I’m writing about a struggle I have almost daily: Focusing on deepening relationships vs accomplishing tasks on my To Do List.
My friend and teacher, Ken Boa notes that there are two words in Greek which we translate into English as “time.” Both are ordained and controlled by God, but they are very different.
Chronos means clock time. 24 hours in each day. How we schedule and measure. What I focus on as I look at what must be accomplished according to the plans and the goals I’ve set.
Kairos means a moment of opportunity when the Holy Spirit shows up and God is the Master of Ceremonies. It is completely unplanned, unique, and will never happen again.
Chronos is about doing and accomplishing. Kairos is about being and relationships.
Until I became a follower of Jesus and met my incredible wife, I only knew about Chronos time. A blessing which comes with its own imbedded curse is to be a reasonably successful young adult. Without the wisdom that comes through faith, grace and the humility of undeserved salvation, it’s very easy to believe that one’s successes are because of one’s own incredible personality, education, training, intellect, and ability to get things done.
And so one focuses that ability on planning and completing ever more long range goals and their corresponding short term tasks. At the office, at home, in other activities, everywhere. Then the problem of little or no margin in life is added to the lack of relational awareness, compounding the treadmill effect.
Enter a Kairos moment. An unexpected question from a co-worker. A brief connection with a cashier or a waitress. A child asking a question which could actually be the door to a completely different agenda on her or his mind. Sitting next to someone on an airplane, subway or bus. Or in a doctor’s office. Or at a funeral. Someone with a different political or lifestyle view. Or negotiating a contract. Responding to a complaint. Placing an order.
Kairos times occur throughout our Chronos days with no warning. We simply must be aware and open to what they could mean for the other person (and perhaps for us as well).
Why is this important? God’s Word states that only two things will last eternally: His Truth and People (Souls). Everything else is temporary and will be destroyed. All those goals. And the plans. Houses. Retirement accounts. Cars. Trophies. Degrees. Awards. Bonuses. All gone. All of them.
ONLY God’s Word and the People we know and love who accept Jesus as their Savior will be in Heaven.That’s why Kairos time is so important. It’s about starting or deepening relationships through which His Truth may be planted, watered or harvested in people who will spend eternity somewhere. Where do we want that place to be? Is anything else more important?
The best example I know of Kairos time is Jesus meeting the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4. He and his disciples were on the way to Galilee from Jerusalem. Chronos time must have been important because they took the shortest route through Samaria, a place full of half-breeds who were despised by self-respecting Jews. And they must have had short term Chronos constraints, because the disciples left Jesus at the well to go into town to buy supplies.
Leaving aside Jesus’ divine omniscience for the moment, what if I found myself for a while at a well, a diner, or an airport, and a stranger appeared? Perhaps someone not very attractive or engaging. Someone from whom I never thought I would gain any advantage from knowing, and who would actually be a cost to me on my Chronos schedule of things needing to be done right then.
Yet Jesus initiated a conversation with her. Read the story about this Kairos moment. By the end, the woman, an outcast in her own town because of her sins, was summoning everyone to come and meet Jesus—one of the first evangelists. And Jesus and his group apparently changed their Chronos plans completely and actually stayed in the town for two days, teaching the Samaritans about the new Covenant which would make them once again brothers and sisters with all who believe in Jesus. Incredible.
Because an old friend in Charleston decades ago invested several Kairos moments in me, when I was utterly taken by my own abilities and the need to finish each day’s To Do List, he planted seeds which ultimately led to my surrender of those plans to Jesus at age 37.
Have you ever considered that we believers will actually meet the Woman at the Well in Heaven and be able to ask her what she thought when Jesus unexpectedly asked her for some water, and then went on to show his unconditional love for her? And will we then also learn about people to whom we could have shown that same interest—and either responded or did not?
Strangers are certainly a huge issue for me, but just as important are those whom I know—even those whom I love—and how I invest in Kairos moments with them, or not.
My wife has always lived in Kairos time. She taught me about it from the day we were married, and particularly once we had children, whom I believe thrive on Kairos “watering.” Yet I was usually too busy to recognize those moments on my own. And despite even writing the tenth short story in Ten Lies and Ten Truths about “Being vs. Doing” fifteen years ago, I still slip up today and fall short. In too much of a hurry, or too focused on a particular outcome instead of on the person in front of me. It may be my greatest failing.
He has given me much. I have much to give. What good is it if I keep it to myself, not living out and actually proclaiming the Good News that He reached down and saved me, the chief of sinners? Not by me standing on a street corner with a megaphone and a tract, but by being open and willing to change my Chronos priorities for the Kairos opportunities that God constantly puts in front of me. And by consciously building enough margin into my life—with time, money and commitments—so that I always feel more freedom to spend an extra hour at the well or at the dinner table.
Someone’s eternity could well depend on how I respond. My daily prayer is that He will show me those Kairos moments as they are happening, and will give me just the right words to speak, or just the right actions to take, to make an eternal difference with another soul. Often. In fact, every Chronos day He gives me.