What is Being on Time?

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

  • Genesis 18:10

At that time those slain by the Lord will be everywhere—from one end of the earth to the other. They will not be mourned or gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground.

  • Jeremiah 25:33

A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!

  • Proverbs 15:23

I hope the last Scripture above applies to this post, but maybe not.  The “time” in Ecclesiastes is a general time, and maybe the visitor that Abraham was greeting was referring to roughly the same time of year, maybe the same season.  Jeremiah’s time might be very specific based on when God’s wrath would be meted out, but none, probably, refer to the hour or the minute.

I do not know if it is just a sign of the times regarding “time”, but it seems no one respects the clock anymore.  Of course, with daylight savings time having just started about two weeks ago, so maybe people think that time is as relative as truth.  No, neither are relative, within your present time zone.  But it is hard following that argument when people show up to work late and they leave early to make up for it.  You are just cheating your employer when you do that.

Why did this come to mind?  I was driving my wife to dialysis the other day and one aggressive driver after another passed us, running through stop signs and red lights, switching lanes like a maniac, in an all-fired hurry to get to work by 7:00am, but it was already 7:05am.  My wife’s dialysis starts about 7:20am, so we were running a little later than usual.

Wait!  They were rushing to work to get there on time when they were already late?  Do they not know that the Flash, of comic book fame, is a fantasy and you cannot have time reverse itself by driving faster?  In the case of these people who were late to work, about triple the speed limit.

And wait again!  My wife and I were “late,” but we were fifteen minutes early?  Okay, we were late because we were not already at our destination fifteen minutes early, thus late.

I was raised by a domineering mother who was old school when it came to time.  Time was always analog and always rounded off to the nearest fifteen minutes.  All other times, like five minutes ‘til the hour, were unacceptable.  She taught us to be early.  If you were not fifteen minutes, or more, early, you were late.

Not that long ago, there was a coach for the New York Giants NFL team that required everyone to be seated in their seats for the meeting fifteen minutes before the meeting was to begin.  Several stars on the team, including a well-known television personality of today, jokingly on every daytime television show and some primetime shows, decided that on time was on time.  They were fined.  The joke of having to be fifteen minutes early to be on time was the big joke of the day, even among people who were not football fans.  I did not laugh, because that was how I was raised.  Then I spent four years in the military, and a few in the Reserves.  “Hurry up and wait” is a way of life there.  It makes perfectly good sense to me that fifteen minutes early is on time.

For several years, I worked at a secret facility in a southeastern state of the USA.  There were thousands of people that worked there, so I arrived at work 45 minutes early to avoid the traffic.  I left thirty minutes late for the same reason.  My mean old boss would not allow for flex time so that I could leave 45 minutes early and avoid the traffic.  I worked out a deal with the other early bird.  I would turn on all the lights in the common areas and he would get the coffee started.  They never trusted me with the coffee since I did not drink it.  But our boss’ boss put out an edict for the remaining people in the department who got to work roughly on time.  He said that work starts after your second cup of coffee, when you are at your desk, and you have cleared the morning mail from it.  In other words, he wanted to pay you for eight hours worked, not eight hours minus coffee time and gossip time and reading the junk mail time.  Being a secret facility, newspapers were forbidden and having one on your person, forget reading it, would get you fired and investigated by the FBI.  Also, no radios and no televisions.  It was thought that someone who was enterprising could reverse engineer such devises to send secret information out instead of just receiving.  I think the newspaper was just encouraging people to not waste their time at work, but it would be easy to hide secret documents in a rolled-up newspaper that the guard would not have time to search page by page.  Yes, they looked through your briefcase every day going in and out.

But fast forward to the last twenty years of my career.  I again turned the lights on in the building because, other than the manager of the draftsmen, who got to work about an hour early, I was one of only 2-3 that got to work “on time”, meaning fifteen minutes early.  You could hear a pin drop until about one or two minutes after the time for people to start work.  And most showed up, to drink a few cups of coffee as much as fifteen to twenty minutes late.

But wait, we had flex time.  Their start time might be thirty minutes later and they were “on time.”  So, why was the building empty at two minutes after the earliest time for going home, except for the bosses and that one secretary who was given a thirty-page document to type that had to go out that day…  Of course, given it ten minutes before quitting time.  And at least once each week until she found a different job and left the company.

There was one associate who would arrive at 8:15am when he was supposed to be there at 7:30am.  He was supposed to leave at 4:30pm, but since the boss left about 4:05pm, this employee was gone five minutes later, to make sure he did not pass the boss on the way home.

Speaking of that boss, he was never on time either.  As the Training Manager of the company, company policy, set by others before I ever got there, was that as much as possible, the instructors were there to start the coffee, check out the demonstration equipment, and do some housekeeping before the first of the customer’s trainees arrived.  This was usually 30 minutes early or 45 minutes if things did not go well the day before.  By my watch, I think at a steel mill in Nebraska, we were about to arrive about five minutes late, because the boss lazily chewed his oatmeal for breakfast.  I fussed about not being on time and we had to set a good example, since I was in charge and he was supposedly my “assistant” for the contract project.  His replied floored me, “We are the instructors.  We can never be late.  How can the class start without us?”

There was no thought to setting up, preparing ourselves to do our best, housekeeping, or especially setting a good example as a professional who cares about the customer.  Often, some trainees showed up early to ask questions about the previous day’s topics of discussion, but no one was there to answer their questions that day.

But why did the company look the other way over a few minutes here or there?  When some of those who cut corners went to work at a jobsite, they might work long hours seven days a week until the work was completed, and they did not get credit for all those extra hours in pay or compensating time off.  So, being on time works in both directions.

So, what is being on time?  Is it sneaking past the front door as the clock chimes, forget five minutes or more later (that is simply late)?  Is it getting coffee and gossip behind you so that the clock starts with you working?  Or is it setting a good example to which others can aspire?  Be careful with that last response.  People might not like you to set a good example.

The One, who is always on time, is God.  We may not think He is on time when He is teaching us patience.  My wife loves to tell the story about God’s timeliness of how we had prayed and decided to turn in the keys of our home when we were down to our last dollar, having moved to another town for a new job three hours away.  We called the real estate agent to give her our decision, but she said that she was about to call us.  She had a buyer.  My wife and I would have loved for the house to have sold two and a half years earlier before we spent all our available cash and sunk ourselves into debt, but God wanted us in a position where we had to rely on Him for that next crust of bread.  My new job was gone six months later when they closed the entire facility.  If the house had sold earlier, we would have bought a new house, but with a big difference – no job at all for a year.  We worked out a deal with our landlady and we relied on God for each crust of bread.

Again, God was just on time.  One year to the day after I lost my job on that occasion, I found a new one.  God’s timing may not be our timing, but God’s timing is “on time.”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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