Both my Bible study groups recently had a discussion of time–that may have something to do with the fact that our average age clearly indicates that we have all accumulated a lot of time here on earth, an accumulation that adds an interesting experiential flavour to our discussions. One benefit of the discussions was that I got to pass on one of the few bits of Biblical Greek that I have managed to retain in the long period of time since I studied Greek for two years as a student.
In the Greek New Testament, there are two words translated as “time”. One of them refers to time in the way we commonly use it–time measured by the clock and calendar. The Greek word is chronos, and supplies the base for our word chronometer. Much of our lives are controlled by time. We wake up when an alarm tells us it is time to wake up. We eat when a clock tells us it is time to eat. We work when the clock tells us it is work time. We watch TV when the schedule tells us the show is on, although with streaming that isn’t as true anymore. We relax when the calendar tells us it is the day to relax.
The other Greek word for time describes a different kind of time. It is used to describe a context where everything is ready, such as the time for Jesus to be born. The Greek word is kairos and it is a very different kind of time. When all the right conditions are met, when all the pieces come together, when all the actors are ready, when all the obstacles are gone or moveable, then it is kairos time. This time has a connection to clock and calendar time but only a tenuous one–kairos can’t be predicted or scheduled with chronos.
So, what is the point, beyond the fact that I actually remembered something from a university class 40+ years ago? Well, part of the point is that I am fairly chronological in my approach to life. I have a schedule and like to keep it as much as possible. Looking at my watch not only tells me what time it is but also what I am supposed to be doing. If it is 4:30 on Tuesday, I should be preparing supper. At 7:30am on Friday, I should be posting something on this blog site. If it is 7:00am on Saturday, I should be sleeping because that is my sleep-in day.
If you are reading this and aren’t overly scheduled and structured, it may sound like I am an overly rigid and even uptight individual. But I am not. I can and do relax–my schedule requires me to do so regularly. Actually, I find having a schedule allows me the freedom to relax that I might not have otherwise. I know when I will get to whatever I need to get to and so can allow myself time to take it easy.
The real point of this post, however, is that although I am basically a chronos individual, I am called by God to work in a kairos context. A big part of my calling is anticipating, understanding and responding to the kairos moments in the lives of the people I serve and the churches I pastor. I need to be aware of what is going on, looking for the convergence of circumstances and issues and people and stresses and read it all well enough to respond properly when the kairos arrives. A sermon preached before or after its kairos doesn’t do the church much good. A pastoral visit before or after the kairos might as well not happen.
So how does a pastor who prefers clock time deal with the flexibility and unpredictability of kairos? Well, the short, quick and only answer is that I depend a lot on God. I try to work at being open to where and what God wants, whether it is the next sermon series or who to visit. Fortunately, I have learned that God speaks to me in a variety of ways, often using the people I work with the give me clues to the kairos realities that I need to know about.
A minor point of this post is that the kairos and chronos for our vacation has arrived so I will be taking a break from work and blogging for a couple of weeks.
May the peace of God be with you.