Have you noticed that our timeliness is not always about others and is often about ourselves? It is often very subtle, but packed within our desire to be punctual and timely is not a desire to love others well but a desire to please others. Instead of seeking to be considerate of others and their obligations, our desire to be punctual is often a self-seeking desire, one that seeks man’s approval before God’s.
What is fear of man and what would make me say this? Proverbs 29:25 says that “the fear of man lays a snare [or trap] but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Essentially fear of man is the reverence, honor, and respect of man. Yet, it is not mentioned with positive connotations. It is communicated in a way so as to suggest that fear of man has trumped fear of God. Call it people-pleasing, call it co-dependent, or any other combination, it is when “people are big and God is small” (cf. Ed Welch).
Now what would make me say that timeliness is often motivated by fear of man? I say this because we would rather miss what God is doing in a specific situation than miss a deadline. We would rather shorten our time in a fruitful conversation than be ten minutes late to our next meeting. This looks like a focus on the clock rather than a focus on what God is doing in and around us.
Don’t get me wrong, we are people who live within the constraints of time but more often than not, we are people who are ruled by the tyrant of time. Instead of time being a framework for our day, it is the determination of our day. We accomplish very little things of quality because we are so bent on keeping things “on time.” Something islanders get right is that they have a content-over-form approach to time. They are more considerate of the content of their time than the structure of it (or lack of structure!). Why were they late? They had a good conversation with someone prior to coming!
Here’s where our timeliness goes awry: when we are willing to step away from a God moment to be on-time somewhere else, when we are more concerned about what will be thought of us if we are late, and when we are willing to sin against others to be on-time. You know that being punctual is not the chief end of man? And often your punctuality is a low-level form of wanting to please man over pleasing God?
Does this mean we all burn our clocks and watches? I wish, but that is not the world in which we live. Rather, it means that maybe we don’t jam our days so full that if we are not on time for one thing, we miss everything else. It means that if I am late, that person or event will survive in my tardiness. It means that I take a posture of being with people—really with them. Instead of shutting down my attentiveness as our time together should end, I seek to look for those transitions within our conversation when a shut-down is possible. It’s funny because some of the most godly men I know are also the most tardy! Is this because they are totally inconsiderate? No. It is because they get quality over quantity. And I believe it is also because they fear God more than they fear man.
The challenge is this: will your punctuality be motivated by a desire to be liked or a desire to serve others? Will it be motivated by consideration of others or a consideration of others opinion of you? Being on time doesn’t make you considerate or more godly. In fact, it might mean you are shallow and superficial. Our aim is to be a people who live in the constraints of time with an acute sensitivity to God’s leading.