Just yesterday, I tried to fit a 40-minute errand into a 23-minute time slot.
First, I zipped to the bank and hit the drive-through at Arby’s. Then, in the too-few minutes remaining, I swung by a store to buy some office supplies before heading to my next meeting. I should have known better. Unfortunately for my tight schedule, the woman at the counter—a jovial lady with purple-framed glasses—recognized me as the one who had done a memorial service for a friend the week before, and she wanted to chat.
I opened my mouth to tell her I really needed to scoot along when, by the grace of God, I felt an inner nudge from the Spirit to be present and be still. There was something God had for me in this conversation that was much larger than a pack of index cards and a couple of pens. Choosing to set aside the urgent tasks waiting for me, I shut my mouth and willed myself to stop. And then, we had a conversation that surprised us both. But it wasn’t a surprise to the God who had arranged it. Though the clerk was neither part of the church nor a follower of Christ, she was eager to talk about spiritual things. We chatted about her deceased friend. Then about grace. And death. And the mysterious promises of Scripture. And the Christian faith. It was a conversation I couldn’t afford—and couldn’t afford to miss.
Two Kinds of Time
In the New Testament, there are two words for time: chronos and kairos. The first refers to the length of time and is measured out in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Chronos suggests the steady unfolding of one moment followed by the next. It is ordinary time, measured by clock and calendar—the kind we work so hard to manage, plan, schedule, and save.
Kairos moments are divinely ordained rips in the seam of day-to-day life when God makes His presence known in our flesh-and-blood experience.
If chronos is ordinary time, kairos is out-of-the-ordinary time. In the New Testament, the words are at times almost interchangeable in their meaning. But usually kairos suggests moments (or seasons) of time that arrive with a special significance or weight of responsibility. They are often better translated as “opportunities.” These are not just any moments; they are decisive or crucial ones. Kairos is crossroads time.
What makes them so decisive? Kairos moments are those times when God is up to something. They are Jacob’s ladder moments (Gen. 28:12), divinely ordained rips in the seam of day-to-day life when God makes His presence known in our flesh-and-blood experience. They are times thick with the presence and purposes of God.
The ultimate kairos moment—Kairos with a capital K, if you will—is the in-breaking of God into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. The word is used to describe His birth (Luke 1:20), His ministry (Matt. 8:29), His crucifixion (Matt. 26:18; John 7:6; Rom. 3:26; Rom. 5:8)—in fact, the entirety of His earthly visitation. Announcing the inauguration of His redemptive ministry, Jesus says, “The [kairos] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).
A key passage captures the gravity of what happens when we miss the momentousness of the kairos moment. When Jesus entered Jerusalem in the final days before the crucifixion, He lamented, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes ... because you did not recognize the [kairos] of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:42-44 NIV).
God coming to you. It’s a perfect synonym for all kairos moments—not just the incarnation but all of those many “small-k” kairos moments in which we encounter God day to day. Sometimes I miss these moments altogether. I remember a time when God put it on my heart to be in touch with a distant relative. I didn’t know why. I hadn’t seen her or spoken with her in several years. I had intended eventually to get around to sharing with her the story of how I came to Christ and to talk with her about why she had rejected Him years before. Again and again over the next few weeks I felt God’s nudge. But I figured I had time, so I didn’t. Two months later my sister called to tell me my relative had just died.
Thankfully, I didn’t make the same mistake a few years ago when I was driving home during a torrential rainstorm. Through my frantic wipers, as they swatted at the pummeling rain, I caught a glimpse of two young men hurrying down the sidewalk, hunched against the wind and utterly drenched. I glanced at my dash clock. Already a few minutes late for dinner. Then I glanced up: “What, Lord, would You have me do?” I knew immediately and turned around and picked them up.
“Are you sure?” they said, when I pulled up even with them. “We’re soaked!” “You bet!” I said, as I swung the door open. The next 15 minutes were an incredibly rich conversation as I drove them to their apartment. It started with them being surprised that a pastor would pick up a couple of Mormons, and ended with expressions of deep gratitude and interest in coming to worship with us some Sunday. I headed for home even later for dinner, with a soggy car and a big grin. From a chronos perspective, the time was an interruption. But from a kairos perspective, it was a divine appointment.
Time on Our Hands
Practically speaking, what might it look like for us to be mindful of this hidden dimension of time in our daily lives?
In Psalm 90, Moses encourages us to pray, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). The imagery behind this verse is that of a household’s chief steward—the head slave—doing an inventory of his resources and then going to his master and asking how he would like the steward to use them.
God has designs on the day, so I try to begin each day by giving the day back to God and asking Him to shape and order it. This is the chronos planning part. But God is not only over my day; I can also expect to encounter Him in it. Remember the constant refrain of Scripture that culminates in the closing words of Matthew’s gospel: “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20)? The living God—our heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit of God—is present and at work here and now. He is here with me, not only in this place but also in this moment. That means I should expect to experience Him.
Scripture reminds us that God intervenes. He stirs in hearts. He conspires in circumstances.
In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle Paul writes, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” This means it is a perfectly reasonable thing that I would round the corner in my day and run smack-dab into God handing me an opportunity. In fact, I should come to expect this. I recently had dinner with a physician who is a follower of Christ. When I asked him how he handles the constant interruptions that come with being on call, he grinned and said, “You know, these days I plan out my days less, and more and more I just try to allow God to decide how He wants to unfold my day.” I think that’s what Solomon was getting at when he said, “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9).
Part of what this means is that I have to begin to view interruptions in a different way. Interrupt means “to break in.” Sometimes an interruption is God’s way of saying, “When you began the day, you sought to discern as best you could how I might want you to spend your time. But I have something else in mind.” In these situations, it is not an intrusion breaking into our schedule. It is a divine in-breaking. God breaking into our chronos with His kairos.
In this God-fashioned, God-sustained world of ours, we see His hand on everything, but sometimes we don’t expect to bump into Him. Scripture, however, reminds us that God intervenes. He stirs in hearts. He conspires in circumstances. Think of the verbs that describe human-divine encounters: He leads, speaks, ordains, prepares, arranges, calls, and answers. He comes to us.
The Time Is Now
So how do we recognize kairos moments? In my experience, recognition comes most often in the form of an inner prompting or nudging. It might be a moment of breathtaking gratitude. Or an idea planted unexpectedly in my thoughts and tenaciously remaining there. Or a passage of Scripture that suddenly seems of particular relevance to a relationship or circumstance of mine.
Kairos moments will typically come in the form of some sacrifice I am called upon to make—a call to give a portion of my time, my attention, my presence—as an act of love.
Inevitably, the more time I spend in worship, in the Scriptures, and in fellowship with other believers, the more capable I am of remaining attentive to these kairos moments, ready to respond when they occur. That “random” call. That “chance” conversation. That person on your heart. That unanticipated gift. That unexpected confrontation. That unforeseen crisis. That invitation from out of the blue. That whispered prompting. That word of grace. Kairos moments.
We’ve said that every kairos moment comes in the form of an opportunity or responsibility. There is something we must do. In my experience, this will typically come in the form of some sacrifice I am called upon to make—a call to give a portion of my time, my attention, my presence—as an act of love. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Keep fervent in your love for one another.” The Greek word agape means not a warm feeling but a sacrificial regard for someone, responding to the need of another at a cost to ourselves.
Ask yourself, What decision or action is God asking of me? What am I called to do? To give? To lay down? To say? To set aside? Sometimes the interruption is minimal and the cost small. But sometimes the interruption is enormous, upending not just an afternoon but the course of an entire life. One day in worship at our church, a young member and his wife heard God’s call to become Bible translators. For the next 35 years, they labored away on a tiny island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. This past summer, the now grey-haired couple saw their work come to completion and the first printed copy of that New Testament dedicated.
In every kairos moment, God offers something to us and asks something of us. What He asks is that we serve Him and His kingdom purposes in that moment. And what does He offer us in exchange? Nothing less than everything that matters: His life, His love—Himself.
Photography by Ryan Hayslip