Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Power Of Procrastination

By on July 21, 2010

In the back yard of my grandfather’s farm down in Bradley County, Arkansas, there was a large sweet-gum tree girdled by a rubber tire that had been removed from an early Ford, Model-T. When the tree was just a sapling, one of my uncles (who then lived on the farm) had carefully placed the tire around it as a means of protecting it from his careless brothers. But the tree grew, strong and healthy, until one day, my uncle found that its branches had spread wide and it was impossible to remove the tire. So he just left the tire there around the tree, an object of amusement.

Over the years, the “tired” sweet-gum tree became an object lesson in the power of procrastination. Quietly, as the tree steadily grew, what had been intended as protection became, instead, a subtle restriction. Since the tree was along the path leading out to the barns, the wagon shed, and the blacksmith shop, its situation was viewed frequently every day for dozens of years. I wonder how often someone had thought aloud, “I need to remove that tire from around the tree while it’s still possible.” Or perhaps my grandfather had said to one of the children, “When you head out to the barn this morning, see if you can take that tire from around that sweet-gum tree.” But the tree grew so slowly, and each day had it own set of demands until, one day, removing the tire by some other means than major surgery had become an impossibility. So there the tire remained like a collar around the tree, a picture of the power of procrastination.

Do you have anything in your life you intend on removing, or correcting…one of these days?

After healing a young man who had suffered blindness since birth, Jesus remarked, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work (John 9:4).” When I read those words, several thoughts come to mind.

1. We must work. Our lives are meant to be spent in aggressive cooperation with the Lord, and He is at work. It is the “plans of the diligent” that are blessed, not simply “plans” (Pr 21:5). And the person who meditates on God’s Word is assured that “whatever he does shall prosper” (Ps 1:3). “Waiting on the Lord,” does not exempt a person from “mounting up, ” running,” and “walking” (Is 40:31).

2. We must give ourselves to “God’s work.” Our energies should ultimately redound to the expansion of God’s Kingdom. We must do the works of the One who sent our Lord to this earth for the purpose of seeking and saving that which is lost. Jesus said it this way: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). That’s an uncomfortable equation for a lazy person, or for the person who merely works to achieve his own good.

3. We are to work until God calls us home. Jesus was not fond of clock-watchers. We are to work as long as it is day; no longer, but at least that long. That same grandfather whose farm boasted the sweet-gum encircled by the tire had this to say about life and work. “Two things won’t hurt you,” he would respond to those longing for a respite from work, “hard work, and growing old.” Then he’d continue, “But just thinking about either one of those will kill you!” And, laughing out loud, he’d put his hands to the plow.

4. There is coming a moment when you can no longer work. “Night is coming when no one can work.” It is attendant upon us, then, to make the most of each day. To do our work “with all our might,” as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it. And this includes the hard work of putting aside anything that debilitates our spiritual lives, sapping their vitality, and making us less effective for the Master. Night is coming.

The last time I looked, that tire was still around the sweet-gum tree. It remains as a convicting illustration of the power of procrastination. Isn’t it time we cut loose some of those old fond habits that restrain our effectiveness.

By the grace of God, in the Name of Jesus, on the authority of His Word, and because of the power of His blood, I can do it…today!

And so can you.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12