If I were ever sequestered at home, forced to remain indoors with no conferences scheduled, no series of gospel meetings to take, and no need or even freedom to travel very far (I know, I know, that’s never going to happen); but let’s just say it were to happen some day for some inexplicable reason – a broken leg or a really bad paper cut – and I were forced to just stay home, I know exactly what I would do with all that “time,” and it would not be writing pangrams and poems. The mental list is firmly in place, populated with items years ago. I figure if days like that ever come I am going to get caught up on the dozens and dozens of books that I have planned to read someday. Then I am going to organize the myriad anecdotes that I’ve thrown higgledy-piggledy (what an amusing idiom!) into some huge files. Oh, and I’m definitely going to lose weight, absolutely; probably 10 pounds; no … more; maybe 15. Plus I am going to straighten out my library. Also, a number of years ago, Nancy and I had the opportunity to invest in our own private black hole … it’s called a house … and it has the remarkable ability to suck into its maw all the money and time you allow it to attract. Consequently, there are a lot of jobs around the house I need to take care of. But, of course, all this is never going to happen; what could possibly occur that would leave me at home, isolated, with a lot of free time on my hands.
And then 2020 dawned and, in less than 2 months, the year zoomed (no pun intended) right to the top of my “I never thought I’d live to see the day” list. Like many of you, for the first time in my life, I had the gift of some “open” days because, although the local liquor stores are vital, Gospel preaching and Gospel preachers are considered non-essential. A month ago, when all this started, you probably wondered what in the world you were going to do with all that free time once you crossed all those jobs off your to-do list. Maybe you're not wondering that anymore. As to my list, only a few jobs around the house have gotten done; I am sploshing through the same book I started some weeks ago. Those files of disorganized anecdotes and illustrations remain untouched on my computer. And as for losing weight – don’t even go there. What happened to all the “free time”?
Time is a relentless thing. It is inexorable. It marches on, heedless of our lists and plans; and it moves in only one direction. Fanny Crosby spoke of time in one of her hymns. A marvelous marriage between her lyrics and William Doane’s music produced, among others, this one: “A Few More Marchings Weary.” Here is the refrain:
O’er time’s rapid river,
Soon we’ll rest forever;
No more marchings weary
When we gather home!
“Time’s rapid river” is fast-flowing; it is forceful and powerful. Listen to the adages coined to convey this fact: “Time flies”; “Time has wings”; “Time waits for no man”; “The tyranny of time.” To us humans, time is elusive, unstoppable, “unbankable.” It is the stuff of which life is made, and Peter uses three expressions to convey that truth in the experience of believers. He divides our earthly existence into:
The Past: The time past of our life (1 Peter 4:3).
The Present: The time of our sojourning (1 Peter 1:17).
The Future: The rest of our time (1 Peter 4:2).
Greek, that eminently expressive language, has a number of words for time. But the two major words used in the New Testament are “chronos” and "kairos,” often used together and translated as “times and seasons.” (When a preacher starts quoting Greek, everyone thinks he must really be intelligent. This email will serve as documentary evidence that such is not always the case). “Chronos” indicates duration, “time on the clock.” “Kairos,” on other hand, often signifies critical, epoch-making periods. “Chronos” does not necessarily have significance or meaning. YOU give it meaning, you turn it into “kairos” by how you use it. Or, more accurately, GOD gives it meaning for us by what His plans are for that “time”; it becomes meaningful to us depending on how we respond to the challenge.
Even in the Old Testament there seems to be a distinction enforced by the choice of words that the Spirit of God employs. When Mordecai told Esther that perhaps she had come to the throne “for such a time as this,” he was telling her that a kairos moment had suddenly burst into the chronos of her life.
When the children of Issachar are described as “men that had understanding of the times,” it was not saying that they were clever with clocks or wise with watches, or sagacious with sundials but that they grasped the “need of the hour”; they realized just where they were in the history of the nation and what had to be done.
Similarly, when the inspired chronicler writes about David and “the times that went over him, and over Israel, and over all the kingdoms of the countries,” he is speaking of the historic events of the period, not about how many hours David lived. Something of that must have been in David’s heart and mind when he wrote, “My times (my life and all that it involves) are in Thy hand.”
So in the year 2020, in the chronos of our life, kairos (at least the potential for it) shocked us all by suddenly exploding on the scene. None of us foresaw what was coming. None of us anticipated the sudden needs that would arise. To me, therefore, it has been heart-warming to see the way so many burdened elders so quickly rose to the challenge of seeing to the spiritual needs of the flocks for which they were responsible. It has been thrilling to see how many heralds of the cross have ensured that the glorious Gospel of the blessed God is still reaching a lost world. It has been cheering to see the way Christians have cared lovingly and selflessly for the quotidian needs of those whose loneliness has been so greatly increased.
This all has significance for each of us individually as well. Someone has said “Don't just count your days, make your days count.” We can all ask God for help to ensure that the raw material of “chronos” is minted into the currency of eternity and become “kairos." How often we have been reminded that we cannot do much about the length of our life; but by God’s grace we can do something about its depth.
When David wrote, “My times (plural, varied) are in Thy hand (sovereign control),” he added, “Deliver me from the hand (secondary causes) of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me” (Psalm 31:15). He looked beyond the adverse circumstances (the hands of enemies and persecutors) and realized that everything that came into His life was under the control of the sovereign hand of God. It is as though he were saying that he knew he was in God’s hand no matter what came into his life. Then, in Psalm 139, he added this: "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” It is as though he were saying that he knew he was in God’s hand no matter where life took him. Thus, for us as well, “no matter what ... no matter where,” we are in God’s hand. That includes where you are today. That includes what you are facing today – corona virus, cancer, confusing questions, cares, and concerns for a job or for expenses. In fact, not just the issues of life, but our life itself is in His hand. Moses wrote: “Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand” (Deut 33:3). How long we will live, how quickly the Lord will come, how soon we will reach home – all of that is in the wise, competent, caring hand of our God.
The poet and the musician who teamed up to produce “A Few More Marchings Weary” were born only about 100 miles from each other (Fanny Crosby in Brewster, NY, and William Doane in Preston, CT). Remarkably, though each lived a long life (Doane for 83 years and Crosby for 94) they both died in the same year (1915) just a little over 10 months apart. They experienced what they wrote; and they wrote what we will experience, the end of the "weary marchings":
A few more sweet links broken, then we’ll gather home!
A few more kind words spoken, then we’ll gather home!
A few more partings on the strand, and then away to Canaan’s land:
A few more marchings weary, then we’ll gather home!
O’er time’s rapid river, soon we’ll rest forever;
No more marchings weary when we gather home.
To be honest with you, right now, “home” is sounding better and better.