In the manner of an accordion, a dual-paned door becomes unfurled, sealing the well-traveled entrance. The driver engages the throttle, and the faithful city bus begins another lap of its mundane daily route. My steps quickly become more strategic as I search for balance on my jostling journey. Finally, I conquer the tremulous pilgrimage from the door to the third window seat on the driver’s side of the bus. With a sigh of fulfillment, I peer out the window to take in the memorized topography of my daily commute. Quickly I notice an arctic drift, from the over-taxed air condition, that chills the sweat on the back of my neck. In the mere second my attention is deterred from the route I feel the equilibrium of the bus shift into the wrong direction. I had traveled this route before, and I knew that upon cresting the first hill we always turned right, but not today; today, my driver has turned left.
What ensued was a drudgingly long 30 minute circuit through neighborhoods and streets whose names I cannot pronounce to this day. Anxiety turns to self-directed anger. Had I got on the wrong bus? How did I get on the wrong bus? Maybe the driver is new? How did I get on the wrong bus? How am I going to explain this one when I get to HQ? Yep, I’m definitely, on the wrong bus! I cannot believe I got on the wrong bus!
Finally, I regained my bearings when my bus approached the roundabout before the Serangoon Garden Circus bus stop, the place this circular journey began. I quickly made my way to the front of the bus in an effort to inquire of the driver the reason for this incorrect expedition. I first checked to make sure I was on the right bus before making myself look any more foolish. Yep, bus 315. I pleaded my case to the driver only to be met with a warm smile and a pat on the shoulder. The kind uncle enlightened my understanding that some buses in Singapore run two routes. One has to make sure they have the correct bus number and correct route that is signified by a colored card in the front window of the bus. If you ever travel to Singapore, you’re welcome. The bus I had now been prisoner of for over thirty-five minutes was finally embarking on the route I needed. With a smirk on my face and my pride shattered, I once again made my way back to the seat along the window on the third row.
Inertia teetered the equilibrium of the bus as it sharply made its way around the Serangoon Garden roundabout. The final turn propelled the bus up the hill and toward the critical turn where my heart dropped just forty minutes prior. As the bus merged into the right lane and began its turn, I gazed down the road that held the destiny of a left-hand turn. At that moment, God spoke to me. Yes, God talks to people on public transportation at 8:40 am. The revelation of the moment has focused my purview in regards to dreams, vision, and aspirations as a young minister. The words were simple: You can do the right thing, make the right choice, and venture down the right path at the wrong time, and the result is wrong. The moment was simply profound and profoundly simple, but it has changed the way I approach ministry.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the preacher follows this poetic expression of repetitional thought. The beautiful stanza exposes a contrast in life between moments like: weeping and laughing, breaking and building, morning and dancing. While the contrast is played out to the full extent of the wonderful analogy, there is a similar thread that binds them all together: time. After all, the preacher begins by saying, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecc. 3:1, King James Version).
The continuous thread of time that is interwoven throughout all of life’s conquests and defeats reminds one of Brutus’ meditated exclamation in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men.” The true brilliance of the quote is hard to take at face value. One must take a step back from their life in order to see the ebb and flow life’s tide. High tides of joy and plenty are often followed and carefully balanced, by those low tides of worry, anxiety, and depression. The trend of life’s pendulum is nearly impossible to predict and even harder to escape. There is a tide in the affairs of men.
The preacher’s Ecclesiastes and Shakespeare’s Brutus teach us that there is an appointed time for the events in life. Time, seasons, tides, its all language that gives one this agrarian image of cultivation. And so we see, God uses these aspects of life to cultivate character and determine destiny. Galatians 6:9 shines further light on the matter, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (English Standard Version). So we see that God uses time and seasons to mold us, but we have not yet reached the primary lesson of the matter. We still must address my excursion through the concrete jungle of Singapore’s suburbs.
At 8 am one weekday morning I stepped foot on what I believed to be the correct bus, in fact, it was the correct bus. Yet, while sitting on the right bus, I went the wrong direction. And so life is with choices. Often we make what we believe, and know to be, the right choice and what ensues is some drift into the abyss of wrong directions. Taking that job, moving to that city, dating that boy or girl, pursuing that major in college. There are so many more examples, but you get the understanding. We all make choices that, at the time, we felt to be right. And maybe, at the end of the day, that choice would have been the right one all along. But somewhere in the gap between right and wrong there lies this tiny, hard to detect, line of time. My friend, as my story demonstrates, you can make the right choice at the wrong time, and the result will always be wrong. Ask the farmer who plants his corn, in the same method he always does, during a blizzard, or go to the correct airport, to the correct airline desk a day before your flight and see the result. Time is that precarious reality that we are all bound by but never seem to be able to take hold of ourselves. “Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. It’s strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath).
The essence of my point is simply that we all actively seek the will of God, but when was the last time you sought the time of God? You can preach the right sermon, pray the right prayer, marry the right person, move to the right city, take the right job, get on the right bus… at the wrong time and often the result is not what you had hoped. Your answer was right, but your timing was wrong. The Bible is quite clear throughout its entirely that God takes time pretty seriously. Each step of the creation process had a set time in its progression (Genesis 1). God repeatedly gave Israel time to repent and return back to him. The Bible even tells us: when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son (Gal. 4:4, ESV). I have said before, “Like the gears who unknowingly turn the hands on the other side of the clock face, prayer turns the hands on the other side of heaven.” Maybe you’re truly moving those divine hands, but are your prayers set to the right time?
Maybe today you’re truly in the will of God and maybe you have the favor of God, but I ask: are you in God’s time?