I have to tell you, I’m writing as someone who is not consistently punctual. In fact, I write this as a reminder to myself more than anyone else!
When I first got married, the subject of punctuality was a source of contention with my new husband. He was (is) that person who always wants to turn up not just on time but early. And I was (am) that person who was often casually late. For the record, I believed (and still do) that arriving early can be inconsiderate—it can throw people into a real tizz when a guest arrives sooner than they were meant to. Those last few minutes before people arrive at your house can be crucial preparation time! Nevertheless, my husband’s eagerness to arrive on time prompted me to consider my behaviour. I decided that my lateness was problematic and inconsistent with my professed Christian witness. I realized it was a subconscious pattern of selfish and prideful thought where I saw my time as more important than the time of others.
There are other disclaimers to make here before I go on. Not everyone is late because, like me, they just lazily haven’t kept track of the time. There are a whole host of good reasons that someone might be late—many of them beyond their control and best intentions. So it’s not to this situation I’m speaking—not the occasional lateness due to unforseen circumstances, or even whole seasons of lateness during a time of struggle (for example, mental health issues or adjusting to life with a baby). Instead I’m talking about the habitual practice of being late due to a lack of concern for being on time.
I also have to acknowledge that lateness—and rudeness—are not fixed concepts but are determined by culture. In many cultures relationships are often prized more highly than precision in time keeping. In those contexts, if a friend drops in just as you are meant to be leaving for another appointment, of course you allow yourself to be late for that other appointment. That is the polite and loving thing to do.
Yet, as John Piper highlights, for most of the Western world the demands of industry and travel have created a culture where lateness is likely to be annoying, disrespectful, inconvenient or even dangerous. While there might be smaller variances from place to place, it’s to this general understanding of lateness that I’m speaking—where punctuality is the common cultural expectation, and meeting times are agreed upon with the purpose of being adhered to.
With that in mind, my question for you is: how often are you late? If you’re someone who is consistently late, are your reasons good? Maybe you’ve never even considered your lateness to be an issue. But have you thought about what it is that you’re (perhaps unintentionally) communicating to the person/people/event that you are late for? I want to suggest five reasons why punctuality matters.
Remember that, as with all things, God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7) and it’s to him that we are ultimately answerable. There’s grace even for the most hopeless of latecomers! Remember that even if you’re the person who suffers because of another’s lateness. Extend grace to that person and judge them generously, because you don’t know the motivations of their heart, and we will only answer for ourselves on that final day (Rom 14:10-12).
1. J Piper, ‘Is tardiness and punctuality a Christian witness issue’, Desiring God, 5 November 2016 (viewed 24 January 2017).↩
2. This thought came from the following article: ‘What does the Bible say about being late or lateness’, GotQuestions?.org, 2017 (viewed 24 January 2017).↩