Today as we close out, unofficially, another season of the year in the life of being, I want to talk about time.
Steve Jobs said, “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
And we all have heard wisdom from that great doctor, Dr. Seuss, who today tells us, “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. May goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Time is a crazy thing, which is probably what made William Penn say, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
Quick survey: How many of you wear a wristwatch? How many of you use another device to tell time—like for instance your cell phones? Anyone use a pocket watch?
Anyone have a watch or a clock at home that syncs up via radio frequency with the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado—the most precise time anywhere in the world?
Regardless of what timepiece you carry, it’s clear that we live in a world obsessed with time.
Rarely anymore does anyone sidle up to you in the grocery store and ask: “Do you have the time?” because everyone has it attached to their body in some way.
We have multiple apps for tracking our calendars, managing our deadlines and even timing our walk to the office or when we need to drink a glass of water.
We have time staring at us from the corner of our computer screens, from the dashboard of our cars, and from the digital clock on the bank sign down the street.
Where I grew up, in Wooster, there was, and still is, a classic old clock fixed on a historic tower of the county courthouse that rang out the time each hour.
These are still common today, only on scales that more accurately depict our obsession with time in a big way. For instance…
If you’re in Mecca, Saudi Arabia you can’t help but see the Abraj Al Bait clock. Its clock face is more than 140 feet in diameter, built on a tower that’s almost 2,000 feet tall. By comparison, Big Ben, arguably the most famous clock in the world, is just over 19 feet in diameter on a 315 foot high tower.
Long before, and certainly ever since the Greeks watched shadows move around what would eventually be called a “sundial”, we have been obsessed about time. So you’d think that the plethora of clocks in our world would make us better at managing our time, but the truth is that time management is one of the biggest stressors in our culture.
We work too many hours, we have too many distractions, and we’re trying to squeeze in more work in less time. The relentless ticking of the clock (or, in their case, the movement of the shadow around the sundial) is what the ancient Greeks referred to as chronos time, from which we get “chronological” time. Chronos time is what Benjamin Franklin was talking about when he said, “Lost time is never found again.”
And I think, had he been aware of another form of time, called karios time—the type of time the Apostle Paul was referring to when he said “make the most of the time because the days are evil”, I think Franklin would have still said, “Lost time is never found again.”
The apostle Paul didn’t wear a watch or carry a cell phone, but he too obsessed with time. It was, however, a different sort of time than you get by glancing at your watch or cell phone or giant tower.
Paul actually kept a running clock in his head, but, instead of tracking the chronos time, Paul was far more interested in redeeming kairos time—a brand of time most often mentioned in the New Testament.
You won’t find it on the hands of the dial or the digital numbers on a screen. You won’t find it lifted high in towns and cities. Rather, kairos-time refers more to a decisive time— the right time, the appropriate time, Godly time. A time that would have us focus on, and tend to, the things of life that truly give life and not rob us of it.
The writers of the New Testament understood Kairos-time in relation to the moment when God intervenes or is about to intervene in human history. But Kairos-time can also mean the time that God’s people have to prepare for the ultimate kairos, thus Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians to “make the most of the time [kairos] because the days are evil.” It’s that kind of kairos expectation that Paul wants to fuel the management of our chronos time.
Paul implores the people, then and today, to make the most of our time in relation and perspective to God, and he does this because he knows that there is nothing that matters more.
Paul begins this section of the letter with a call to set an alarm clock.
The dimness of evil is about to be exposed by the bright dawn of God’s coming kingdom, thus Paul tells the Ephesian church to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but indeed expose them” because “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”
With the dawn about to break, Paul uses a line from an ancient hymn as a wake-up call: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
With that coming moment in mind, Paul urges the church, “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.”
Paul is encouraging them, and us, to use our time wisely by ordering our lives after the new reality that is breaking in—which is a good way, not an evil way. A loving way, not a spiteful way.
Do this, and we will make the most of our kairos-time and live in ways consistent with the coming day of the Lord and consequently, not be in step with the present evil that governs the daily calendar of much of the world.
Paul wants us to know that to “understand what the will of the Lord is,” and then to do it, is the best time management strategy that we could ever have.
So how do we do this? Well, for Paul, the way that we become better kairos managers is by being filled with the Spirit, which is a contrast to the time-wasting practice of drunkenness and debauchery.
Many people in the ancient world believed that being drunk could produce inspiration or possession by Dionysus, the god of wine. It was an effort to check-out and let someone or something else take over for you. And isn’t that true today?
Many today believe they will get inspiration, or at least a substance induced opportunity to check-out, from being intoxicated, but not only with drink or drug, but also with money, with sex or with power. People structure their time and their lives in pursuit of these things, thinking that they will be fulfilled, but truthfully these are time-killers—chronos AND kairos killers. This was as true in Paul’s day as it is today.
Time killers—kairos killesr, were as real then as today, so Paul encourages being filled with the Spirit and, as a result, we will be able to face the present world, not with songs of drunken parties, but the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual psalms” of worship—you will be able to face the present world with that which is not of this world, which will consequently enable you to live as you were created to live.
Paul is calling us to a way of life that still obsesses over time, but not in the harsh dictator manner we obsess today. Rather in a way that is aware of the precious gift time truly is.
Life with God is life in kairos time, and the people of God set their watches and calendars by that standard.
These days we might have atomic clocks in our homes that are accurate to the nano-second because they synchronize with the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado but does it change or order our life for the better? Or does it just make us more obsessed about how little time we really have?
Kairos time calibrates us toward being right with God’s time and accurate in our faith and practice. How we “make the most of the time”, as Paul says, is thus a function of how well we use our chronos to focus on the kairos.
So we need to ask ourselves…
How does our calendar reflect time spent cultivating our relationship with God? Does our daily rhythm include time dedicated to prayer, “giving thanks to God at all times and for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”? Do we search the Scriptures daily to “understand what the will of the Lord is”? Are we participating in worship where we can make “melody to the Lord” in our heart? How does our calendar reflect time spent cultivating our relationship with our spouse, our children, our neighbor?
Rather than just letting time tick away, Paul is urging us, calling us, to put it to God’s use.
So maybe… as a practice… as a discipline to help us focus more on karios time and less on chronos time… What if every time we look at the time—be it analog or digital, watch, cell phone, or clock tower—what if we practiced saying a short prayer every time we check the time.
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we pray for whatever is happening or whomever we’re with at that moment. Do that… practice that kind of discipline, coupled with a regular spiritual life, and it becomes a way of life that makes the most of our time in a way that allows God to work in us and through us.
Benjamin Franklin was right. Lost time is never found again.
So may we keep awake, for the time is here—the karios time— when the light of God’s glory floods all of creation, pushing out the dimness and bringing the dawn of a new creation.
And may we see time—karios time— as the most precious resource we have.
May we see how it flies, and then fly with it.
May we want it the most, and use it the best. Amen.