Procrastination may be the difference between mediocrity or success

An interesting story is told of Col. Joahnn Gottlieb Rall, commander of the Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey, during the Revolutionary War. It is reported that the colonel was playing chess when a courier brought a letter containing an urgent message stating that Gen. George Washington was crossing the Delaware River. Rall, engrossed by his game, put the missive in his pocket, choosing to read it at a later time.

His procrastination, however, proved to be his doom. When Washington reached Trenton, Rall and many of his soldiers were killed, and the remaining soldiers were captured. The letter was found unopened in Colonel Rall’s pocket after his death. Nolbert Quayle later said, “Only a few minutes’ delay cost him his life, his honor, and the liberty of his soldiers. Earth’s history is strewn with the wrecks of half-finished plans and unexecuted resolutions. ‘Tomorrow’ is the excuse of the lazy and refuge of the incompetent.”

The words may be harsh, but the principle behind them make me shudder. Truth be told, most of us often can be found guilty of waiting for tomorrow to do that which should be done today. And although procrastination on small tasks may not always affect the outcome of history, the effect in an individual’s life can never be fully evaluated. That truth receives an even deeper dimension when we procrastinate taking one small step toward obeying something we know God wants us to do.

I believe one of the reasons we fail to obey God promptly on small things is that we don’t usually realize that he has to lay small foundations before revealing to us the big picture of what he has in store for us. He gives us a simple direction, and waits for our obedience before revealing the next step. In our pride or honest ignorance, we may think that small steps may not be important enough, and that waiting to take them should not affect the outcome of God’s plan for our lives. However, we must remember that God seeks a relationship of trust from us, and therefore the tiniest step of obedience can be used as a key element to unlock of our future.

I think about my personal experience, and how I procrastinated to obey God on a seemingly small directive for my life. For years, I lived in a spiritual limbo, caught in the busyness of religion instead of in the fullness of a personal relationship with the Father. I tried to fill my spiritual life with religious routines and check boxes, altogether ignoring some quite simple directions I received from him. Incapable of seeing the big picture, I deemed safe to procrastinate in taking small steps, often excusing my disobedience: “I will do this when I understand it better.” Or, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

In the meantime, tomorrow turned into a week, a month, a couple of years. As I look back and realize the wasted time, I can only conceptualize the difference that prompt obedience would have made. I will never know for sure. And although I am grateful for a God of grace and second chances, I really do not wish to gamble with my destiny anymore, as Rall once did. Life and death may not always be at stake, but God’s best usually is.

Today, when he shows me what I need to do, I try my best to take the smallest of steps right away, even though I oftentimes don’t understand it. Because I’ve lived long enough to know that a small step toward God may just be the difference between mediocrity or success, joy or defeat.

Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author and national speaker. Visit her blog to read her devotionals at or email her at

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