The preacher has begun. He has opened the service. A psalm is being read, and Sister Sluggish suddenly – if such an undignified word could ever be so unfairly employed of her – slides in at the door, laden with baggage and drawing the attention of all to her entrance. Brother Boorish then compounds his rudeness by taking advantage of the fact that we are singing the hymn to loudly excuse himself to the middle of a row, depriving everyone in it and many around it of their concentration as they praise God. Mother Missit tries to have her brood in place for the beginning of the service, but – having only arrived at rather than just before the appointed hour – quickly discovers that Master Munch Missit has developed an overwhelming hunger since leaving home, and the little Misses Missit, having only used the bathroom four times so far this morning, are now in dire need of a further visit to the little room. Brother Bother, meanwhile, had much to do before the service began. So much, in fact, that he is still doing it when the service begins, and can be heard completing his tasks outside the hall, before coming in (in something of a lather) once things have fairly begun. Fortunately, this does make him on hand to open the door for the friends mentioned above as they pass in and out of the room where those who were on time are seeking to worship God with minimal distraction.
A lack of punctuality, a disregard for timeliness, tends to be an issue in every sphere of life. The brothers and sisters sketched above do not reserve their unpunctuality for the church, but manifest it with largesse in every aspect of their existence. It just so happens that it tends to impact on me as friend, preacher and pastor, at home and abroad.
One of the particular irritations of lack of timeliness is the fact that it tends to breed lateness in others, both in attitude and in activity. For example, you will probably have friends who are always reliably late. Do you not find that you soon give up the practice of punctuality with them, confident that your timeliness will only lead to greater waste through their lack of it? Does that not begin to overflow into other appointments and engagements? Unpunctuality also breeds lateness in that it sets others back, stealing time and attention and patience from others. Once you have made others late for the first of a series of something, or at the beginning of the day, they are consequently late for everything that follows, and can spend subsequent frantic hours seeking to catch up.
Friend, do you realise that a lack of timeliness is rude? Do you realise that by it you are stealing the time others would willingly give if it were necessary? Do you realise that by it you may be stealing attention from those who ought to be focused on higher things? Do you realise that by it you testify to a disregard for the worship of God? Do you realise that by it you steal patience from those who have been kept waiting? Do you realise that by it you further compromise your already-ebbing reputation for reliability, trustworthiness, and dependability? Do you realise that by it you are establishing a bad habit that will blight your every day, and setting a bad example to your friends and family?
The friend who is occasionally late we gladly excuse. The man who is always timely we know must have a good reason for not appearing at the appointed hour. We have already dreamed up half-a-hundred good reasons why he simply must have been unusually detained, and excused him in our hearts. No-one will berate the parents who are late for church once every three months because of the occasion on which Junior decided to overflow his nappy to a quite spectacular degree three minutes before leaving the house. That is an aberration, and gladly overlooked (indeed, we heartily commend them for nobly sparing us the effects of Junior’s late eruption). But the man or woman who is consistently late need only determine to be consistently early. The family that is consistently five minutes late need only do everything that they normally do ten minutes earlier to start being consistently timely, to the relief, joy, and blessing of all with whom they are associated.
Here is Mr Spurgeon “On Being In Time”:
Punctuality is one of the minor moralities, but it is one which every young man should carefully cultivate. The very smallness of the virtue makes its opposite vice the less excusable. It is as easy to be in time as it is to be five minutes late when you once acquire the habit. Let it be acquired by all means, and never lost again. Upon that five minutes will depend a world of comfort to others, and every Christian should consider this to be a very weighty argument. We have no right to cause worry and aggravation to others, when a little thoughtfulness on our part would prevent it. If the engagement be for twelve o’clock, we have no authority to make it 12.5, and by doing so we shall promote nobody’s happiness. That odd five minutes may create discomfort for ourselves throughout the entire day, and this perhaps may touch the sluggard a little more keenly than any less selfish consideration. He who begins a little late in the morning will have to drive fast, will be constantly in a fever, and will scarcely overtake his business at night; whereas he who rises in proper time can enjoy the luxury of pursuing his calling with regularity, ending his work in fit season, and gaining a little portion of leisure. Late in the morning may mean puffing and blowing all the day long, whereas an early hour will make the pace an easy one. This is worth a man’s considering. Much evil comes of hurry, and hurry is the child of unpunctuality.
The waste of other people’s time ought to touch the late man’s conscience. A gentleman, who was a member of a committee, rushed in fifteen minutes behind the appointed hour, and scarcely apologized, for to him the time seemed near enough; but a Quaker, who happened also to be on the committee, and had been compelled to wait, because a quorum could not be made up to proceed with the business, remarked to him, “Friend, thou hast wasted a full hour. It is not only thy quarter of an hour which thou hast lost, but the quarter of an hour of each of the other three; and hours are not so plentiful that we can afford to throw them away.” We once knew a brother whom we named “the late Mr. S____,” because he never came in time. A certain tart gentleman, who had been irritated by this brother’s unpunctuality, said that the sooner that name was literally true the better for the temper of those who had to wait for him. Many a man would much rather be fined than be kept waiting. If a man must injure me, let him rather plunder me of my cash than of my time. To keep a busy man waiting is an act of impudent robbery, and is also a constructive insult. It may not be so intended, but certainly if a man has proper respect for his friend, he will know the value of his time, and will not cause him to waste it. There is a cool contempt in unpunctuality, for it as good as says, “Let the fellow wait; who is he that I should keep my appointment with him?”
In this world matters are so linked together that you cannot disarrange one without throwing others out of gear; if one business is put out of time, another is delayed by the same means. The other day we were traveling to the Riviera, and the train after leaving Paris was detained for an hour and a half. This was bad enough, but the result was worse, for when we reached Marseilles the connecting train had gone, and we were not only detained for a considerable time, but were forced to proceed by a slow train, and so reached our destination six hours later than we ought to have done. All the subsequent delay was caused through the first stoppage. A merchant once said to us, “A. B. is a good fellow in many respects, but he is so frightfully slow that we cannot retain him in our office, because, as all the clerks work into each other’s hands, his delays are multiplied enormously, and cause intolerable inconvenience. He is a hindrance to the whole system, and he had better go where he can work alone.” The worst of it is that we cannot send unpunctual people where they can work alone. To whom or whither should they go? We cannot rig out a hermitage for each one, or that would be a great deliverance. If they prepared their own dinners, it would not matter that they dropped in after every dish had become cold. If they preached sermons to themselves, and had no other audience, it would not signify that they began consistently seven minutes behind the published hour. If they were their own scholars, and taught themselves, it would be of no consequence if the pupil sat waiting for his teacher for twenty minutes. As it is, we in this world cannot get away from the unpunctual, nor get them away from us, and therefore we are obliged to put up with them; but we should like them to know that they are a gross nuisance, and a frequent cause of sin, through irritating the tempers of those who cannot afford to squander time as they do. If this should meet the eye of any gentleman who has almost forgotten the meaning of the word “punctuality,” we earnestly advise him to try and be henceforth five minutes too soon for every appointment, and then perhaps he will gradually subside into the little great virtue which we here recommend. Could not some good genius get up a Punctuality Association, every member to wear a chronometer, set to Greenwich time, and to keep appointments by the minute hand? Pledges should be issued, to be signed by all sluggish persons who can summon up sufficient resolution totally to abstain from being behind time in church or chapel, or on committee, or at dinner, or in coming home from the office in the evening. Ladies eligible as members upon signing a special pledge to keep nobody waiting while they run upstairs to pop on their bonnets. How much of sinful temper would be spared, and how much of time saved, we cannot venture to guess. Try it.