Today’s post is an excerpt from an email sent in response to a buddy’s plea for help. He is asking a critical question for anybody involved in academic pursuits: how do you do the required work, if you don’t feel
like it? Actually, it’s an important question for anybody in any profession. How do we overcome the temptation to laziness? Here is my advice, from somebody who struggles with such feelings on a daily basis (I also highly suggest purchasing Andreas Kostenberger’s book, Excellence)
The feelings you are currently experiencing are completely normal. I feel them myself every time I have had a long break from the intensity of a semester. In fact, I feel that way every time I have an assignment due of any kind. For example, I’m preaching this Sunday and there are a thousand other things I could easily think of doing, and some that I end up doing, instead of preparing (although I did spend some time this morning, and it was the best part of my day so far).
The hardest part about any project, be that writing, reading, editing, research, is simply starting. And starting anything is especially difficult when you have lost momentum. It’s like the pic above, where you see the task ahead, but it seems so overwhelming that you stay stuck in the landing craft unable to move. There are a few things, however, that you can do to surmount the feelings:
1) Pray – it’s where you have to start. Ask God to change your attitude to be one of excellence for His name’s sake.
2) Remember – why you’re doing these (sometimes seemingly meaningless) projects. They are serving two purposes. First, to learn. You are always going to have to be improving your writing, reading, exegesis, and other skills. Second, to glorify God. This is really the first in terms of priority, but it must underly everything you do in seminary and in life.
3) Meditate – A few years ago I started the practice of reading Rev 5:12 at the start of every day. This verse gives all glory to Jesus for everything, including wisdom. It keeps perspective on why and for whom you are doing your assignments.
4) “Nothing goods comes easy.” Consider the alternatives. You could imagine a hundred other lifestyles, careers, living situations, financial outcomes, etc. Then look down at your Bible. Picture the faces of the laypeople in your church, or those who hope to minister to. Image your wife’s face, your future children. And then think of Jesus as He looks upon you, waiting for you to decide. Think hard about the cost of what you are doing, and then consider more the rewards that await: a closer, intimate relationship with the Lord; lives changed through your ministry; a family of God-fearers who bring life and light to those around them; Jesus gathering more brothers and sisters to himself, and the Father gaining more children.
5) Eliminate distractions – whatever they are, they gotta go. No more Facebook, only checking email once a day, no blogging or reading blogs, no news, no…. you get the point. If your time is as precious as you say, and there are just a few weeks until the semester starts again, then you have to get serious. Drastic. Radical. I am helped in this regard by thinking of the ancient church fathers or reformers, who went without all these manifold distractions we enjoy today. They had others, to be sure, but when they were in their study, it was just the biblical text, a pen and paper, and their brain.
6) Plan – count the number of days left till the end of summer. Allocate various numbers of assignments to each day, or spread out papers over a week, two weeks, etc. Be realistic, and grant yourself buffer days to finish up work not completed by your own schedule. without planning, you will fail.
7) Accountability – any of us can act as accountability partners. Submit your plan to any of us, even is it’s not complete. then ask us to check up on you every day, once a week, whatever you think will keep you on track. and ask us to pray for you.
8) Get to work – you actually have to start. sometimes I get so intent on my planning, that it becomes a distraction in itself. pick up the pen, open the book, and begin. you’ll find that the moment you push through the feelings, something changes: your feelings! But your feelings won’t change if you don’t begin; they’ll hold you stuck in no-man’s land.
A final example: in the military they teach you that in a combat situation you have to keep moving. the man who moves lives, the guy who freezes dies. (a moving target is harder to hit) you don’t win the medal of honor lying curled up in your foxhole. so move, man, move!