Time

Loving and Living in Kairos Time

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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.

Never Lose One Moment of Time

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Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.


There is no lack of content on the topic of time in pop culture. From Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” there is an oft-repeated chorus of lament that once a minute is lived it cannot be relived.

Science fiction explores the would-be-worlds in which time travel exists in stories like H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, or the more lighthearted Back to the Future. Oh, what we would change if only the possibility to return to past moments existed!

The reality is that the past stays in the past, and a minute wasted can never be reinvested. The old adage “time is money” is a half-truth when applied to our vocations, but the equation falls desperately short in terms of currency. It is possible for one to waste an entire fortune and somehow regain their riches, but each hour of our lives wasted is lost forever.

In a recent film called In Time, the audience is cast into a world where the currency of the day is time added to one’s life. The characters in this alternate universe are genetically engineered to expire after their twenty-fifth birthday but are able to cheat this fate as their employers pay them in minutes added to their lifespan. The depravity is all-too-real as the vast disparity between the virtually immortal rich and the poor who are literally living paycheck-to-paycheck.

How would we live differently if we knew exactly how many minutes we had until we died?

NEVER LOSE ONE MOMENT

This brings me to a resolution of Jonathan Edwards that the 21st-century human may find most convicting:

"#5 - Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can."

At first glance, this resolution appears to come from another voice in the stream of productivity gurus. Time is juxtaposed with profit, so we’re tempted to only think in terms of maximizing efficiency.

But Edwards didn’t desire to live his life in a way where he makes the most money. Instead, he aimed to make much of his Messiah. If we start working overtime in our careers or doubling down in the stock market, it is not God’s kingdom we’re seeking, but mammon’s.

Time well spent has nothing to do with Wall Street and everything to do with worship.

THIS IS THE DAY THAT THE LORD HAS MADE

Anyone who has ever mourned time wasted by mindlessly scrolling through social media knows that there are more noble tasks with which to spend our time. Christians have long been noted for their frivolity when it comes to financial generosity and their prudence when it comes to sexual desire. In the 21st century, what if they also became known for their insistence on making the most of their time?

Returning to the world of science fiction, one of the most gut-wrenching glimpses into the priceless nature of our finite time is in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Upon arriving back on their ship after a stint where time passes differently, the main characters learn that twenty-three years have passed. From their perspective, they were gone for only a handful of hours. There is a palpable sense of grief in the characters that the viewer experiences as well; grief over the loss of time and the life that could have been lived.

To the outside world, time spent reading and re-reading Scripture, praying to our unseen Creator, and seeking silence and solitude to commune with our Savior should speak volumes. But I fear that many Christians have syncretized biblical faith with 21st-century self-worship. When taking selfies is a higher priority than taking a Sabbath from our self-absorbed lives, little distinction can be made between the Church and the surrounding culture. Edwards’ resolution hits the self-absorbed Christian (myself included) right in the gut.

What a blessing from God that every moment spent seeking him is a moment well spent. No one on his or her deathbed will regret one nanosecond spent in Word or worship. Mark Twain brilliantly quipped on our deaths, “We’ll be mourned for a day, and forgotten for a lifetime.” Yet we still feel that pull to post one more selfie.

No one can rob us of time pursuing our Creator, that is, no one but ourselves. Those in prison and torture camps can be deprived of everything, but not their ability to pray and commune with God. In God’s economy, one can even see the deprivation of all material comforts as a blessing that forces one to pursue God undistracted.

LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

Our hearts sink when we hear stories of men and women serving forty years of a life sentence only to be freed when new forensic breakthroughs reveal they were innocent all along. But there are worse things than the innocent rotting away in a jail cell.

Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, chronicles the torture he experienced while imprisoned for his faith in communist Romania. While reading of his experience, one is overcome by the evidence of Christ’s work in Wurmbrand’s life. It would be all too easy for the careless onlooker to classify his time spent in confinement as the brutal robbery of a decade and a half of his life. But because of his intense affections for God and love for his neighbor—including his savage communist jailers—he never lost hope that God would redeem his lost time for a greater purpose. In his own words:

“A total of fourteen years in prison passed for me. During all this time I never saw a Bible or any other book. I had forgotten how to write. Because of the great hunger, doping and tortures, I had forgotten the Holy Scriptures. But on the day that I fulfilled fourteen years, out of oblivion came into my mind the verse: ‘Jacob worked for Rachel fourteen years and it seemed to him a little time because he loved her.’ ”[1]

Wurmbrand’s life is a testament to one who takes Jesus’ commands seriously. In picking up his cross daily, he considered the lives of his jailers more important than his own. He was all too willing to give up his life, and he did—fourteen whole years of it—in order that others might see the all-surpassing glory of his savior.

A PRISON OF OUR OWN MAKING

There is a parody of Wurmbrand’s imprisonment that is taking place in millions of households across the world. There, people are enslaved, not by brutal guards, but by the backlit screen of their smartphones. The sun rises and sets in the backdrop and another day fades away like smoke. The real tragedy is that the enslavement is a welcome one.

How I wish I was immune to this phenomenon. I’m all too familiar with the dopamine hit that mindlessly unlocking my iPhone brings. I need Jesus’ grace and the indwelling Spirit to reorient my life around things of ultimate importance.

Worldly values, committed to the kingdom of self, see Wurmbrand’s imprisonment and willing use of his life to support the persecuted Church, as a waste. But the follower of Christ knows better. Not one minute of torture will go wasted in the coming kingdom; God will redeem it. I suspect Wurmbrand himself does not know just how many guards were moved by his selfless love and witness in the rat-infested hole he was kept in. As we get glimpses of the already-but-not-yet kingdom, we see a different economy of time where worship and self-denial are the wisest uses of it.

I pray God would give me the grace to begin making that my reality now!

How about you?

This world is passing away and will soon be eclipsed by the realization of Christ’s kingdom. Those who enter into it will see things for what they truly are: every moment dedicated to self will be burned away, but every moment spent pursuing the King is a moment invested in eternity.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).


[1] Wurmbrand, Richard. Tortured for Christ, 1967. pg. 53

Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Forest Hill, Maryland. Prior to that, he served at a church plant in Troy, New York for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is raising an army of toddlers. He blogs at Family Life Pastor. You can read all of Sean’s articles here.