women, actually. Five of them were foolish women and five of them were wise. All ten women took their lamps with them as they gathered for a wedding celebration. It’s possible that they were waiting in the home of the bridegroom with the bride and other guests.
The “lamps” which they carried were probably like torches – devices held aloft by long wooden poles -they held a little oil and wicks made of pieces of cloth. The cloth used for the wick probably had to be trimmed every so often so that the lamp could keep burning brightly, and these girls had to be ready to add more oil so that the cloth stayed wet and could burn.
The bridegroom took a long time in arriving to the wedding celebration. Understandably, these girls were tired after all of the preparations for the wedding and then after many hours of waiting for the bridegroom they all fell asleep. It was midnight before they finally heard the cry, “Here comes the bridegroom!”
The girls woke up in a hurry and relit their lamps in preparation to go out and meet the bridegroom on the road somewhere and escort him back to the house for the wedding. For a minute or two all of the lamps probably burned brightly, but then the lamps of the five foolish girls flickered and died down from lack of oil. Can you imagine the panic they felt as they realized their mistake? They begged the other girls for some of their oil, but they were out of luck. The wise girls knew they had to keep the oil they had brought so that they would have enough to last through the procession of the bridegroom as they made their way back to the house. They sent the foolish girls off to buy some oil from a seller, if they could find one at that hour of the night.
Off they went, but in the meantime the bridegroom arrived and the wise girls went in with him to the wedding celebration and the door was shut.
When the five foolish girls finally made it back to the house, they were dismayed to find that they could no longer enter, and suddenly the meaning of Jesus’ parable was clear: Be ready! An earthly bridegroom probably would have allowed these foolish girls to enter the wedding celebration in spite of their late arrival, but when we think about the heavenly meaning of this earthly story, we realize how important it is for us to be ready for the coming of Jesus Christ – the ultimate bridegroom. There will be no entrance for those who put off the choice to make Jesus their Lord and Savior.
As I read this story, I see a group of foolish women who were procrastinators, and I’m afraid if I had to put myself in one of the groups of women, I’d be right there with the foolish girls – crying because I had neglected to bring along extra oil, upset because I was going to miss the arrival of the bridegroom.
It reminds me of our trip out east this past summer. We had traveled for two days and had just about arrived at Niagara Falls in New York. We stopped at a tourist area about a half hour from Niagara Falls and I went in to get some maps and information about visiting the Falls. While getting the information I realized that I had neglected to bring along copies of our children’s birth certificates and we wouldn’t be able to go into Canada and see the Falls from that side of the river. There would be no trip down into the tunnels so we could stand behind the Horseshoe Falls and see all of that water rushing past. I was crushed! I felt terrible and I started crying almost immediately after I got back to the car and told Gary about my mistake.
I knew about the tighter security measures at the border. I had heard the warnings that birth certificates were needed for children to cross the border, but I had procrastinated and forgotten about it and I wasn’t prepared with the proper documents. The border was shut for us and there was no way to fix the problem. We had a good time on the American side of the Falls, but it took me a while to get over the disappointment of my foolishness.
As you heard in the children’s sermon – (note from Robyn: I had explained what procrastination was and shown them a few examples of things I had put off doing) I tend to be a procrastinator. I have unfinished projects around the house, sometimes I put off paying a bill until I miss the due date and have to pay a late fee, I often scramble to prepare for something at the last minute instead of doing it early. I could list more examples, but I’m afraid I’d probably collapse in a pile of shame and self-pity right here behind this pulpit. No, I think I’ll leave it at that for now – I often procrastinate.
I’ve known I was going to preach today for a long time – I offered to do it when Gary had the chance to go on this mission trip to Louisiana. A couple of weeks ago, he urged me to get my sermons written last week so that I could enjoy this past week before he left and wouldn’t have to be stressed out and busy while he and Erin were getting ready to go. I agreed that that was a good idea, but I didn’t get started on them. It was kind of funny to tell someone last Sunday, “My sermon is going to be about procrastination – but I haven’t started it yet.” As the week went on, all of a sudden it wasn’t funny anymore. Gary and Erin were busy getting ready to leave early Friday morning. They steadily prepared, getting out what they needed, making lists of the things that they had to add at the last minute. They had fun looking forward to the trip and by Thursday night they were ready!
I, on the other hand, found lots of other things I had to do as we went through the week. Some were necessary, but others were just convenient ways to put off doing what had to be done eventually – sermon preparation.
Gary would ask once in a while, “How are your sermons coming?” and I would assure him with a smile that it would all be fine. I’d get them done…I liked to wait until the end. I’d done it lots of times before with other talks I’d given and it always turned out well… That’s what I said, but inside I knew that I was lying. I felt terrible that I had put it off. I wished that the sermons were written so I didn’t have to wonder if I could get them finished and say something worth saying. I felt stressed out, ashamed, and foolish – just like the five girls in our scripture passage.
I’d like us to think about three ways we put things off as we apply the lessons we can learn from the five foolish girls in this parable.
First of all, we can find ourselves putting off the physical or the practical. The foolish girls in our story neglected to bring along extra oil. This was dumb – an obvious error to anyone who knew anything about those lamps. They couldn’t remain lit if they didn’t have a steady supply of oil.
We do foolish things, too, when we procrastinate. Those of us who procrastinate know how foolish we are, even though we may try to justify ourselves or make excuses that seem pretty believable. “I’m just so busy!” “I work best under pressure!” “I’m going to finish that project someday – I just don’t have the time right now.” “If my family didn’t demand so much of my time, I’d be able to get more done.”
The truth is we find time to do the things we feel are important. The truth is we can do things better when we put some time and thought into them – not when we hurry up and do them at the last minute. The truth is that we probably won’t get to the projects we put off for “someday”. I’m not saying that’s always true, there may be some projects that we’ll actually work on when the children are grown or when we retire, but many of the things we’ve stuffed in a box or set on a shelf are things we really have no intention of ever doing and it makes us feel guilty and uncomfortable whenever we run across them while looking for something else. Those unfinished projects and tasks rob us of the peace and joy we could be feeling instead. Do you know what I’m talking about? Or am I the only one who feels this way?
The books I’ve read point out that often those who procrastinate do it because they are seeking control, perfection, and approval. Those don’t seem to be bad things in and of themselves, but when we put off doing what needs to be done because we want to stay in control of a situation, or because we’re afraid we can’t do it perfectly, or because we don’t want to risk disappointing someone, we are procrastinating and we can expect stress and anxiety as we deal with the results of our procrastination.
The “cure” for putting off the physical or practical is simple, but it may not be easy: Do it now! Gary is very good at this. He gets things done right away most of the time. His theory is, “Why not get it done right away so you don’t have to think about it anymore?” I admit that it’s a very healthy practice – I just have trouble putting it into practice. I am getting better, and God is teaching me so many things about why I put things off and procrastinate too often. Gradually, I hope I’ll lean more toward the healthy practice of getting things done and less toward procrastination. Refusing to put off the physical or practical can lead to peace and a great sense of accomplishment as we get the things done that are important to us.
Moving on from the physical or practical, we can also find ourselves putting off the emotional. I think this is the area that’s the easiest to ignore. We don’t think of it as procrastination when we don’t have a good relationship with someone in our family, or with a friend, or with someone at church or in the community. We don’t consider it procrastination when we struggle with feelings of anger or depression or apathy. The easiest thing to do is just continue on with the same problems or negative feelings. The five foolish girls probably dealt with some negative emotions as they begged the other girls for more oil and then had to hurry off to find some from somewhere else.
In my high school Sunday School class a couple of weeks ago, we studied the sin of sloth. I always thought of sloth as just being lazy and not doing what I should be doing, but in our lessons we learned that it is actually being “lazy in love”. It’s the sin of not being willing to put forth the effort to love ourselves, others, or even God. We stay stuck in the comfortable rut of doing only what feels good to us or only what will satisfy our own selfish desires. Procrastination can be a symptom of this sin in our lives as we refuse to work at loving well.
Can you recognize any areas of your life where you are putting off healing or growth in a relationship? Are you plodding on through life in a rut of negative emotions instead of taking the steps needed to bring emotional health? Refusing to put off the emotional can lead to greater fulfillment, love, and joy in our lives.
Finally, we can find ourselves putting off the spiritual. Just as the ten girls were expected to be well-prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom, all those who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior should be ready for Christ’s return.
All ten of the girls had the intention of going out to meet the bridegroom, but only five were actually prepared to do so.
The Baker New Testament Commentary on Matthew says, “Preparedness is essential, for the time is coming when getting ready will no longer be possible; the door will be shut.” Just like the border between the US and Canada.
The five foolish girls in our parable felt great sadness when they realized the door was shut and the bridegroom would not open for them. Many people on this earth will not be ready when Christ returns. They are procrastinators and they have not chosen to surrender their lives to him. What a sad day it will be when they realize that the door of grace is closed to them and it is too late to do anything about it!
I pray that each and every one of you listening to (or reading) this message has made that decision to surrender your life to Jesus Christ. It’s the only way you will truly be prepared – for your own death or for Jesus’ second coming someday. Just like the wise girls couldn’t share their oil with the foolish girls, noone can help you be prepared. It’s a choice you need to make yourself. Don’t procrastinate any longer if you’ve been putting off that decision.
Maybe you’ve made that decision to surrender your life to Christ – you made that decision a long time ago and you’re absolutely sure you’ll be going to heaven. That’s wonderful!
I’d just like to urge you today to take it a step further and make sure you’re not procrastinating in the area of spiritual growth. It can be easy to do…once you know you’re going to heaven you can rest on that promise and slide through life without putting much effort into growing spiritually. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to spending time with the Lord in prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time in fellowship with other Christians. Refusing to put off the spiritual can lead to a closer relationship with God and a greater sense of His presence and power in our lives.
Maybe you’re like me, getting quite a bit done, but too often frustrated by a tendency to put things off – the physical or practical, the emotional, or the spiritual. Life can be quite stressful and chaotic at times for the procrastinator – but we can learn from the Parable of the Ten Virgins and keep in mind how important it is to be prepared in all three of these areas.
Are you tempted to procrastinate? Don’t wait!
© Robyn Mulder 2008, therobynsnest.org