In my own life I say three little words more than I would like to admit: “Sorry I’m late.”
Those three little words roll off my tongue as I enter a staff meeting, meet a friend for coffee, join my waiting family at the dinner table, and even arrive at a pastoral meeting with a grieving family. I never intend to be late—it just happens. It’s not a power move. It’s not a control issue. It’s not even a matter of an over crowded calendar. The real reason why I am often late is because I don’t want to be early.
And yet I can think of times when arriving early, sometimes by accident, has allowed me to encounter people I wouldn’t meet otherwise. God can use the margins of our life to open up meaningful encounters that allow us to connect with others without an agenda. Time is an offering to God that he may use to make us instruments of his love to others. Being on time is a spiritual discipline that actually changes your life.
I heard an amazing story this week that just warmed my heart to the very core of who I am as a believer. There is a women in our church who has been overwhelmed with life and recently experienced a great loss. She was sitting alone trying to fight back tears before the Sunday service started and another women asked if she could just sit with her during the service so that she would not be alone. Nothing deeply profound was said during that time but the other woman offered a gracious gift all the same, the power of presence.
Sunday morning presents pretty unique challenges for individuals and families as we attempt to leave home for worship. And yet there is ministry to be done before our service begins. Because you know who arrives early or at least on time for church? Someone who is visiting. They come early because they don’t just want to get a feel for the service or the programs, but they want to get a sense of the community. And that’s hard to do when the community isn’t here yet.
Getting to worship on time is a simple way we can be hospitable and loving to those who come to Restoration in search of a place to belong. As we stumble our way out of the summer doldrums into a new school year, I want to ask that all of us make a renewed commitment to arrive for worship on time. Here are 5 things that will change if we all start coming to church on time (or even early).
5 Ways that Coming to Church on Time Will Change Your Life
- Practice Stillness: We live in a culture of hurry, and Sunday mornings are no exception. It can be a real challenge to get ready and get out the door, especially for families with children. All the ‘life-hacks’ in the world probably won’t alleviate all the frenzy, but if you can move your clock back enough to arrive even a few minutes before the service, you can take a moment or two to find your seat, take a breath, say a prayer, or sit in stillness before the service begins. When you arrive early, you can prepare your heart for worship.
- Practice Submission: In our lives, there are people whom we wait on and people who wait on us. Arriving to church on time is an act of submitting our time to God. It’s a reminder that we are on his schedule, not the other way around. We are reminded that worship isn’t a consumer experience, like a shop we ‘pop into’ at our convenience. Our worship is a divine appointment, something we have been called to. As we discipline ourselves to arrive early on Sunday mornings, we will begin to see God’s reign over all our days.
- Practice Hospitality: You know who arrives early (or at least on time) to church? Someone who is visiting for the first time. People come early because they want to connect with others and get a feel for the community—that’s hard to do when the community hasn’t gotten there yet. Getting to church early is a simple way to be hospitable and loving to those who walk through our doors.
- Practice Community: Here’s a simple discipline you could try. Arrive just a few minutes early to the service and intentionally connect with a couple of people you haven’t spoken with in a while. As you speak with them, ask the Holy Spirit to help you listen for their needs. Then, during the service when we pray for the community of Restoration, lift up those needs to God. This would be an incredible way to connect our corporate worship to the ongoing life of our church.
- Coffee and (sometimes) Donuts: Obviously, we understand the magical power of coffee and donuts. And it’s true that you can still snag a snack even as you walk in late. Here’s the thing, though: You know how you feel that little twinge of guilt when you are still chewing your donut while singing the opening song? Be free of that burden by rolling in just a few minutes earlier. Then, you’ll be able to sing with an empty mouth and a clean conscience.