proÂcrasÂtiÂnate, vbÂ—to defer action; to delay.
Or simply said, to put off until tomorrow what can be done today.
To some people, procrastination is just plain, simple laziness, but to those who have it honed to perfection, it's an art. And what an art it isÂ—doing major spring cleaning the day before the in-laws arrive; preparing an hour-long presentation, complete with charts, graphs, and slides, the night before the meeting; or cranking out a fifteen-page paper eight hours before it's due, all the while wired on adrenalin or caffeine or both and berating oneself for not having begun a day earlier. But no matter how slapdash our efforts may be, we still enjoy some modicum of success from our labors. We arrogantly call it "rising to the challenge," and we delude ourselves into believing that we produce better work under pressure. So with the next chore, project, or paper that comes along, we procrastinateÂ—again.
This is, of course, assuming that we know the deadline. What if we don't know the exact deadline? Should we postpone indefinitely whatever it is that needs to be done?
"But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking... and did not know until the flood came and took them all away" (Mt 24:37-39). In light of this warning, procrastination is surely not the smartest course of action.
Jesus himself exhorts us time and again in the Bible to "watch therefore" and "also be ready" for His second coming, because "of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mt 24:36-44; Mk 13:32-37; Lk 21:34-36). "I will come upon you as a thief" is His final warning to us in Revelation 3:3. Though these warnings resound through the Scriptures, we watch with a sense of detachment as the signs of the end of the age manifest. We reassure ourselves that the end is not quite imminent because our church is not yet "perfect," and we become complacent in the knowledge that we still have "time."
This is assuming that we live to see Jesus' second coming. Or maybe we believe that we'll live until we're seventy, and that we'll be able to compress into the last five years of our lives what we should have accomplished over five decades. What if Jesus decides to call us away tomorrow? What will we have to show for our time here on earth, for His care and guidance and grace? Are we ready to face Him come Judgment Day?
Parable of the Talents
There once was a man who was called away to a far country. He decided to entrust the care of his estate to his servants and gave them various amounts of money. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to a third he gave oneÂ—to each according to his own ability. The servant who received the five talents went and traded them and doubled his money, as did the servant with the two talents. However, the third servant dug a hole and buried his one talent in the ground. After a long time, the man returned and called his servants in to settle accounts with them.
The first servant said, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them."
And the lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."
Likewise, the servant with the two talents showed the two he had gained, and the lord praised him similarly.
Finally, the servant with the one talent came before the lord and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours."
"You wicked and lazy servant," the lord replied, "you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest."
The lord then took away that servant's one talent and gave it to the servant who had ten, saying, "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt 25:14-30).
In Biblical times, a talent was a unit of money worth about 6,000 denarii. One denarius was the equivalent of a day's wages, so it would take a common worker approximately twenty years to save one talent (and that's if the worker subsisted on air). Realistically, an individual would have to work at least twice that amount of time (a lifetime!) to be able to save that much money.
How fitting it is, then, that the modern definition of talent is a special or natural ability, for only something we are born with can be so priceless. We use "talented" to describe someone who is naturally skilled at doing something, like drawing or singing or writing. True, those skills can be learned to a certain extent, but creative genius either is there or it isn't. It can't be bought. We can try to explain it scientifically and say that it's because a certain part of the brain is more highly developed or because it was passed down by a miraculous combination of genes, but the gist of it is that we are given talent (or talents) the moment we are conceived.
Now, the operative word here is "given." Who "gives" us our talents? Our parents? If our parents could give us talents, we would all be Bill Gates. Frightening thought.
No, we receive our talents from God, just as we receive every other blessing from Him. Like the lord who gave a different amount of talents to each of his servants, God, too, gives us "gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us" (Rom 12:6). Some of us cook, some of us clean, some teach, and some preach, "for as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ" (Rom 12:4-5). Even Christ's body needs knees and elbows as well as fingers and toes.
God gave us different gifts not out of bias or favoritism but so that we may make His body complete. "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?... And if they were all one member, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:17-19).
God doesn't love the minister more than the cook, or the teacher more than the gardenerÂ—He loves them equally because they are all a part of Him. One person is not more important than the other, because they are all needed: one nourishes the spirit, one feeds the body, one opens the mind, and one makes His house beautiful. God is fair because He gives "to each according to his own ability." More talents may seem like more blessings and love, but it actually equates more responsibility. Regardless of our duties or the amount of responsibility we carry, we need to use our talents to edify others and to glorify God.
So from a spiritual perspective, a talent is a God-given gift. God may expect us to use it in a certain way, but it's essentially a gift. And in the spirit of a gift, He grants us the freedom to exercise our will in determining the if, when, and how of its use.
Though a talent is a gift, and though we can choose how to put it to use, there still is a right way and a wrong way of doing things, as exemplified by the servants in the parable.
The "good and faithful" servants, the ones who received the five and the two talents, were the ones who invested their talents and earned more money for their master. They were "good" because they knew the will of their master and cherished their talents by using them to the best of their abilities.
The servant who received the five talents did not flaunt his abundance or lord it over the other two servants because he received the most money; neither did the servant with the two talents complain about receiving less. Rather, both had one goal and one goal onlyÂ—to be profitable servants. They were "faithful" because, entrusted with the estate, they fulfilled their duties and made it flourish. By being industrious, they doubled what they received and gave everything they earned to their master.
The "wicked and lazy" servant, on the other hand, buried his one talent in the ground. This action alone shows the blatant disregard he had for that one talent. Never mind that a talent took a lifetime to earnÂ—he felt slighted because he received less than the other servants. Out of spite and laziness, he let the money sit idle rather than putting it in the bank to earn interest, even though he "knew" his master to be a "hard man." And to compound his wickedness, he tried to justify his actions by blaming them on his master's character!
The Bible tells us that servants should be "faithful" and "obedient to those who are [their] masters" (1 Cor 4:2; Eph 6:5). As Christians, we are "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1). Therefore, we must also serve the Lord faithfully and obey His commands, "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Eph 6:6-7).
Like the servants with the five and the two talents, we need to understand the will of our master, the Lord, and actually do it. We should not emulate the servant with the one talent, who professed to know his master but found an excuse to shirk his duties. Paul tells us that because Jesus died to save us, "if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Rom 14:8). And since He was bruised, beaten, and battered for our sake, it is now our duty to care for His body, the Church.
God's love for us truly knows no bounds! As if it were not enough that Jesus redeemed us from sin, God even gave us each a different gift to assist with our duty. Our gift may be as spectacular as five talents or as seemingly insignificant as one talentÂ—it may even be only half a talent. Regardless, we all received something.
The point here is not how much we have received but whether or not we put what we have to use. We can choose to use our gifts to glorify the Lord, like the good and faithful servants did, or we can let them stagnate, like the servant with the one talent did. But just because we have only one talent does not mean that we cannot be productive. We all have a skill that can be used for the benefit of the Lord. What seems trivial to us may actually be important to the Lord.
"No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.... But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (1 Cor 12:22-25). We should not look down on our one talentÂ—nor, for that matter, should we look down on anyone else's one talent, because that talent is as essential as any other talents in making the Lord's body whole.
The Reward and Punishment
It seems incomprehensible that one talent could hold as great an importance as five talents, but let's look at the situation from the master's perspective. The master's purpose in giving the talents to the servants was so that they could earn more talents. After settling the accounts, he rewarded the two servants who earned more talents, and he disowned the one who hid his talent in the ground.
On the surface, it seems as if the master was a hard taskmaster, judging the servants solely on the basis of whether or not they made money. Yet he said "Well done" to both the servant who earned five talents and the servant who earned two, made both "[rulers] over many things," and allowed both to "enter into the joy of [their] lord." If he had been concerned with only the amount of money they each made, then the servant who earned the five talents would have received greater honor.
Apparently, money is not the issue. Faithfulness, however, is. The master's praise of the two good servants stems from the fact that both were "faithful over a few things." Compared with each other, the servant with the five talents obviously made more money, but compared with what they each received, both made a profit of 100 percent. In the master's eyes, both had fulfilled their duties.
So his rebuke of the lazy servant with "you ought to have" indicates that the servant was derelict in his duties. The master expected to receive something for his one talent; even with that talent sitting in the bank, he says, "I would have received back my own with interest." But the servant was so "wicked and lazy" that he did not even have interest to show for his labor (or lack thereof).
Whether we have one or two or five talents, we each have the potential to give 100 percent of our effort to the Lord. Just as the "good and faithful" servants gave everything they earned to the Lord, so we, "whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do," must "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). And that, in a nutshell, is our dutyÂ—to glorify God.
As members of God's body, we represent Him to the world. Our speech, behavior, and actions all reflect upon Him. Thus, we must use the gifts we have at our disposal to add to, rather than detract from, His glory. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights...that we may be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (Jas 1:17-18). If the fruits we bear attest to our character, then we should strive to be perfect, because by being perfect we, as the fruits of God's labor, show others that God is perfect.
In the end, God will reward us for our faithfulness. If we show Him that we can be "faithful over a few things," then He will make us "ruler over many things." By doing what we were supposed to do anyway, we will be blessed, "for to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance." In short, the more responsibilities we fulfill, or the more fruits we bear, the more responsibilities God will entrust to us, and the more blessings He will give us to fulfill our duties. Furthermore, we will be able to "enter into the joy of [our] lord." So when our time on earth is done, our faithfulness will have led us into the heavenly kingdom.
We must take care not to let our gifts lie idle, because the less we use them, the fewer blessings we will receive. This relentless cycle will continue until we become barren, and "from him who does not have, even what he was will be taken away." Without fruits to show for our labor, our talents become useless, and God will take away what little responsibility He entrusted to us in the first place and give it to someone else. Not only will we be left destitute, but we will also be "cast...into the outer darkness." There should be no doubt in our minds what that "darkness" will be.
Faithfulness takes time to express. So before we decide to put off our work for the Lord until the last five years of our life, we should keep in mind that there is no lottery, no single great feat that can proclaim, "Lord, I have been faithful." Only God can tell us how faithful we have been, but, unfortunately, that won't happen until Judgment Day. We can, however, take every opportunity to serve Him with love. We can start to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, perhaps enough so that it won't matter when Jesus decides to visit usÂ—next year, or tomorrow, or today. If we try our best to express our love through faithfulness, then He will also say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant."