Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the time of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Most Americans who travel to “far places” experience various types of culture shock. One of the most common and severe is that related to a different perception of time. We tend to be clock and calendar oriented. One hour means 60 minutes. An appointment for 4:00 p.m. is expected to commence at that point in time or in very close proximity to it. Other peoples in the world simply do not work to the same kind of schedule.
A co-worker several years ago went to a place where he was told an audience would meet him at (I think) 9:00 a.m. We were surprised when he returned to the hotel where we were staying not long after 9:30. When questioned he said, “I waited until 9:10 and no one showed up, so I came back.” The locals who were helping us set up our meetings tried to convince him that his audience was coming and would be there “shortly.” His position was that they agreed on a time and should have been there promptly – if that was not their custom they should be taught better, and maybe his leaving would be a good beginning on that process.
Most seasoned travelers come to the conclusion that, after all, it is their country; we are the visitors and therefore it is we who should accommodate their customs rather than the other way around. We seek to follow the principle, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” or as Paul put it, “To the Jews I became as a Jew . . . to the weak I became as weak . . . . I have become all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Though I have made that decision and followed that course for many years, I also recognize that there is something to be said for my former co-workers position. Time is important. We only have so much of it and we are charged by the Holy Spirit to utilize it well. So the Holy Spirit commands, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
These verses do not refer exclusively to making use of every minute. They are more probably about our role as Christians in justifying the ongoing existence of creation, as in Abraham’s plea for Sodom and Gomorrah if even ten righteous persons could be found (Cf. Genesis 18:22-33). However, they do suggest an urgency to all that we do. Walking circumspectly or wisely involves prudent use of our time.
This is certainly the Hebrew author’s intent: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). The ancient Israelites lost their opportunities in the wilderness through their unfaithfulness. We also have a limited, finite opportunity. Let us not lose it through neglect.
I heard someone give the time recently as “Four O’Clock.” I could not resist responding, somewhat tongue in cheek, “You are rushing your life away; it is only 3:53 – don’t lose those precious minutes.” After I said it I thought that it was not really a joking matter. We dismiss a few minutes here and there. We find that we have finished one project and it is “only fifteen minutes” until lunch so we basically kill them doing nothing productive, reasoning that it is not long enough to get anything else started. Maybe so, but if that becomes a habit repeated every day, maybe more than once a day, how much time are we squandering, and how much of our lives have become non-productive and essentially meaningless.
If we think of promptness as an American trait and we want everyone else to be like us, then we need to back off and recognize that our way is not the only way. However, if we have decided that living every moment fully is a Christian response to the value of time, then we should seek to become an example of one who is a good steward of that resource. It should not be about our telling others how to live but rather leading them in a godly direction through our own commitment.