Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Timely Disciplemaking

I’m slightly obsessed with time. There’s a clock in every room of our house. This includes a grandfather clock and three mantle clocks. In my study, I have a “bird” clock with bird calls marking the hour. I have a Beatles clock over my window. Hanging above the closest door is a Nashville skyline clock made out of a Hank Williams’ record.

Not only am I time conscious during work days but I carefully plot out my schedule for my days off. Peggy keeps reminding me that I need to toss out my schedule and enjoy the moment. As usual, she’s right!

My mini-obsession with time has turned into a small study and reflection project. Here’s some things I’m learning. 

Time was initially oriented around sun rises and sunsets. History records battles taking place at dawn; it’s hard to invade a country at 2 pm est when you don’t know when 2 pm est is! The first rudimentary “clocks” were sundials. Mechanical clocks were introduced around the fourteenth century to call monks to prayer. Bells chimed on the hour and the clocks lacked dials. “Punctuality” did not appear in the English language until the late 18th century.

The industrialists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century standardized time and time zones to ensure efficiency and productivity for their products. Living on “clock” time became a defining characteristic of the new professional. When young men entered a career, they were given a watch; the watch established identity and announced one’s social status. Time, and time keeping, became the master in our culture rather than a servant.

What does God think about time? The context of the Bible is an agrarian one. Time was regulated by sun rises and sun sets (Genesis 1:5), seasons (Genesis 8:22), and full moons (Isaiah 1:13). Within this biblical context, I’ve made some “timely” observations about time and disciplemaking.

Time for our Lord is not a frantic rush to keep a schedule. Unlike us, God is not governed by the frantic pursuit of efficiency. There’s nearly four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew. A direct route from Egypt to Caanan is a matter of days not forty years.

The Bible speaks of two types of time: chronos or chronological time and kairos time, the right moment in time. God is not a servant to time but enters time at the right moment (kairos time) to accomplish his purposes. He’s not constantly watching a clock in heaven, thinking that time is money or that punctuality is the greatest value. He does things according to His time and purposes.

Timely disciplemaking is not a rush to meet a deadline. I cannot make growth more efficient or compress it to a timetable. I must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit for the kairos moment — the “teachable” moment to join in with what God is doing. How do I spot those moments? It’s not done from a  pulpit or lectern but in an up-close relationship

Time is a cycle of work and rest. This pattern was set at creation; the Lord rested after six days of work (Genesis 2:2). When we violate this cycle, our inner clocks get over-turned. As Americans, we operate on a 24/7 schedule with our cell phones and lap tops always available for work. Instead of keeping a cycle of work and rest, we save everything for vacation time. Designed to be restful, we cram it with travel, sight-seeing activities, or appointments. We miss God’s simple weekly cycle of work and rest. One author writes that “I go to sleep to get out of the way for a while.”

The author Eugene Peterson compares this work/rest cycle to a harpooner on a whaling vessel. As the row boats moved out to hunt whales in the early 19th century, the harpooner sat at the rear of the boat, resting while others worked. He was marshaling all his energies to throw the harpoon at the right time. If he was exhausted he could not strike the whale. I must not be so exhausted from my schedule that I lack the energy to “strike” at the right moment — the kairos moment the Lord has prepared.

Timely disciplemaking is striking at the right moment — a timely conversation with a child, serving a neighbor, or starting a faith conversation with a lost friend. These moments can be planned or unplanned; the goal is not to be so exhausted by “rowing” that I don’t have the energy to “strike.” I must follow God’s pattern of work and rest.

Time is seasonal. Jesus calls ministry a time of “sowing” and “reaping” (John 4:37).  The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says there “is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and at time to pluck up what is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Agrarian cultures understood some truths about the seasonality of time.

Every season does not produce lush fruit. Plants must go dormant to be replenished for the next season. We too often take our cues from the food industry where seasonal fruit can be purchased at the grocery store at any time. We come to expect spiritual fruit from every season of ministry. Fruit should always be happening if our ministry is successful.

Timely disciplemaking does not impose my expectations of fruitfulness on God’s timeline. Sometimes life and ministry is dormant — no apparent fruit is appearing, nothing is too exciting, my ministry is not expanding. I have to remind myself, “Dormancy is normal. Seasons in life and ministry are God’s way of doing things.” It’s amazing how my burden to produce is lifted when I think of ministry time as seasonal.

So, what about all the clocks in my house? This may sound odd but they remind me that life is more than living a schedule or being punctual. The Psalmist ‘s prayer was “Lord, teach me to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Author Jean Fleming writes that “Numbering my days isn’t about computing days but rather about drawing me to attentiveness.”

Each of my clocks tell a story, drawing my attention to a spiritual truth, teaching me wisdom.

My grandfather clock was purchased by my book revenue and reminds me of the lessons learned through the time spent writing. My bird clock came from my parent’s home; it reminds me of their faithful lives. My Beatles clock is just for fun and reminds me of good music and creativity. Clocks remind me that time is more than a schedule to keep but points to relationships and meaning. This is the tick-tock of timely disciplemaking, this is what it means to number my days.

One Comment

  1. Excellent. To just to number our days. I do consider the # of possible days remaining. My mom is pushing 95. Years left? Is probably less than 5%. How many nickles (or quarters) reasonably remain in the jar at age 70? Work for the night is coming. But rest as well. Cycles and seasons

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