Preaching: God’s Time & My Time

What is more precious than gold but cannot be bought, earned, or saved? Of course, the answer is time. With each passing day over the duration of our lives, it becomes more valuable to us. The old expression “time is money” is not completely accurate. Time is actually more valuable than money. At least theoretically you can obtain more money. But we all have the same amount of time.

As you already know, the Bible uses two distinct words for time. The first one is chronos, from which we get our word chronological. The earth makes a full rotation on its axis and we call that a day, 24 hours. Time in this sense is understood by looking at a watch or a calendar. The second is kairos, and although it exists within chronological time, it carries a deeper meaning. It could be illustrated by Mordecai’s charge to Esther that she had come into her royal position for “such a time as this.” Kairos refers to God-moments, opportunities in life in which we ask, “What is God trying to say and do in this moment and situation?”

Paul uses both of these words together in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 when he writes about “the times (chronos) and the seasons (kairos).”

What does all this have to do with preaching? Actually, a lot!

Chronos impacts a preacher and an expositor of the Word every week. First of all, sermon preparation uses the currency of chronos. As someone has mentioned, Sunday comes around with surprising regularity. You prepare sermons every week and so do I. And that preparation takes time. And this is probably an expositor’s greatest challenge.

I’m a big fan of digital Bible study tools. I’m a huge Logos user. These tools are great time-savers. Once upon a time I would have to drag all of my resources off the shelf, try and arrange them on my desk so that they would remain open, and then begin my preparation. Balancing all those books, keeping them open to the pages I needed was actually a small feat of engineering excellence. Today, I can search for word meanings from the original language in a tenth of the amount of time it used to take or maybe even less. However, these tools can actually be counter-productive if I don’t use them correctly. What do I do with the time that I “save” in my research?

The temptation for any expositor is to move too fast in his reading of the text. In most cases, we need to slow down, not move faster. The tools don’t slow me down. I have to do that. I have to be deliberate in my pace of study. If I let them, these great digital tools reduce the amount I spend in the text instead of increasing it, as they were designed to do.

I’ve heard people talk about “sitting with the text.” (Pastors sit with families during crises and so this description should resonate well.) I’ve heard preachers whom I greatly respect say that you are not ready to preach through a book of the Bible until you have read it through at least 50 times. Well, that’s challenging, isn’t it? It is a large investment of our chronos. Yet we all know that putting in the time is paramount in the proper exposition of God’s Word. We may know better than we actually do but we know it.

So what about kairos? How does time in this sense influence and impact our preparation in preaching and even in preaching itself. Understanding it as a divine moment and opportunity, I immediately have to recognize that while I have chronos to invest in writing a great sermon, God delivers a kairos moment, both in my preparation but also in my delivery. It seems that prayer is the key to recognizing these God moments. The kairos moments we are looking for consist of insight and illumination. I invest the chronos by sitting with the text but in response to my prayers God brings the kairos of enlightenment.

While doing our text work–the exegesis and exposition–it is easier to become too much of a technician. If our sermons are to have life in them through the power of the Holy Spirit, we must pray with as much commitment as we study. In fact, one of the questions I should ask myself as I conclude my weekly preparation is: “Have I prayed well?” And as I am walking up the steps to the platform to bring the fruits of weekly preparation, I always pray the same prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Only God through the power of the Spirit can create a kairos moment where hearts are broken and healed by His Word. Only a pastor devoted to prayerful preparation will have those God moments during his chronos of text work in which he discerns what His congregation needs for that week.