In Good Time

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I remember listening to a P.D.Q. Bach concert album that began with the announcer saying something like this: "Ladies and gentleman, due to circumstances beyond our control, this performance will begin exactly on time."  This got a big laugh from the audience, which presumably was long accustomed to a certain degree of tardiness in concert halls -- as well as nearly everywhere else.  The term "flight delay" is now almost redundant.  However, I still fondly recall a Lufthansa flight from London to Hamburg many years ago in which the German pilot apologized profusely on arrival for a minor delay that was, in fact, due to circumstances beyond his control.   Mussolini's strong-arm tactics were tolerated for years by Italians who were grateful that he made the trains run on time.  The machinery of civilization is now so precisely calibrated that we can measure delay in nanoseconds.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  begins when Alice spies the White Rabbit pulling a watch from his waistcoat pocket and exclaiming, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!"  This was Alice's first clue that her world was being turned upside down.  The natural order is not normally concerned with the time of day.  Yet you can set your watch by the rising and setting of the sun.  The swallows return each spring to Capistrano without consulting a calendar.  And cicadas emerge simultaneously after 17 years underground without having to synchronize watches.  Somehow the natural order seems to operate like clockwork, while those of us who can actually tell time are often running late.

Perhaps our mistake is in trying to speed things up.  When time was measured by the rising and setting of the sun -- and later by the movement of the the sun's shadow around a sundial, it was hard to maintain any sense of urgency about things.  When it took days, weeks or months to travel any great distance, lateness was measured by a calendar, not by a watch.  The concept of saving time is difficult to fathom if you have no sense of time apart from the rhythms of the natural world.  Consequently, the only way Joshua could think to buy more time to fight the Amorites in the Old Testament was to pray that the sun would stand still in the heavens.

There is a sense in Scripture of things unfolding in due time according to God's purpose.  "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," Isaiah promised.  The idea is that one should not rely on one's own strength or wisdom but to wait for those subtle promptings that the time is ripe to act.  This takes practice.  Often we are moved to act out of fear or uncertainty.  However, unless one is prompted to jump out of the path of an onrushing train, fear is usually a poor motivation for action.  We are really acting to relieve fear rather than to address the situation that prompted it.  There is usually an orderly unfolding of events in life, and there is little use in trying to rush things.  It's far better to get into the flow of life and to stir gently.

Joshua 10:12
Isaiah 40:31

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