I have never been able to wear wristwatches.
I kill the battery in a matter of days, and if I’m pretty fortunate, in weeks. This phenomenon is not isolated to me alone, though it is rare. A quick internet search reveals different hypotheses for this problem. We might have a high level of minerals in our perspiration with a capacitor-like effect within watches, causing a drain on the battery. We might have a particular electromagnetic field or chemistry composition of another sort. Perhaps this is a case for the myth-busters, for nothing is yet conclusive.
There have been attempts through the years of watch-wearing; my bright green plastic turtle watch, the shell opening up to reveal the time to my seven-year-old self and then prized Swatch my grandparents gifted me in junior high, which made me feel way cool in the presence of my peers (with our big, stiffly sprayed hair). Last, in the line of the three watches I can remember owning, was a more sophisticated chain-link silver one my husband presented to me on another birthday in my late 20’s (it has sat in my jewelry box for over 15 years, now dead). He was sure a fine watch would do the trick. Nope.
I usually have an inner sense of time and have grown accustomed to feeling its rhythm and gauging the light outside. Still, it would be rather a novelty to experience wearing a watch that continues to tick.
And so, time and I have always been at odds, it seems. As a child, I was not too fond of its limitations; as a teen, I felt it was never my own, and as an adult, I’ve wished that in the span of a mere daily 24-hours, there was more of it.
My natural inclination is to visualize what could be and what has been in this great and intangible medium that we know as “time.” It’s a process of internal pondering that I’ve come to operate out of, even if it has not served me well.
Like you, the past year of 2020 put these two ways of handling time in my life in perspective. If how we frame life is put into terms of a landscape painting with the background (past), middle ground (future), and foreground (present), then the “unprecedented and unpredictable” year highlighted to the foreground (those objects closest to our view as if we can reach out and touch them), the now.
More than ever, we came to understand that now is what is real to us. These present moments and the meaningful choices we make within them is where life is made.
But, to come away from sounding a cliche, “seize the day!” humanistic catch-phrase and even going deeper than the current “be present” with its more spiritual tone, we’ve got to consider a fuller perspective of time.
In the Greek language, the one in which the New Testament was written, there are two words used for time:
Chronos: The measurable quantity of time that continually moves from the past, through the present, and into the future in chronological, sequential time. From the Greek’s early personification of time, Chronos was “father time” and could not be stopped but “devoured” everything in its path; time on the move that cannot stop. This is the time we measure by our clocks and our calendars. It is the divinely apportioned amount of time on earth we each are given.
Kairos: The immeasurable quality of time refers to the present, a due season, the suitable, critical, and opportune moment, the appointed time. It is an opening, an invitation for decisive action, for favor, for a deep experience, for transformation.
Writer Madeleine L’Engle described kairos as “That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterward because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos, we are completely unselfconscious and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we’re constantly checking our watches for chronological time. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sandcastle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. In kairos, we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation.”
A quick search in Strong’s Concordance of the Greek New Testament reveals that chronos is used 54 times and kairos is used 81 times! Some scholars and theologians that know biblical Greek argue that the occurrence of these two words for time is simply an overlap of semantics. Others maintain a definite difference that the biblical authors under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration used to distinguish between the two understandings of time.
Consider the following several passages and make your deductions on the fascinating implications of their usage of time (I couldn’t help myself and include many to ponder):
John 7:33: “Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little chronos, and then I am going to him who sent me.”
Acts 1:6: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this chronos restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Acts 1:7: Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know the chronos or the kairos that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
Mark 1:15: “Jesus said, “The kairos is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
1 Peter 1:20: “Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last chronos for the sake of you.”
Ephesians 5:16: “…making the best use of the kairos, because the days are evil.”
Acts 17:19-20: “Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that kairos refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..”
Ephesians 6:18: “Praying at all kairos in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…”
Revelation 2:21: ” I gave her chronos to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality…”
1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper kairos he may exalt you.”
Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted kairos and the boundaries of their dwelling place…”
Mark 10: 29-30: “Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in kairos, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Jude 1:18: “They said to you, “In the last chronos there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
Revelation 6:11: “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little chronos until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.“
It is doubtful that we have difficulty acknowledging and submitting to chronos, especially if we are more of a Western or North American culture, highly time-oriented versus event-oriented. It has been to my benefit and enjoyment to have lived for nearly eight years in a not-so-much time-oriented country. Indeed it is considered rude in most situations, aside from school and business (and even this can be flexible, especially in most smaller towns and villages), to be highly time-conscious. The quality is far more esteemed than the quantity. How long we are somewhere is not nearly as important as to what kind of time was had. However, even in this more relaxed pace, kairos is often missed when apathy takes hold.
You see, for most of us, regardless of our culture, kairos is the challenge, though it is the marrow of life! Look at how Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom; it is now, and this moment carries the urgency, a tremendous significance. The past is remembered, and the future is hoped for, and these are both essential concepts of our faith, but the present is what matters.
I have lived too much of my life in the chronos, reflecting on the goodness and even hardness of what has been and imagining what can be. I move with chronos, or perhaps I allow it to move me, but chronos is not meant to devour or dictate or sabotage, only to recognize and move within with gratitude to and dependence upon a God who is above all time. The great span of what has been and what will be belongs to him.
Jesus calls us to live within the kairos of God’s reign and rule. Moment-by-moment, we who are made new creations through Him are in the process of His life being embedded and illuminated through ours. In kairos, we can experience the actual invasion of God’s presence and action and the receiving of his good gifts.
So much of this is our choice, to live faithfully in the chronos but be available and wise to the moments of appointed and favorable kairos. Some moments are more significant than others, though every moment can be lived worshipfully under the gaze of God.
It might be that today in your kairos, there are urgent, opportune, transformational moments to:
- Quickly and prayerfully evaluate your feelings and projections, so they align with the truth of your identity in Jesus (based not on what you do, what you have, or what others say about you).
- See the beauty all around; the wind moving through the trees, the shade of a flower, the light on the mountains.
- Repent! Turn back to God in full confession and wholly yield the moment the Spirit within you puts his finger on a particular spot that causes divine grief.
- Ignore the mess (sometimes!) to laugh and play with your child, send an encouraging note, play a game, dance, hug your spouse and look into their eyes, take a hot bath.
- Abandon outcomes to God; don’t work to control or extract another’s behavior.
- Speak the truth, risk and rise out of timidity. Share the Gospel, write the article or the chapter, preach the sermon, teach the lesson.
- Go to bed. When you can do no more, receive rest as a blessing and cast your cares upon the One who neither sleeps nor slumbers but is always working on your behalf, our very present help in our time of need.
- Pray right now for the person in front of you in need or on your heart—minister in the opportune moments with the capacity and the portion you’ve been given.
- Paint the picture or the wall, read the pages, write the lyrics, strum the guitar, run down the street, jump in the cold water, pick the flowers, smile at the faces.
- Notice the opportunities, make the invitation, do more than what is only essential to survival, discern when to act and when to wait but become not passive in the in-between.
- Submit to the stage of faith God has you within and sit in it as long as he has you there.
- Believe God, obey him at this moment, take his forgiveness and trust that his promises are true, his character is good, and his love for you greater than the expanse of the ocean.
- Consult him moment-by-moment, making it a habit to ask frequently, “What do you think?” and listen.
In all its light, power, peace, and sheer beauty, the Kingdom of God is alive and well, now in these tiny moments that make up our lives. In them is the ability to be content, fully alive, at peace, and enjoy close communion with the most joyous transcendent being in the universe. As Dallas Willard wonderfully stated: “Eternity is now in session, for a life of interaction with Jesus is possible here, and our salvation is now (John 17:3).”
Perhaps it is a good thing that I cannot wear a wristwatch, for maybe I would be too captive to chronos and not alive enough to kairos. Maybe.
Whatever the reason, I’ve discovered that the shocks of joy and significance –those moments when the time feels full, and I persevered, whether easy or hard, to partake of the good, true and beautiful within the sequence of my days — those moments are precious. Those moments are weighty and shimmering.
Compounded, they are what make a life, a life. Without them, we have no foreground, nothing up close and near touchable for those that pass by our way to see, and nothing even for the vitality of our souls. After all, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Yes. So live.
In chronos and kairos.