TOWARDS A KINGDOM TIME STYLE
In the novel Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians thought Gulliver’s watch was his god, since Gulliver referred to it throughout the day in making decisions about what to do. This astute observation about the importance of the watch was made by Jonathan Swift in the eighteenth century. Neil Postman, a contemporary technology critic, agrees that the invention of the clock is a significant step in humanity’s technological development from mainly agrarian tool-using cultures to industrialized technocracies.
 The mechanical clocks used in public buildings in the thirteenth century had no minute hands and were used to mark time generally—with variable hours. The length of the “hour,” one-twelfth of daylight time, varied with the seasons until the late fourteenth century. Cultural historians suggest that the fixed hour was the invention of urban businessmen who wanted to establish a standard work shift regardless of the season; wage laborers were paid by the day and their employers, presumably, wanted to get as full a day’s work as possible. If such was the beginning of the sixty minutes, it is hardly surprising that we use monetary terms to describe our use of time: we “spend” time with friends, “save” time from chores, “give” time to family, and “steal” it from sleep. Since we tend to worship time as we do money, we need to hear the words of Jesus: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and Money” (Mt 6:24). Therefore, we should serve God and let money serve us. In the same way, we should not be slaves to time, but should let time serve us as we serve the Kingdom of God.
To do that, we need to start with a biblical understanding of time. Our modern, scientific mindset assumes that time is “out there” as an objective, measurable part of nature. Philosophers argue that clocks do not measure invisible, intangible time but tangible things such as the length of a workday or a sprinter’s speed in the 100 meters. In contrast, the Bible’s approach to time is not scientific, naturalistic, or humanistic - it is God-centric. The birth of time is announced at the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning” (Ge 1:1). Before the Beginning, there was nothing; it was time-less. At the Beginning, time was created: God separated light from darkness and marked the days, the seasons, and the years (Gen 1:3-4,14). By resting on the seventh day, God inaugurated the Sabbath and created our seven-day week (Ge 2:2-3). Jesus later said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Thus the rhythm of six days of work followed by a day of rest was instituted for the good of humans. From this, we can surmise that time is a gift of God in the same sense that the whole of creation is a gift of God.
But that is not all. The larger framework of our time - our days, weeks, seasons, and years - is also a gift from God. In chapter three of Ecclesiastes, it is written: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecc 3:1). In other words, there is an appropriate time for every activity in each of our lives, and this time is appointed to us - it is a gift from God. Whereas the weeks and years were designed for the good of humans generally, the appointed times in our lives were given to each of us individually, specifically, and personally. All of time, its existence, its larger, calendar-type framework, and its personalized timetable of birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions are all a gift from God.
Time is indeed a precious gift and we try to fill it with as many fruitful activities as we can. Sometimes we feel there is too little time to do all that we have to do. Indeed we question whether God has given us enough time for all that He wants us to do. So it is interesting to note that God stuck with a bunch of ex-slaves for forty years while they wandered around in the desert. He waited for a generation of Israelites to die naturally instead of massacring them and choosing another people group to fulfill His kingdom purposes. During that time, the Israelites lived, got married, and had children. God also gave Moses the desert-time he needed: forty years. Even though the Israelites were in slavery and were crying out for deliverance from the Egyptians, God did not prematurely push Moses into urgent ministry in a great hurry. Undoubtedly, the man with the greatest mission throughout history was and is Jesus Christ.
Yet, from the gospel narratives, Jesus did not act in haste. Rather, His actions were timely. Jesus tarried and was too late to save His friend Lazarus from death, only to work a greater miracle of resurrection (Jn 11:6). Jesus had a notion of appropriate time. When the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana and His mother asked for help, Jesus replied: “Dear woman, why do you involve me? . . . My time has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). When his disciples wanted to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus replied, “The right time for me has not yet come” (Jn 7:6). Then, when the time came for Jesus to enter Jerusalem to be crucified, He sent His disciples ahead with the message: “My appointed time is near” (Mt 26:18). Even the demons had a notion of a set time. When Jesus encountered the two demon-possessed men in Gadarenes, the demons shouted: “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Mt 8:28-29).
Jesus did not try to bring about His Kingdom before its time. He refused Satan’s offer of a false kingdom (Mt 4:8-10). He turned many would-be disciples away with difficult and at times, offensive sayings (Jn 6:66). When some Pharisees asked for a miraculous sign, Jesus chose not to perform miracles for persuasive purposes (Mt 12:38-39). When the people wanted to make Him king by force, Jesus withdrew to a mountain (Jn 6:15). His closest circle, the twelve disciples, was perplexed by the way Jesus went about His messianic mission which when compared to the fast-paced, numbers-focused, result-oriented approach to modern ministry, seems almost leisurely and ludicrously inefficient. Did Jesus have enough time for his earthly ministry? He was only in active ministry for three years. Then He died, leaving the earthly scene before he could write the gospel according to Jesus Christ.
Had he been around longer, Jesus could have given the church the definitive organizational model and established a solid theological foundation for all Christians. He could have done so much more instead of leaving the Mission to a floundering flock of bumbling disciples, leading to two millennia of divisive theological development and fragmented church growth. However, all these good things were not part of the Father’s purposes for Jesus. In fact, Jesus said: “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. . . . I always do what pleases him” (Jn 8:28-29). Before He died, Jesus could tell the Father that not a single person given Him was lost (Jn 18:9). When He finally gave up His life, Jesus proclaimed that His messianic mission was completed: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Jesus certainly did not have the time to do all that we would have liked Him to do, but He most definitely had the time to do what God the Father appointed for Him to do. The things Jesus left undone were left for others to do, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is very much active and present in the world, even though we often think He is absent because He is operating behind the scenes. The Spirit’s work of preparing the stage and getting the main actors, we Christians, to play our part could be done in a more systematic and efficient way. If whenever a fixed number of Christians prayed a model prayer for a certain number of hours, the Spirit could effect a certain number of conversions and scale of revival, we would have come to some sort of “working arrangement.” Then we could hold seminars worldwide for all Christians to adopt this method and voila, the Mission would be accomplished in no time. Somehow though, as much as we are waiting for the Spirit to burst into the scene and take centre-stage, it seems the Spirit is waiting for us to be ready, not passively waiting, but walking with us in the process of getting us ready. Perhaps, in a sense, we are the work - not merely the means, but part of the end: the Kingdom of God. The Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - appear to have the same attitude towards time: an unhurried pace, a sharp focus on the real mission at hand, and patience with the workers. Jesus, the most visible person of the Trinity, lived His life focused on what the Father wanted Him to do and was given both sufficient time and appropriate timing to accomplish His mission. If, therefore, our lives are aligned with the Kingdom and we are acting in response to God’s call, then there will always be enough time to fulfill God’s priorities and a right time to do it. In short, we will be “[doing God’s ministry in God’s time.”
This does not mean we do not plan, but instead, we plan with discernment. We need to discern what God has called us to do and what season of our lives we are in. Then we can respond to requests appropriately. “Making the most of every opportunity” does not mean cramming as much as we can into our schedules.
Rather, it means being serendipitously attentive for opportunities, as they present themselves, to respond appropriately as ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom. If we are serious about being available, we need to plan for it by scheduling our time loosely. That goes against the grain of what time management is all about - packing it in. But, just as we redeem our time for God’s Kingdom, we need to redeem our time management as well. One helpful exercise is to take off our watches for a day.
Initially, without a watch, we may feel disoriented, less competent, or even dysfunctional. But beyond that, there is the wonderful experience of the natural flow of time, uninterrupted by watching the watch. Once we realize the benefits, we may want to schedule “watch-off” times: perhaps an evening after work, a leisurely weekend, or a public holiday. There is not too much that we can pack into a schedule without a watch, but some wonderful kingdom opportunities may turn up.
As we begin to live this kingdom-oriented time style, our lives begin to be somewhat disorganized, certainly less efficient, and worst of all, inconvenient. Take a small snapshot of Jesus’ life and the same adjectives could be applied to Him; but take the full view of His entire life and we see a beautiful, coherent tapestry of the focused life accomplishing a great mission. This should give us courage. By and large, the societal time style subverts our personal attempts to redeem time. We Christians need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to live the Kingdom life in Kingdom time: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” a time to put on a watch and a time to take it off, a time to plan and a time to let things happen. For every moment and all eternity belongs to God, and He appoints the time for every good work of His Kingdom.
Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena