I’ll never forget the sight of an exasperated British Airways stewardess shouting across JFK airport at a Rabbi who, though a few minutes late for his flight to London England, wasn’t making haste. The “final call” had long passed and he was the last passenger on her clipboard list. As he exited the men’s room and started sauntering towards the gate, the stewardess went into meltdown. “HURRY UP! You’re keeping over 300 people waiting,” she bawled. I wish I had videoed it – it would have gone viral.
Punctuality is a virtue. If the meeting begins at 11.00am, it is your duty to be there on time, preferably well before the time. Punctuality is one of the responsibilities that goes hand in hand with the privilege of being in assembly fellowship. Ask yourself; if everyone came at the same time as me, what time would the meeting start?
Arriving in good time shows respect. A student who is late for a lecture disrespects his professor. A child who is late for School disrespects her teacher. Patients who are late for appointments disrespect their doctor. Lateness for assembly meetings shows disrespect for others and, more importantly, for the presence of the Lord among His people. To regularly wander in late gives the distinct impression that you have a low view of worshipping God.
Arriving in good time reveals your character and builds credibility. It shows you to be a dependable, reliable and organised individual or family. If you are careless about time, what else might you be careless about? Have you ever noticed that starting punctually and finishing punctually go together? If a man is forever running late getting to the meeting, it is almost guaranteed that he will be long-winded and go over time if he takes the meeting.
Arriving in good time reveals your priorities. Are you repeatedly late for work, for School or for sales appointments? Why then be late for the Lord and for the meetings of the Lord’s people? We can all be late occasionally due to unforeseen circumstances or work commitments, but when the same individuals arrive roughly the same number of minutes late every week, it simply reveals a lack of priorities.
Arriving in good time reveals humility. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says “Always late, but worth the wait”. Think about it. Without verbalising it, the late arrivals are saying “If I arrive late and disturb or delay others, that’s OK because I am above the generally accepted schedule.”
Arriving in good time says “I don’t want to miss anything!” The opening hymn sets the tone for many a meeting. The opening prayer is vital. The opening words of a powerful message that the Lord has laid on the preacher’s heart are a crucial part of the whole. But you missed it all! Oh but you say, “Better late than never”! Yes, but even better to be never late.
Arriving in good time honours Scripture, which says “Let everything be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). What a lovely sight to see a family in good time, coming in and sitting down, taking their place among God’s people and ready to begin at the appointed hour – without rushing, without chaos, without disorder. Those few minutes before the meeting give us time to settle our hearts, to gather our thoughts and to focus on the One to whom we gather.
Arriving in good time sets a great example. It encourages others to do the same. It fosters a culture of reverence and order among God’s people. It also impresses unbelievers. Imagine a visitor who comes on time, only to find that many of the “members” are coming late in dribs and drabs all throughout the first half of the meeting. What impression will that leave on his or her mind? That “God is among you of a truth”, or that “nobody cares around here”?
If you live 15 minutes from your meeting place, plan to set off 25 minutes before the time. If you have young children you will need to start making noises about getting ready an hour before the time! Experience has taught us over many generations that achieving regular punctuality takes discipline, diligence and attention to detail.
On the wall of an old meeting room I once saw a framed picture containing the following somewhat quaint but powerful words:
Be in good time for all the meetings –
For your own sake. If you are late you get hot, hurried, flurried and cannot worship happily; you come tired, vexed, embarrassed: your mind and body are not free for meditation and rest. Then,
For the sake of others. Example is contagious; coming late breaks fellowship, disturbs quiet, creates disorder, prevents others having quiet meditation. Then,
For the Lord’s sake. Others will have just cause for reflection and talk, seeing those in fellowship on their way to the meeting after the time fixed for assembling. The hour being come the Lord is there and all ought to be in their place to receive Him, and not He waiting for his people.
Michael J. Penfold