“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1
Missionary friends in Nigeria have observed that there are great differences in how Africans and Americans view time. For the Westerner, time is to be managed, obeyed, and strictly observed. We spend large amounts of time planning for the future. We set deadlines and evaluate our performance by our ability to meet those deadlines. We start every meeting with an agenda and rarely exceed the allotted time limit.
Nigerians generally approach the concept of time differently. Relationships take precedence over sticking to time limits. If a visitor drops in, you stop whatever you are doing and visit for an appropriate amount of time according to the relationship. If this visitor decides to stay with you, you do not ask him how long the visit will last–that will reveal itself when it is important. To ask is considered rude. If spending time with this unannounced visitor makes you late for another engagement, that is okay. People generally accept that going late to any public function is very normal, but one is not to leave early, which is a sign of rudeness. Meetings last until the work is done—with or without an agenda. The more important an item is, the longer there has to be discussion–even if there is already consensus. If there is not consensus, the group will continue to discuss as long as necessary.
Another striking difference deals with the concept of the future. Nigerian Christians speak in a way that frequently calls to mind the sense that God is in control of the number of our days. They frequently thank God for “seeing yet another day.” There is also frequent reference to Christ’s Second Coming. For example, a church announcement might sound like this: “Next Sunday evening, at 5 PM prompt, if the Lord tarries, the Couples’ Fellowship will have a special program. All are expected to be in attendance.” While those words can become routine, they also embody a biblical worldview–living with a sense of anticipation for the return of our Lord.
For all of us, time is flying. Sometimes we are so intensely looking to the future that the present rushes past unnoticed. Our challenge is to count each day as precious—knowing that what we do counts for eternity.
Almighty God, help me not to fritter away my days but to use each moment for the greatest possible good. Amen.
Ray Pritchard pastored in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Married to Marlene for 38 years, he enjoys being a husband, a father and a grandfather, riding his bike, and playing with Dudley and Gary, beloved basset hounds.