We're going to take a break today from our series in Ephesians. Actually, we're going to jump ahead a little bit a chapter to look at a verse from the section that we just read. It's because I think we particularly need the message of this verse. We really need to hear this, and the start of a new year is the perfect time to apply its message to our lives.
Last summer we drove through New York to Massachusetts, then up to the Maritimes, and then through Quebec and home. Have you ever noticed how differently people drive depending on where you are? When we were in New Brunswick, we were that car with Ontario plates riding the bumper of everyone we saw. It was like everyone drove like an elderly lady. Then we crossed the border into Quebec, and we were the ones that everyone was passing. Same speed, but different context. In one province, we were the speedsters. In the next province we could barely keep up.
Here's the thing: in both provinces, the drivers thought they were normal. Meanwhile, we all know that the normal ones were the ones with the Ontario license plates, right? Whatever we are used to becomes normal for us, even if those from the outside look in at us and think that we are completely nuts.
Here are some things I know about us.
First: our lifestyles have become normal to us. I don't care who you are, but however you are living has become your version of normal. Some of you get up at ridiculous hours of the morning, and for you getting up at 5 is normal. Everyone else is weird. Some of you sleep in until 9 in the morning, and for you that's normal.
The danger is that some of what has become normal to us is actually quite insane if you take a step back and look at things. Today I want us to drive to another province, as it were, so we can take a look at the way we're driving and recognize that it's not all that sane after all.
Here's something else that I know about you: You are way too busy. Busy has become normal for us. If someone asks you how you are doing, what is the appropriate response? Busy. It happens all the time. There's actually another response that's equally acceptable: crazy busy. "How are you doing?" "Oh fine, thanks. It's been busy. We haven't had a moment for ourselves." In some places and times that response would be viewed as insane, but for us it has become normal. We are used to being busy. It has become the new normal for us.
On your way home today, wait until the light turns green and there are three or four cars behind you. Then count to three after the light turns and see what happens. It's like what the Queen said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that." We don't know how not to be busy. When we're not busy we feel lost, like we should be doing something. We're just not sure what.
More than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they "often" or "always" rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it's "often" or "always" true that "the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God." Do you want to know the worst profession? Pastors. "It's tragic and ironic: the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains," said the person who conducted the study.
Our kids are also busy. A study in Britain found that many children are living in dysfunctional families that refuse to eat together or talk to each other. It's a rich, developed country, and the children's lives are just as packed as the parents.
Closer to home, one anthropologist lived with some families to observe how they live and found that the busyness actually creates more busyness, because the busier you are, the more you have to plan and coordinate and communicate what's happening, which makes you even busier. After observing the families he said:
I think we need to pay attention to an important consequence of the busyness for our children. The master story of our family lives becomes focused on being productive and efficient, and children hear that language. The larger purposes or goals of our lives may become unclear to our children, but the message is clear: it is important to be productive and efficient. In fact, there may be a broader concern that our busyness fragments families' ability to create stories that will guide them in future. It is stories that help children to understand, "This is how we – as a family – live." When families lose track of those larger stories, it is difficult for children to grasp what we are about.
If you are a Christian parent hearing these words, you should be scared. He is saying that our busyness communicates to our children that our lives are about being productive and efficient, and this crowds out any sort of larger story about what life is all about – stories like the Biblical story of Jesus. Our busyness teaches something to our children, and it drowns out any other message, including the message of Jesus.
One more think I know about us before we look at the Scripture. It takes no effort to waste our time. That happens automatically. That means that unless you take purposeful, direct action, you will default toward wasting your time. Now when I talk about wasting time, you probably think of watching TV shows that you don't even like, playing endless video games, and so on, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about time that could have been meaningfully used.
I was surprised a few years ago to hear Eugene Peterson label busyness as a form of laziness, but I think he's right. The reason is that it will take absolutely no effort on your part to get busy and remain busy. That's the lazy option. You will have to work very hard to get un-busy and to switch to what you should be doing and no more. That will take incredible work. It's not the lazy way at all. Your busyness is actually a form of laziness, and chances are it's keeping you from investing your life meaningfully. It's also quite possibly damaging your children's lives. And yet it's become normal for us.
Living Wisely With our Time
Depressed yet? This is a problem we need to address, and Paul is going to give us some help. In Ephesians 4:15 he says: "Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise." If you were around last summer, then you remember studying Proverbs. The Bible, especially Proverbs, says that there are two ways to live your life: skillfully or foolishly. I think Paul might say that a lot of us are living our lives unwisely or foolishly, and he says there is an option. We can choose to live wisely, but it's going to take some deliberate action on our part.
Where do I get that from? At the start of verse 15 he says, "Be very careful, then, how you live." The old King James Version says, "See then that you walk circumspectly." I'll never forget having this explained to me years ago. Have you ever seen one of those stone walls in Britain that have pieces of glass stuck on the top of them so that you can't climb over? So picture this stone wall, and little pieces of glass sticking out on top that will cut you open if you touch them. Now picture a cat walking on top of that wall, and you have a picture of what it means to walk circumspectly. Every step that cat takes will be purposeful and deliberate. This is a picture of how Paul is asking us to live. Every step we take is purposeful and carefully chosen, just like that cat walking on top of the wall.
How do we live carefully and walk circumspectly? One way is what Paul tells us in verse 16: "making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." There are a couple of things you need to understand about what Paul says here. The first is what he means by "every opportunity". Your version might talk about redeeming the time. Paul had a number of options he could have used. He could have said day, hour, season, or age. He could have just said time. You would recognize the word: chronos, from which we get English words like chronological. But he didn't use any of those. Instead he used the word kairos, which means opportunity. Not all time is equal. There are particular moments that are especially significant or favorable.
You know what this is like. Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which there was a pregnant moment, in which you could say something that made a real difference in their lives? That's a kairos moment, a moment of opportunity. At that moment, what you say can have a huge impact. But say you freeze and you can't think of what to say, but then on the way you come up with the perfect thing that you should have said. The problem is that by then, the kairos moment has passed and you're left with chronos, just ordinary time. Paul says to make the most of those kairos moments that come up so that you're really ready to use them when they come.
It's also interesting what Paul says: "making the most of every opportunity." The word picture he uses is that of buying back those kairos moments. It's an investment word. We'll put it this way. Everyone has kairos moments happen to them, and everyone has the choice to invest in those kairos moments when they come along. But it's possible that we are going to choose to invest in other things instead, which means that we won't have the resources to invest in kairos when they come.
Let me give an example from my own life. I have a lot of evening meetings. It's just part of the territory when you're a pastor. My schedule fills up pretty quickly in the evenings. When I go to all of these meetings, the kairos moments still happen at home. It's not like the opportune moments of time stop happening when I'm not there. But if I'm at meetings every night, then I have chosen to invest there, and I won't be able to invest in those kairos moments when they come up. There are kairos moments that come up all the time all over the place, and Paul says that we need to be ready to buy them up when they come, and if we're buying up over here, then we won't have enough to buy them up over here.
Imagine in ten years I realize that I've missed too much at home, so I stop going to so many meetings and start staying at home a lot more. In ten years, my kids are out of high school. The kairos moments at home will be gone, and I'll be left with chronos. See why this takes wisdom? Paul says that we need to recognize the kairos moments when we have them, and arrange our lives so that we can invest in them when they come up.
So I want to ask you two questions right now:
Where are the kairos moments in your life showing up right now? I don't think there are many more important questions for you to answer. Where are those moments of potential deep impact where you can make a tremendous difference in someone's life, but if that moment passes, you can't get it back?
I can tell you that if you have children at home, kairos moments are happening all the time there. The problem is that we don't see that these kairos moments are going to evaporate, and that one day they're going to turn into chronos moments, and it will be too late.
If you are younger – say a student – I'll tell you where some of those kairos moments are right now. They're at school. I remember being in school and taking in some of what I was getting. It was amazing stuff, and I often wish I could go back and absorb what I was being exposed to back then. But I didn't absorb as much as I should have, because I didn't recognize those as kairos moments back then.
If you are a senior, then you have all kinds of kairos moments as well. I don't think you know the impact of a well-chosen word in the life of a younger person from someone who has your wisdom and experience.
No matter what your age, I'll tell you one of those kairos moments for you. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." The opportunity to respond to God's grace is a kairos moment, and one that you will not have forever.
If you are already a disciple of Jesus Christ, then what are the kairos moments you could be having with him? One of my favorite pastors, Jack Miller, said, "I have asked three close friends to monitor me and tell me when I am allowing busyness to crowd out fellowship with God."
So the question you need to answer is: where are the kairos moments in your life? Because if you don't recognize and identify them, they will be gone and you will never get them back.
Question two: What are you investing in right now that is causing you to miss those kairos moments? Most of life is chronos, ordinary time. How are you spending your life right now that is causing you to to miss out on those kairos moments?
There is nothing wrong with working long hours at work, but you need to ask yourself if your long hours are causing you to miss out the strategic times that may be happening somewhere else.
There is nothing wrong with watching a movie or TV or playing a game, but you need to ask yourself if watching that show or playing that game will cause you to miss out on a kairos moment that you could have predicted, and that you'll never get back.
There is nothing wrong with having your kids enrolled in hockey, ballet, soccer, martial arts, dance, Brownies, and choir, but you need to ask yourself if your kids are so busy that they will never be at home with you for those kairos moments.
There is nothing wrong with discussing politics or sports at dinner with your family, but we need to ask ourselves if we are letting those kairos moments of deep impact go by, if we are talking about things that really don't matter, compared with talking about things that could have lasting impact.
I am going to ask you to go home today and spend half an hour answering these two questions that could have a profound impact on your life, and those around you. Where are the kairos moments showing up in your life right now? And what are you currently doing that is causing you to miss out on these moments of opportunity that you will never get back?
Paul concludes this verse, "because the days are evil." We do live in an evil age, in which it's hard to know the right thing to do. It's because of this that it's so important to live deliberately, to walk carefully, to be wise instead of unwise. You probably know the law of entropy, that left to themselves things will break down. Because there is pride and wickedness and evil in this world, things will break down over time if we don't take advantage of these kairos moments. It's because these days are evil that the stakes are so high.
But you and I have the good news that we don't have to be subject to evil days. If you live in evil days with an evil heart, you don't have any hope. But if you understand the grace of Jesus Christ, and what this means for us, we can live differently, even if the days are evil.
God gives you kairos moments every day that you can grab and use for deep impact. Where are those kairos moments in your life? And what's keeping you from redeeming them?
D.T. Niles said, "Hurry means that we gather impressions but have no experiences, that we collect acquaintances but make no friends, that we attend meetings but experience no encounter. We must recover eternity if we are to find time, and eternity is what Jesus came to restore. For without it, there can be no charity."
Father, as we start a new year, I pray that you would help us take stock of these two questions. I pray that you would give us the courage and the resolve to identify those opportunities in our lives that you are giving us. I also pray that you would help us identify what it is that is causing us to miss out on them. Help us this year to live wisely and for your glory.
I pray that we would resolve, as Jonathan Edwards did years ago: "Resolved: never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can. Resolved: to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved: that I will live so, as I shall wish I had when I come to die."
I thank you finally, Father, that this isn't some self-help project. I thank you that you are not calling us to save ourselves. I thank you for Jesus and the gospel: that he died to forgive us for valuing other things more than we value you; that he rose to give us new life; that you have given us your Spirit to guide us so we can live wisely. So in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit, would you help us to be careful how we live, making the most of every opportunity. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.