If your hair is gray, or if you are on Social Security, or if you just qualify as "older," take your time reading this chapter. Take plenty of time because after you have read it, time may never be the same to you.
I once heard David Wilkerson, of The Cross and the Switchblade fame, preach a magnificent sermon to a great crowd of youth at the old Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He titled his message "The Number One Teenage Sin." Do you know what he said that sin is? It is not stealing, or murder, or dealing in drugs, or committing immorality, or being disobedient to parents. "The number one teenage sin," he declared, "is wasting time."
In Book Eleven of his renowned Confessions, Augustine wrote thirty-one chapters about time. (One translator called it "a copious disquisition on the subject.") But in his twenty-fifth chapter Augustine admitted, "I confess to You, O Lord, that I am as yet ignorant as to what time is."1
Well, Doctor Augustine, as a product of the California school system, I also qualify as ignorant, but I know what time is. (I have had eighty years of it, five more than the stretch allotted to the above mentioned "Doctor of Grace.") Without pretending to be either a philosopher or a theologian, I can state very simply and succinctly what time is: Time is Now. It is the present this very minute that is passing as you read these words. And that is all it is, except for one thing.
In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, you will remember, the White Queen offered to engage Alice's services for "two pence a week, and jam every other day." When Alice replied that she didn't care for jam, the Queen's retort was, "You couldn't have it if you did want it. The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today."2
That explains the meaning of time better than Augustine's thirty-one chapters could. We have time today. We have no time yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday we might have had jam, but that was yesterday. Tomorrow lies in the future and is in the hands of God, whose sovereign will controls the universe. If He rules in favor of jam there will be jam. But who knows whether we will even be here to enjoy it? Only He knows. All we have is jamless today, and it is slipping by fast. Time is Now. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation."3
But what is time as an entity, as a ding an sich
or "thing in itself"? It must be something. Well, I believe Scripture teaches that humanly speaking time is nothing else than a gift of God, a precious package of life sent to us by our Heavenly Father, individually gift-wrapped and with our name on it. We older ones have reached a point where we can appreciate this truth. Our time is running out. The last sands are dropping through the hourglass. What will we do with the time that is left to us? That is the burden of this chapter.
The great boon of retirement is that we "have time." If we don't we are in big trouble. Workaholics who boast they are "busier now than before they retired" are poor risks at best. They labor under the delusion that they are indispensable, which may point to a serious ego problem. Old age was not given to us by God to perpetuate the struggle for existence, and it is a global tragedy that for survival millions of elderly are forced to do just that. Retirement is actually intended to give us the time that never seemed to be ours when we were younger. For our purposes let us assume that you do have that time, that for you the daily rush has subsided somewhat and you can now occasionally gaze at the drifting clouds and smell the hyacinths.
What a wonderful gift this is! Time for our grandchildren. Time for prayer. Time to read the great books. Time to visit old friends. Time to think, to reflect, to love and laugh and listen to music. Time to exercise. Time to work on our own projects. Time to calibrate our spiritual
compasses and get the priorities of life in proper order. Time for Bible study.
Note that last statement. We who are older Christians need to examine all these pleasant and fruitful occupations in the light of God's Word. When that is done, some remarkable facts come to the surface. The older Christian, whether or not he is a church elder, is not expected to spend his latter years tipped back in his chair on the front porch or sleeping in his canoe. His time is booked! Quite apart from any church duties, he is first of all expected to be a role model for younger men to follow. He is to set an example of integrity and soundness of character. He is to be held worthy of respect and to be full of faith, love, fortitude, and self-control. He should give evidence of good habits and enjoy a solid reputation outside the church as well as within the Christian community.
And here is the point: He is to teach these principles to young Christian men. He is to instruct them in ethics, morals, marriage and family matters, and service to the community. Instead of just being an example, he is to reproduce that example in others who are younger. Instead of being "out to pasture," the Christian elder is given a sacred and hallowed trust, and when he reaches retirement and has his health, his task is waiting for him. For centuries God's key man to disciple the succeeding generation and so transmit the unsearchable riches of Christ has been the Christian elder.
Older Christian women also have a holy task
committed to them. They are to teach younger women what it means to be a true servant of the Lord in this generation. They are to instruct young women in worship, in morals, in character building, and in assistance to those in need, as well as in the specialized arts of hospitality, homemaking, and child-rearing. The apostle Paul certainly indicated that women were to be full of good works. Luke makes it clear that God used Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, to correct the teaching of the evangelist Apollos, who was himself described as "mighty in the Scriptures."4
All of this is compiled directly from Scripture. And all of this is being done today by older men and women volunteers in churches all across the land in ways that conform to Scripture. They caught the vision; they heard the call; and they have responded. I truly, truly believe there is more inner joy among retired people serving in churches than in any other older group in America. I do take pleasure in observing older men and women on the so-called "executive" golf courses, and it does me good to see them healthy and active, some of them even at an advanced age. But whether they find joy in lambasting the little ball, I couldn't say. I can say that in many of our churches I have found joy-filled men and women well up in years, who couldn't swing a club if their lives depended on it. Yet there they are, still smiling and, like Simeon and Anna, able to bless the Lord and to impart
living faith to the younger ones around them.
My hat is off to the older golfers and bowlers and others who take care to keep their bodies fit and better able to resist the inevitable onset of the years. But what about the millions of other citizens who are past the milepost of sixty-five? What are they doing? How are they taking advantage of the extra time on their hands? Are they "using" time or "spending" it, as Schopenhauer would say? Are they seizing it, reshaping it, and redeeming it? Or are they allowing it to peter out and leave them surrounded by nothing but the Sunday papers and the "vast wasteland" of television?
Let me enlarge a bit on David Wilkerson's dictum. Wasting time is not just a teenage sin; it is America's national sin. That broad subject being outside our purview, however, we shall confine our interest to the older generation. What is "graying America" doing with this precious gift that God gave us, so crammed full of potential, so capable of exquisite returns in love and joy, so valuable for what it can do to help other people?
Many will have to admit, almost nothing!
Without any attempt to preach or lecture, but in a genial and open spirit, let me appeal directly to older friends whose interests don't happen to include church going: Think about the last twenty-four hours. How did you spend them? Apart from the idle hours when you were bored by the media, what time did you devote to discussing your symptoms? How much time did you spend complaining about the government or the
neighbors or the neighbors' pets? How long did you take going over your relatives? How much time was spent in conversation about doctors, operations, hospital care? How much time talking about food? About clothing? About the weather? About the awful scandals in the newspapers?
Time! Seriously, is that the way God intended you to use this precious commodity for the rest of your days? Do you plan to continue allowing time to dribble through your fingers in this hapless manner until you at last (pardon the expression) kick the bucket? If so, it is no wonder Shakespeare wrote:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
It's a sorry fact that so many older people, instead of drinking deeply from the cup of life, fritter away the greater part of their hours and days and years in idle thoughts and even more idle palaver. Nor does it seem to do much good to preach to such folk. Many of them were brought up in Sunday school and church, and some have listened to sermons all their lives without making a commitment. They will tell you they have heard just about everything.
What can be done to wake them up? To help them see that they are squandering the remains
of the only life they have, scuffing about in their slippers from one room to another, opening windows, turning down the heat, shutting doors, turning up the heat, and all the while barely existing?
I'm not talking about the old people who are suffering from serious afflictions. These words are aimed at those among us who could do something for God but are just stubborn and contrary and, yes, lazy. And now I am going to suggest a solution to their problem. Actually the idea came from Dr. Samuel Johnson's famous remark, contained in a letter to James Boswell: "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."6
I call the attention of my elderly colleagues to the fact that they will soon be meeting their God, that as Job said, a man's (and a woman's) days are determined; God has decreed the number of his months and has set limits he cannot exceed.7 It's not a question of hurrying to finish something before one dies. John Wesley put it in proper perspective: "Though I am always in haste," he said, "I am never in a hurry."8 God does not expect us to tidy up the universe before we make our exit from this planet. We can leave things in His good hands. What He does expect is that we make use of the gift of life He has given us, to keep the Devil at arm's length, and do something worthwhile in God's sight and man's.
The Greeks have several words for "time," as they do for everything else. Chronos means a
space or duration of time; it is linear or chronological time. Hora is the word from which we derive "hour" and usually means a period fixed by nature. But kairos has a quite different meaning. It indicates a season, often an opportune or seasonable time, a period possessed of suitable characteristics, a point of time that is the "right" time.
That is exactly what old age should become for all of us. It is a "right time" when we can set things right. Old animosities that have been troubling us deep down can be laid to rest. Mistakes that were made long ago can be rectified. Letters of apology can be written to individuals, explanations can be made, misunderstandings clarified, restitutions made. Money borrowed or improperly obtained can be returned. Wills can be redrafted so that those left out or ignored will understand that no ill will was intended.
Older people don't have to wait until a fatal illness to undertake to make things right. Now is the accepted time! What a wonderful thing to make the tapering-off years the capstone of one's life, when all the mistakes, bad deals, wrong turns, and mean, cruel, and spiteful actions of one's life can be pushed off the edge into the sea of forgetfulness, and one can start making up for them. It's not that people change personalities. They just allow their real selves to bob to the surface and invite the Holy Spirit to turn them into the kind of persons they always wanted to be.
The kairos of old age is a time when we can
settle forever the biggest issue of all, the matter of our relationship to our Maker. After a lifetime of waffling, of lingering doubts, of puzzling over texts, of haggling over dubious points of doctrine, one can go out on faith and make a clean sweep of everything by a personal, total commitment of his or her life to Jesus Christ as Savior and living Lord. Not only is the house set in order, but also the soul is set on track for Heaven.
Whenever we climb aboard the Gospel Train, even though we may catch the bottom step of the caboose, we know that we are on board at last and have joined a joyful crowd that is bound for glory. Hallelujah! Kairos, indeed! Now is the perfect time.
Perhaps, however, someone reading these lines has decided it's too late to change. You may shake your head and think with Popeye, "I yam what I yam." It means: "People would rather have me natural and consistent with my old nature. I've not been perfect, but I haven't been all that bad, either. I mean, compare me with some people I know, and I look pretty sharp! But if I 'got religion,' if I turned into some kind of a latter-day holy Joe or Josephine, people wouldn't know me. It would look as if I were hedging my bets, caving in and buying some last-minute insurance, wouldn't it? I honestly don't think God would like that, would He? I mean, it wouldn't really be me. As for God, I'll take my chances with Him."
Friend, you had better take a crash course in the Bible. You have a lot to learn, and you don't have much time in which to learn it. God spent
all of eternity designing your life. He birthed you on this planet at exactly the right time for His own sovereign purposes, and He has spent your whole lifetime trying to get you to live according to that design. You kept putting Him off, doing your own thing, seeking your own pleasure, and now you tell me that you think He likes your consistency! You infer that God is a "good old boy" who appreciates a dash of spirited rebelliousness in His creatures and is not going to hold your sins against you.
Well, I'll agree that the Bible says we can be "righteous overmuch" and that when Christians deck themselves out in homemade holiness and put-on piety they go against everything Jesus taught. But we're talking about time, Friend. You don't have that much time! Get down on your knees, repent of your sins, beg forgiveness, give your heart and mind to Jesus, and let Him lead you into the Kingdom of God's love. Do it now! Today! Then if you like we can go over your consistencies and what you call your good qualities.
One other timely thought: One of these days the real kairos is coming, and prophecy will be fulfilled. The Parousia will be here that is to say, the Lord Jesus Christ will be returning to the earth, "The trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more."9
You and I and the rest of us old-timers had better be getting ready, don't you think?
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1. Augustine, Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. I.G. Pilkington (London: Immortal Classics, 1876), 296.
2. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, n.d.), 210.
3. 2 Cor. 6:2
4. Acts 18:24-26.
5. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5, scene 5.
6. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1946), 413.
7. Job 14:5.
8. John Wesley, "Letter to a Member of the Society," Dec. 10, 1777.
9. James M. Black, "Roll Call," 1893.
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