Kairos Living In a Chronos World
James Gleich has written a book whose cover brilliantly captures the time we find ourselves in. The full book title is “Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.” But to drive home the message immediately, the cover features in big bold letters, all caps, FSTR! “FSTR!” You immediately catch the feeling of being squeezed for time, too rushed to even include vowels.
He shows how everything, from travel to cooking to communications to commerce is accelerating exponentially faster than ever before in history.
You find the same thing in physician Richard Swenson’s book Margin, graph after graph after graph showing how so many things today are not merely accelerating. They are accelerating exponentially—like the word faster but with no time to say the vowels.
That brings us to this week’s question of seeing time as God does; seeing our time more as God would, so that we more fully live our time. And what we need to know right off the bat is that there are fundamentally…
Two ways of seeing time
The ancient Greeks captured them with two words: χρόνος (Chronos) and (καιρός) Kairos. Let’s take them one at a time.
- Chronos is when the clock & calendar rule.
Chronos is chronological or sequential time. In contemporary Western society, chronological time is almost entirely how we see time. We measure it with clocks. We count minutes and hours and workweeks and months and years.
Chronos is appointments and schedule, calendar and alarms, deadlines and running out of time. Chronos is the sense that I only get 24 hours each day: 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. And although we all get the same amount of time anyone has ever gotten, many of us in the modern West constantly feel like we don’t have enough time. That’s the chronos world we find ourselves in. It’s one way of seeing time, and it is the driving way Americans in particular see time.
So we say things like, “Time stops for no one” and “Time is money.” We see chronos as a commodity, where you either save it or waste it. In his book “Awakening the Quieter Virtues,” Gregory Spencer says of time, “We march against it, beat it, save it, manage it, spend it, and try not to kill it or waste it.”
But then he adds this caution: “If efficiency becomes a dictator instead of a servant [that is, when chronos grabs the steering wheel and stomps on the gas without ever letting up, we lose the best of what it means to be human, to be made in God’s image and likeness], generosity is usually oppressed. Time well used…is time that appropriately meets the needs of the moment, not…time measured by the demands of the clock.”
Gregory Spencer, Awakening the Quieter Virtues (IVP, 2010), pp. 170-171
Social historian Theodore Zeldin adds, “Technology has been a rapid heartbeat, compressing housework, travel, entertainment, squeezing more and more into the allotted span. Nobody expected that [technology] would create the feeling that life moves too fast.” But it has.
Many of us feel tight on time and so we begin cutting back – on breakfast, on lunchtime, on sleep, on hobbies, on daydreams. Federal Express and McDonald’s have created whole new portions of the economy by understanding, capitalizing on, and cultivating the sense that we have to rush. Slow is bad, faster is better. More is better. So claims chronos.
In the 5th century B.C., Sophocles wrote, “Time is a gentle deity.” No one in the modern West would say that. We say time cracks the whip. We say we’re under the gun. We say we’re racing the clock.
So when we see time strictly in terms of chronos, what we get is stressed, squeezed, rushed, pressured.
Americans now take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later than our counterparts in every other developed nation. The typical American today lets paid vacation time lapse rather than take it. Then when we do go on vacation, we’re constantly checking work email. It’s constantly about getting more done, but never feeling like we are done.
So let’s state the obvious: we have a problem. You and I didn’t create the problem. But we find ourselves swept up into it. In contemporary Western society, especially in America, the clock—chronos—rules, in ways that are historically unparalleled and are unhealthy.
But chronos is not how everyone sees time. More importantly, chronos is not what the New Testament emphasizes. So let’s try on a new set of glasses with regard to how to see our time. If chronos is when the clock and calendar rule, kairos is where the Holy Spirit beckons.
- Kairos is when the Spirit beckons.
Chronos refers to measured time, while kairos signifies an appointed time, an opportune time, the right time, a decisive time you’ve been waiting for, a season of opportunity. If chronos is “tick-tock” time, kairos is a moment when time stands still. Kairos is when God interrupts the routine and steps into our time. Kairos is a Spirit-led moment or opportunity.
Stephen Chamberlain adds, “We have no equivalent word in the English language, but kairos is the notion of an appropriate time. Something is about to happen; there is an opportunity to be seized, and what we [do in that moment] will affect our future. Call it the moment of truth, or carpe diem, seize the day. Kairos describes the moment when the time is ripe to act.”
Kairos is used 87 times in the New Testament. I want to show you just two, and then turn from the conceptual to the practical, offering you three practical ways to see our time more as God does; three ways to be more Spirit-led instead of settling for being merely calendar driven.
Here’s the first New Testament verse describing a kairos moment, 1 Corinthians 6:2. Led by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul writes…
“I tell you, now is the time [this is the word kairos] of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” 1 Corinthians 6:2
Earlier in this series, I showed you eight questions that everyone wonders about, eight questions whose answers together form your worldview. The final question of them all, the one many people most wrestle with, is “What time is it? Where are we in the flow of history? What’s our part? How should we live in our time?”
The Holy Spirit speaking through Paul answers that question by revealing that right now is the time—the kairos—to turn to Jesus and be saved. Because when Christ returns, the “day of salvation” will have passed. The window of time will have shut. What time is it? It’s time to believe in Jesus and be saved, experience the refreshing of having your sins forgiven. Now is that time, not some potential time down the road.
Karen and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica when we took a private boat ride to go snorkeling. We got to talking with the boat owner, and it came up that we are Christians. I asked him if he was a Christian. He immediately answered with a smile, “No, no, later on. I want to have my fun first.” That is, sadly, chronos living only; it is failing to see what time it is—that now is the day of salvation, not some maybe in the future time. Now is the time—the kairos—of God’s favor. Don’t let it pass you by.
One more verse out of the 87 that speak of kairos time, then we turn to practical ways to see time more as God does. Galatians 6:9-10. Writing to those who have seized the moment of salvation by turning from sin to Jesus, Paul turns to what time is it for us, now that we have turned to Jesus, urging…
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time [that’s the word kairos] we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have the opportunity [the word translated opportunity here is also kairos], let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10
So catch what he’s saying: instead of viewing time as just minutes and hours and days and years slipping by or rushing by, look for timely opportunities along the way. This is what we looked at last week. This is what Jesus did: he looked for kairos moments like with the Samaritan woman at the well. Where everyone else—his disciples—were only seeing chronos, that it was lunch time, Jesus was Spirit-led. He looked for Spirit-given opportunities to bring his touch and truth. We want to do the same. We want to do good whenever possible.
Kairos living in a chronos world is really about paying attention. It’s about refusing to let chronos-driven society rob you of enjoying kairos moments, God moments, along the way. It’s about looking for those moments when chronos and kairos kiss.
Let’s turn the corner now to the practical. One question, with three practical answers. Here’s the question, moving from the conceptual to the practical:
Kairos living in a chronos world: What does it take?
Three practices, three things that can help us to see time more the way God does. Here’s the first:
- Push back against speed.
The speedometer on your car may show a top speed of 160 mph, but it’s unwise to push toward 160. No different when it comes to the clock and calendar. If you stay up late night after night, and then push yourself to the limit day after day, you. Will. Crash.
God created us with limits. When we ignore our limits, things start to break down. Someone I know used to get sick every time their family went on vacation. The problem wasn’t vacation. It was that he was pushing so hard for so long at work, that when he only occasionally let his foot off the pedal, his body would break down. It took a potentially deadly episode to wake him up to seeing time in healthier ways.
Here’s a positive way to say the same thing: it’s good to push back against the myth that busier is better. It is a contemporary myth that more and faster are always better.
You know what is better? An unrushed meal together, with phones put away. Game night. Do nothing time. A trip to the library or out for bowling. Lingering after worship for coffee and donuts in order to get to know and be known in the fellowship time.
- That’s redeeming the time.
- That’s kairos kissing chronos.
What’s better than chronic busyness is choosing to gather in a small group, unrushed, to look one another in the eye and slow down to savor the moment.
- That’s kairos kissing chronos.
- That’s redeeming the time.
In this time, this era of nonstop speed, it takes intentionality and discipline to push back against speed. It will never happen automatically.
So if we are working far more hours than our peers in any other industrialized nation, and yet many of them are healthier and happier, maybe it’s time—maybe it’s kairos—for us to begin pushing back against constantly being driven. The clock and calendar have their place, but not as king. Not as an implacable tyrant.
Kairos is God inviting us, beckoning us to a better pace, into what Doug Pollock calls God Space, moments where chronos and kairos come together. So there’s the first practical way to see time more as God does. Push back against speed. Here’s the second:
- Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment—alone and with others.
We can all agree that Jesus was busy, but we can also see that he never comes across as rushed. If ever there was someone who had a really big to do list, he’s the guy! Yet Jesus never comes across as rushed or squeezed for time or stressed over time. How is that? We can discern the answer from the gospels.
What we see is that he constantly prayed for discernment about what time—kairos—it was for him, what he should do and where he should go. Jesus regularly got up early in the morning, before anyone else was up, to seek God. He was able to discern the Spirit’s leading.
We see the same in the early church. Together, Acts 13 tells us, the local church in Antioch came together to fast and pray, worshiping the Lord. And while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit led them to set apart two church leaders to start something new, to be sent out to plant new churches. That’s how Paul got his start as a church planter. People in a local church devoted themselves to seeking the Lord, and the Holy Spirit revealed what time it was—their kairos time—for that local church.
We want to do the same: let’s regularly ask the Holy Spirit for discernment. Pray this for yourself, and pray this for us as a church, “Alert me, Lord, alert us to kairos windows of opportunity along the way. Help us to see them and seize them, with you, with your power.”
Really what we’re talking about here is the B in our B.L.E.S.S. acronym (Begin the day with prayer, Listen more than talk, Eat with others rather than alone, Serve as opportunities arise, and Share Christ’s story along the way): like Jesus, begin the day with prayer. Pray something like this: “Bless me today, Lord, and make me a blessing to someone. Give me discernment to see when you place a kairos opportunity in my path. Do the same for us together as a church. Reveal to us what time it is, what you want us to initiate and when.”
We want to see and seize the moments where chronos and kairos kiss.
Push back against speed.
Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment to see God-given moments along the way and seize them.
And the third practical thing to begin seeing time more as God does is…
- Celebrate kairos moments along the way.
I have to admit I haven’t done a great job at this, and I think it’s something a pastor ought to do: point out kairos moments along the way, so that we get to see them and celebrate what God is doing.
Let me give some practical examples:
- When you have a friend or coworker going through a tough time in their marriage and you take time (chronos) to listen and encourage and counsel and pray for them, that’s redeeming time. That’s kairos kissing chronos. And it’s worth celebrating. With names taken out to protect confidentiality, share those stories. Let others see and celebrate those kairos moments.
- How about this one? Here’s something worth celebrating: Those of you who serve in our kids’ ministry and you come to church asking the Holy Spirit to move and teach and open young hearts to Jesus, you are redeeming that time. That’s kairos kissing chronos. And it’s worth celebrating. We celebrate you—your devotion to Jesus showing up in teaching and guiding our kids.
- One more: When you step out of the comfort zone to host or lead a small group, or you step up to start a new group, which takes a time commitment—calendar and clock time—that’s redeeming the time. That’s kairos kissing chronos. That’s kairos living in a chronos world. And it’s worth celebrating.
We want to celebrate and thank God for the wholeheartedness around here, people who readily show up to love and serve, whether it’s in children’s ministry or first impressions or worship team or Saturday evening set-up. What you bring is worth celebrating, that you commit your chronos so that others can experience kairos moments, moments when God steps in, when chronos and kairos kiss. That’s seeing time more as God does.
I want to wrap up with a kairos moment story from just a few days ago. A few yChurch members offered our prayer outreach here in the YMCA this past week, including someone stepping out in faith to try it for the first time. Here’s what happened. After we set up a table with free New Testaments, and some signs asking, “Do you need prayer?”, we huddled up and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to arrange kairos moments, divine appointments. We openly talked about how when we step out in faith, it’s a little bit scary. We have no control over what’s going to happen. No one has scheduled to come by and get prayed for. We’re just making ourselves available and asking the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants to do in that time.
So with permission, I can tell you one of the stories from that time. A couple was passing by on their way to work out when a member of our team simply asked, “Would you like us to pray for you?” The woman, who by that point was already past our table, stopped, turned around, and came back with a clear “Yes.”
I’ll skip the details so as to honor confidentiality. But by the time we said “Amen” at the end of praying with her and her husband, she was crying. And she pointed out the God-moment that was, explaining, “We weren’t even supposed to be here tonight! We were going to go to St. Elmo’s [steakhouse] for dinner. But we changed our minds and came here instead.”
Now listen: If you had the choice between going to a world-class steakhouse for a steak dinner, or going to the gym to sweat, how hard a choice is that? 99.9 times out of a hundred, it’s St. Elmo’s for the win! But God. Clearly, the Holy Spirit led them to change their calendar—their chronos—so that He could give them a kairos moment, a blessing. And we got to be part of it.
I believe—I truly believe—that this is part of what God has for us as a local church, that along the way here, and along the way in all the places God places you throughout the week, He wants to open our eyes to see kairos moments, divine appointments where, if we’re asking and looking, we will experience more of these moments when kairos and chronos kiss.
We don’t have to be so driven by the clock and calendar. The Holy Spirit invites us to push back against speed, ask Him for discernment, and then celebrate the answers as they come.
Our Father in heaven, you clearly led Jesus such that he was able to discern kairos moments along the way. We long to see the same.
Lord Jesus, we see you fully engaged and yet never rushed, and we are drawn to that. We long to experience the same.
Holy Spirit, you clearly arrange divine appointments. You invite us to see and seize kairos opportunities to redeem the time. We long to be part of that, to experience more of that.
Triune God, we offer ourselves to you with open hands and the desire to not be slaves to the clock and calendar. Transform us by renewing our minds, we pray, including how we see our time. Free us from the unhealthy way of feeling constantly pressed for time. Bring us into the freedom of discerning and acting on kairos moments. Bless us, we ask, and make us a blessing. Amen.