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Chronos, Kairos and the Fat Controller

Some years back, I was anxious to improve my leadership skills. “Hmm,” I thought, “what about a time management course?” When I asked my boss, he just laughed. I was Assistant Principal at Dumfries and Galloway College at the time, and my nickname was taken from a character in Thomas the Tank Engine. No, not Cranky the Crane or Mighty Mac. Not even Samson. Perhaps you guessed it.


The Fat Controller!


Without missing a beat, my boss turned down my request. “You’re the last person who needs a time management course,” he said.

I have always had a fixation with being organised. Combine this with the advent of the digital age – electronic diaries synching across all devices – and I have transformed into a time geek. Not to be confused with a time lord. Recently, I was asked to provide counsel to a pastor in the area of time management. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to pass on my experience as a “human doing” rather than a “human being.” My mistakes have formed me as much as the good things I’ve learned. With age comes experience and, in God’s grace, some late-learned wisdom about how not to do things!


As in so many areas, the Greeks had a rich and diverse vocabulary for expressing concepts and ideas. They had two words for time:

  • chronos (χρόνος) – chronological or sequential time. E.g. Matthew 2:7.Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. This is used 54 times in the New Testament.

  • kairos (καιρός) – an opportune or seasonable time for action. E.g. Romans 5:6. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. This is used 86 times in the New Testament.

WE Vine helps us understand the distinction. He includes this entry: Chronos expresses the duration of a period, kairos stresses it as marked by certain features. Thus in Acts 1:7, the Father has set within His own authority both the times (chronos), the lengths of the periods, and the seasons (kairos), epochs characterised by certain events.*


As leaders, we are often obsessed with the ticking clock version of time, when perhaps we should be far more conscious of “numinous” time. Here’s a definition of numinous: having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity.


Time that is filled with opportunity rather than limitations.


Many of us have experienced the difference between chronos and kairos in church. One Sunday, we’re sitting listening to a dry-as-dust preacher trudging through an obscure text before a congregation of the impossibly patient. Eyelids are sagging, but he just keeps going. Chronos – ticking time – never passed so slowly. The following Sunday, we’re giving rapt attention to a preacher whose presentation is inspiring. Every heart in the room tingles in that one sacred moment – that kairos – when we hear the voice of our Lord speaking to us. A typical response is “I heard from God in that moment (kairos) so that I didn’t notice the time (chronos) passing.”


So how can we live ‘kairologically’?


What about setting our time devices to “airplane” mode more often? Get rid of the endless notifications. Close the multi-screens on the computer. This will help us to cut out the distractions. It will give us the opportunity to connect to our surroundings, our people, and our relationships. It creates space for kairos – those moments when God speaks to us.


In the New Testament, “now” is also a time marker. St. Paul uses the concept of present (νῦν – nun) time (καιρῷ - kairos) in his second letter to the Corinthians.


Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.

2 Cor. 8.14


The “now” idea of time is expressed in the Latin motto, “carpe diem,” (which, by the way, has nothing to do with fish). It means, “pluck the day,” or is more commonly rendered, “seize the day.” Remember Robin Williams standing on a desk in the movie, Dead Poets Society? Carpe diem!


What does it mean? It’s not about instant gratification or self-indulgence. Nor is it about impulsive behaviour, “striking while the iron is hot” or violently grasping for something. Rather, it is a profound moment of deep joy, a gentle, meditative, joyous “living in the moment.”


Consider Elijah who stood at the mouth of the cave après-storm. Can you see him? He breathes in the smell of warm rain and hears a voice carried on the rain-scented breeze. He’s experiencing kairos – a sacred moment in tune with his God. Today, I encourage you to join Elijah in that moment – that kairos – fully conscious of the presence of God and the nearness of his Spirit indwelling you.


Especially if you’re one of those who is weighed down by the demands of chronos – the ticking clock of condemnation that constantly tolls your tardiness – just stop for a moment. There’s a reason why we use that phrase “smell the roses.” Or “smell the coffee.” Mmm, breathe in the java smell; inhale the beauty of a rose garden.


Stop for a moment – a kairos – to enjoy the majesty, the wonder of your beautiful Saviour.


 

*Vine, WE, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, electronic media, Olive Tree Bible Software, 1998-2021






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