One of the most significant inventions in human history is something you’ve probably never heard of. It hasn’t received much press, even though it helped fundamentally define the way we now live. It’s called the escapement. First used in the 13th century, the escapement is the piece in the machinery of a clock that allows it to measure time in equally divided increments. It regulates the descent of weights or the unwinding of a compressed spring in a measured fashion, creating the distinctive “tick-tock” of the clock that so infamously vexed Captain Hook.
Take a moment and seriously consider what life would be like without clocks. How would you measure time? How would you know when to show up for an appointment? Or when the football game will be on TV? How would you know what time to take a lunch break—or when you need to come back?
Precisely measured time is such an ingrained part of our experience it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Even as I write this, I’m aware of the current time, my next appointment, and the looming deadline to turn in this article.
Prior to the escapement, time was understood more like a flowing river than a ticking clock. The sun, moon, and stars—mysterious heavenly bodies that lay beyond human control—were the base tools for measuring time in large units such as days, months, and years. Even so, time was elastic, as changing seasons ushered in longer or shorter days.
The invention of the escapement marked a radical paradigm shift from an elastic, rhythmic, flowing concept of time to a precisely measured, evenly divided, universal understanding of time. As historian Daniel Boorstin writes, “There are few greater revolutions in human experience than this movement from the seasonal or ‘temporary’ hour to the equal hour” (from his book The Discoverers, published in 1983).
All that to say, we have a complex relationship with time. But it doesn't have to be so complicated.
TOO BUSY MARKING TIME
The Greek term for this kind of measured time is chronos, from which we get the word chronological. We function largely in chronos time—making and keeping appointments, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and trying to fit as much as possible into the limited time we have. Type-A personalities are known for taking control of their time, not allowing one second to be wasted. “Time is money,” we are told, because “time and tide wait for no man.”
As helpful as the escapement was, giving us a sense of dominance over an uncontrollable part of life, it came with its own requirements. As Boorstin writes, man “accomplished this mastery by putting himself under the dominion of a machine with imperious demand all its own.”
In the area of relationships, when we function primarily in chronos time, people either fit into our schedules or they don’t. Our relationships are controlled by a scarcity of minutes and hours. To give our attention, time, or energy to another person is to sacrifice a limited commodity.
So we must decide, with every interaction, if the person before us—the one vying for “a unit” of our day—is going to be a drain to an already limited asset or a worthy investment of our time. We play a game of give-and-take based on what we can get from them in the time allotted. People become objects, defined by space and time, and their fundamental nature as persons who bear the image of God is devalued.
WELCOMING DIVINE APPOINTMENTS
However, there is another way—one more ancient and biblical—to view time. The Greek term that defines this understanding of time is kairos. Though a complex word, kairos can be understood to mean “a specific and decisive point” in time.
The idea of kairos time, in the Bible, carries with it an idea of divine appointment: that God is in control of time itself, and he has appointed times, seasons, and dates to fulfill his own purposes. Each moment is, therefore, pregnant with purpose above and beyond our own understanding.
Kairos time is purposeful, yet outside of our control. Our lives, therefore, are filled with a multitude of divine appointments, rather than a long line of annoying interruptions.
Scripture is full of divine kairos appointments. Take Philip, for example, who was on the frontline of a revival in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), which included crowds paying attention to and responding to the gospel, exorcisms, and miraculous healings. People were being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit right and left.
In the middle of this, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place” (Acts 8:26). This is a kairos moment for Philip: a divinely appointed time for him to obey and respond to God’s leading, which he did: “And he rose and went” (Acts 8:27a).
STAYING IN THE MOMENT
For an angel to send Philip to the Gaza road seems a bit like benching a player who’s batting a thousand. Or ending a career right at its apex. “God is doing some amazing work through you … therefore, leave right away, go out to the middle of the desert, and hang out in the wilderness.”
Do you feel like you’ve been taken out of your sweet spot in life, and relegated to the side of a desert road? Perhaps life has been interrupted with a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a family member struggling with addiction.
It’s easy to get distracted by the wilderness and miss God’s hand in the midst of it. We get overwhelmed with the geography (the desert) and miss the moment (the kairos). What God calls us all to do is be attentive to how he wants to use us right where he has us, even if it’s a place we never would choose. Sometimes the time is more important than the place.
Will you respond to the perfect moment—for every moment is his—like Philip did? For Philip, obedience to God landed him in a chariot with a foreigner and religious outcast. For this man, Philip’s response to this kairos moment was the necessary piece of the puzzle that connected him with Jesus (Acts 8:27-40).
God is at work in every situation. So many times I’ve spoken to friends who have recognized and obediently acted on the divine appointments which came while sitting in a chemotherapy chair, speaking gospel truth and comforting other patients. Could God use something as bad as cancer to put you in the place where he wants to use you?
LOVING AND LIVING IN KAIROS TIME
When we live in the freedom of kairos time, people are no longer seen as time-sucking drains. We are no longer forced to view others as assets or liabilities, worthy or unworthy investments. Because people are not things, they cannot be reduced with such a myopic view.
Loving people in kairos time means no longer seeing time as a scarce asset under our control, but a gift to be generously distributed. It means viewing every person as worthy of our time, because not only are they created in God’s image, they are placed before us by a God who loves them and wants to love them through us.
Because of this, there are no interruptions. Only divine appointments.
Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.