Punctuality and You
A CHRISTIAN overseer in a South American congregation had many fine qualities. But his closest friends jokingly called him Armageddon. Why? “We know he’s coming,” they would say, “but only God knows when!”
Yes, punctuality—or the lack of it—has much to do with one’s reputation. Wise King Solomon illustrated it this way: “Dead flies are what cause the oil of the ointment maker to stink, to bubble forth. So a little foolishness does to one who is precious for wisdom and glory.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) A Christian may have many fine qualities, but he will tarnish his good name if he is not conscious of time.
“Punctual people give me confidence,” said an overseer. “They are the ones I prefer working with.” They are also appreciated in the business world. “Get to work on time; be prompt for meetings; turn in reports when they are due,” advises Emily Post’s Etiquette. Similarly, The New Etiquette (1987) states that, in general, “late arrivals are rude arrivals.” The authors then add: “Religious services are also another inappropriate occasion to arrive late.”
All of us appreciate it when others are punctual. The apostle Paul evidently felt that way, for he wrote to the Christians in Colossae: “I am with you in the spirit, rejoicing and beholding your good order.” (Colossians 2:5) And surely we share King David’s sentiments regarding Jehovah’s promises when he wrote in the Psalms: “O my God, do not be too late.”—Psalm 40:17; 70:5.
“Become Imitators of God”
Actually, Jehovah is never late. He is outstanding in his awareness of time. This is reflected in all his creative works. From the boundless universe to the smallest living things, all of them operate as if governed by an invisible clock. For example, a type of sea lily near Japan releases its sex cells once each year in October at about three in the afternoon on the day of the moon’s first or third quarter. In the spring the little grunion times its breeding cycle to within a few minutes of the high tide on the California coast.
Jehovah’s timing is also precise when it comes to fulfilling his promise. For instance, we read at Exodus 12:41 that “it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, it even came about on this very day that all the armies of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” Thus Jehovah kept the promise he made centuries earlier to Abram.—Genesis 15:13-16; Galatians 3:17.a
Jehovah sent his Son, the Messiah, into the world at the exact time foretold by the prophet Daniel more than five centuries earlier, so that he “died for ungodly men at the appointed time.” (Romans 5:6; Daniel 9:25) As for the end of this system of things, the Bible indicates that Jehovah knows “that day and hour.” (Matthew 24:36) He will not be late. Clearly, Jehovah’s example in being punctual is worthy of our imitation.—Ephesians 5:1.
“At Their Appointed Times”
Jehovah has always expected his servants to be aware of time, especially with regard to his worship. A “daily schedule” was followed when the Israelites offered sacrifices. Jehovah commanded them: ‘You should take care to present to me my offerings . . . at their appointed times.’ He also gave Moses this instruction about meetings: “The whole assembly must keep their appointment.”—Leviticus 23:37; Numbers 10:3; 28:2.
Later, the Jews observed “the hour of offering incense.” (Luke 1:10) “The hour of prayer, the ninth hour,” was observed by both Jews and others. (Acts 3:1; 10:3, 4, 30) And regarding Christian meetings, Paul wrote: “Let all things take place decently and by arrangement.”—1 Corinthians 14:40.
What would all of this have required of the Israelites and the early Christians? That they be punctual in keeping their appointments, especially with regard to their worship. There is no reason to think that Jehovah would expect any less of his servants today.
Why Some Find It Hard
Attitudes toward time vary considerably from one part of the world to another. A missionary reports that in a small South American town, his wife would sometimes be the only person in the audience when he announced the opening song at the beginning of a Christian meeting. But when he announced the closing song, 70 people would be there. On the other hand, in a Western European country, about a thousand people were asked: “If you were invited to dinner at 7:00 p.m., should you arrive five or ten minutes early, or five or ten minutes late, or exactly on time?” The majority responded that “courtesy requires scrupulous respect for the host and arriving at the exact minute.”
Nonetheless, being punctual is more than a matter of regional preference. It is a habit, much as being clean, tidy, or polite is a matter of habit. Of course, we are not born with such habits; we must cultivate them. If you were taught to be punctual as a child, that is a blessing. But many come from families and backgrounds in which there were few deadlines and little need to coordinate one’s efforts with the efforts of others. Only on becoming part of the Christian congregation and taking part in its meetings and public ministry does the need for punctuality become a reality for them. They may find it hard to correct the habit of tardiness learned early in life. Nevertheless, love for Jehovah God and for one’s neighbor can motivate one to change. Yet, why make the change?
Why Be Punctual?
“Dost thou love life?” Benjamin Franklin once asked. “Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” All of us recognize the truth in that statement. Equally important to Christians, though, is not wasting other people’s time. “The latecomer,” observes a missionary, “seems to say by his action, ‘My time is more valuable than yours, so you can wait until I am ready.’” The person who is not punctual appears not only disorganized and unreliable but also somewhat egotistical and inconsiderate. True Christians want to be “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior.”—Philippians 2:3.
Some might feel that they do not like to live by the clock, having every move governed by it. However, being punctual is not simply a matter of being controlled by the clock. It is a matter of having other people’s interests and benefit at heart, “keeping an eye, not in personal interests upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Philippians 2:4.
Consider, for example, the Bible’s counsel: “Welcome one another, just as the Christ also welcomed us.” (Romans 15:7) To the extent that this applies to literal greetings, it clearly is more difficult to do if one is habitually late at the meetings. By arriving early for meetings, you can contribute to the loving, friendly, and welcoming spirit of such gatherings to a greater extent. And the benefits really go both ways. Arriving early enables you to share in the opening song and prayer—an important part of united congregation worship. Hearing the theme or title announced will help you better to follow the development of the program.
Punctuality on your part enables others to coordinate their efforts, and much can be accomplished as a result. When attacking the city of Ai, Joshua sent part of his forces to lure the enemy away from the city while the rest of his men lay in ambush to take the city. Then, at the crucial moment, Joshua gave the signal. His men “began to run at the instant that he stretched out his hand,” and the city fell before them. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had not acted punctually?—Joshua 8:6-8, 18, 19.
Christian ministers today have many reasons to be aware of time. Sharing in Kingdom preaching with others, rehearsing assembly or meeting parts, even cleaning the Kingdom Hall, all require us to coordinate our actions with others. By being punctual, we can accomplish more. This is true even in something as simple as reporting one’s preaching activity at the end of the month. When everyone cooperates in doing so promptly, then accurate and encouraging congregation and worldwide reports can be compiled.
Being punctual also involves keeping appointments and meeting deadlines, of which there are many every day. Some are momentous, others trivial. Your wedding, for example, should start at the selected time. You may like to have your egg boiled for just so many minutes. Whatever it is, the punctual person does not need to dash frantically from one thing to another, late for everything. Rather, he is calm and organized. He gets more done because he plans his day and starts on time or even a bit early.
Indeed, there are many reasons why Christians should be conscious of time. Above all, it is one way to demonstrate our unselfish love for fellow Christians and our respect for theocratic arrangements for true worship.
How, though, can one develop the habit of punctuality?
‘Know the Appointed Times’
“Even the stork . . . well knows its appointed times” to migrate, and the ant “prepares its food even in the summer” to be ready for the winter, says the Bible. (Jeremiah 8:7; Proverbs 6:8) Therein lies a secret of being punctual and getting things done.
We too must ‘know our appointed times.’ While not being rigid or fanatical, we should be time conscious. We need to know not only what we have to do but also when we have to do it. We need to get into the habit of thinking ahead, making allowance for possible delays, and being willing to cut short the activity at hand for something more important, such as our meetings, field ministry, and other theocratic activities.
In this regard, family cooperation is essential. It has been observed that the father often leaves it to the wife to get the family ready. Then he goes out the door alone, calling over his shoulder, “Hurry up, or you’ll be late!” Jacob was not like that; he helpfully “got up and lifted his children and his wives onto the camels” when it was time to depart.—Genesis 31:17.
How, then, can the father help his family? Children can be taught to allow time to get ready for important things instead of leaving everything to the last minute. They can be helped to develop a sense of responsibility and pride in doing things promptly. As a family, consider Bible examples that show the importance of being ready and on time. (Genesis 19:16; Exodus 12:11; Luke 17:31) Probably the best or most effective lesson is provided by proper parental example.
Christian overseers can also help the congregation by setting the proper example. They would not have been appointed unless they were “orderly.” (1 Timothy 3:2) Other brothers and sisters probably will be more punctual if they know that elders will be there to greet them and to take the lead. So conscientious overseers will strive to be at the Kingdom Hall early to help the congregation. Ministerial servants who arrive early to greet their brothers and serve their needs are greatly appreciated.
Of course, to be punctual takes self-control and discipline. No, not for the sake of achieving military precision, but out of love for our fellow Christians and respect for theocratic order. This is part of the new personality that we are endeavoring to put on. (Colossians 3:10, 12) Above all, we want to be like our heavenly Father, Jehovah God, who teaches us that “for everything there is an appointed time.”—Ecclesiastes 3:1.
a For a detailed discussion of this prophecy, see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, pages 460-1 and 776-7.