Stop, look, listen: redeeming each moment

In the last two posts, we’ve been talking about Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to redeem the time. We looked firstly at the challenge of making the most of each kairos moment, and secondly at how the past and the future can distract us from the present.

If we’re going to redeem the time, then the only time we have the power to do that for is the present – by being ready to make the most of each individual moment. By being aware, and noticing those kairos moments.

So when we realise the past or the future are rushing in and overtaking our thoughts, let’s try and get in the habit of slowing down, and being more aware of what’s going on here and now.

Stop, look, listen.

It might sound cheesy, but let’s give it a go.

Stop.

Be present; be observant. Notice what’s going on inside you. Let go of judging your own thoughts and feelings. Just let yourself experience them, and bring them before God. Maybe it’s a positive feeling – gratitude, or joy. If so, acknowledge that feeling! Sit with it and let yourself enjoy it. Give thanks and rejoice with God.

Or it might not be a good feeling. Maybe instead it’s pain, or fear, or anxiety that you’re experiencing. It’s OK – you can be honest, and notice that too. Show it to God. Take the time you need to work through and name each emotion.

When we’re too distracted to stop and be in the present moment, we get in the habit of hiding who we are from God, and from ourselves as well. And as a result, we don’t get to truly know ourselves the way God made us.

Look.

What can you see happening around you? If you’re on your own, then stop and really notice your surroundings – where are you? What’s around you? What can you see, hear, touch, taste, smell? We so often rush through our days just getting from one thing to the next, one place to the next, one appointment to the next, but the journey and the in-between is part of God’s gift to us as well.

Be present and notice your surroundings. Every part of creation is a gift from God, so let’s start to become more attuned to it and able to give thanks for it. The wind blowing, the warmth of the sun shining on our skin. A rainbow lorikeet flying out in front of you. A flower growing on the side of the road. All these gifts given to us in a day, in a single moment.

Listen.

What can you hear going on around you? If you’re in conversation with someone, are you really hearing what they’re saying?

Let’s all learn to stop doing that thing where we spend the whole time the other person is talking thinking about what we’re going to say next, instead of actually listening to them. Notice the person you’re talking to. What’s showing on their face? What are they really saying, what are they really asking for? How can you serve them in that moment – what do you have to give to them?

Or – what do you have to receive from them? It’s not always about trying to be the one who gives, trying to be the one in control. Sometimes God calls us to be vulnerable and receive. Sometimes God brings us into connection with another person so we can learn from them, other times so we can teach them, and other times… so we can just be with one another. But we need to be present and listen to know which is which.

Let’s try and retrain ourselves not to be distracted, but to be people that stop, look, and listen. To be people that are in the habit of noticing what’s happening right here, right now.

This is how we “pray without ceasing.”

So often we’re afraid of being in the present moment – but it’s only in the present moment that God speaks. What is God saying to you right now?

Walking with God one step at a time

What does the Lord require of you?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. It’s not complicated… and yet it’s everything.

From one perspective, it can seem too big. To spend a lifetime always being just and merciful and humble sounds impossible – none of us are that virtuous all the time. But it’s something we can choose to do in each moment. So forget about it being something you should have done yesterday, or will do tomorrow. We can’t redeem all of eternity. It’s just one action, now, this moment. You can manage that! Don’t worry about what follows. That will just be one action, one moment, too – when you get there. But right now, your presence in this moment is all that matters.

Maybe though that feels too small. Maybe you feel like, “what’s the point?” Is my one little moment of doing justice, or of being merciful, really going to make a difference to the world?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. Do it any way. Because changing the world isn’t the point. Leaving your legacy, impressing people, setting world records – it all sounds great, and it’s tempting to make it all about that, all about how doing one tiny thing now will benefit us and make us look good in the long term – but that isn’t the point.

Redeeming each moment

Responding to God in this moment is the point. If we do that, then the rest may well follow, but let’s leave eternity to God. Our job is just to choose to redeem this moment.

If you give it a go now – if you stop, look, listen – then what does a redemption of this moment look like for you? What does doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with God look like right now?

Maybe it’s asking someone to come and have lunch with you. Or maybe it’s taking time out for yourself, observing the Sabbath, making sure you get the rest you need. Maybe God wants you to go to bed early for once! Or spend time with your family. Or get some exercise, or call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or finish that really difficult unpleasant job you’ve been putting off for days on end.

I don’t know what God’s speaking to you in this moment. But God does, and you do. We just have to stop, look, listen. Take a breath. Let ourselves be here, now, however that feels. Let the Spirit guide us in redeeming this moment. And then the next one. And then the one after that.

Then, moment by moment, all our tiny, seemingly insignificant little moments of choosing to be with God add up to become a whole way of life. A life that looks like following Jesus, our very own Redeemer. A life that looks like walking with God one small, humble step at a time.

Be present: finding peace with the past and the future

In the previous post, we looked at the difficulties of being present in the moment, of redeeming the time, as Paul says, and making the most of each kairos moment. When we sit quietly and try to be present with God, so often distractions come flooding in. Sometimes it’s memories from the past that distract us, and sometimes it’s worries about the future.

When the past keeps us from the present

Sometimes we don’t want to be fully present in the moment, because our mind floods us with thoughts of the past. Things we’d rather not think about.

Maybe when you try to sit quietly, ugly emotions like pain and anger come flooding in. Maybe it’s because you’re remembering a time you’ve been hurt by someone else.

Or maybe you start thinking about something you wish you hadn’t done, and instead emotions like shame and regret come creeping in. You remember something you said to someone that you really wish you hadn’t. Humiliating moments replay on a loop in your head.

When we try and sit in the stillness, the things our minds throw at us aren’t always much fun.

I think the psalmist who wrote Psalm 32 had a similar experience of wanting to block out thoughts of the past. It sounds like there was something that weighed heavily on him, and he was resolutely avoiding bringing it to mind. But he acknowledges here how that avoidance made him feel; the anxiety it brings him:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 32:3-5 (NIV)

Sometimes we do keep silent, even in our own heads, about the things that are affecting us from the past. Maybe we avoid talking to God because we think we need to get in some kind of ‘right’ frame of mind before praying to him. Maybe we’re angry, at a particular person or situation, or even at God, and we feel we shouldn’t be, so we just don’t say anything at all. Or maybe we feel like all we have to offer God is something that God won’t be happy with. So we just stay silent, like the psalmist. We try and avoid being alone with God until we can “get right in our heart” first. Until we feel like what we have to offer is worthy of him.

Honesty is the best policy

But as I’ve said before, God doesn’t care if our prayers aren’t perfect. God doesn’t mind if we come to him with ‘offensive’ emotions. Shocking though it may sound, I remain a firm believer that God prefers us getting angry at him than not speaking to him at all. The important thing is just to be present with God. Be honest about the ugly stuff that’s going on inside. Even if it means getting angry, or confronting feelings that you’d rather avoid and pretend aren’t there.

Whatever tough thing from the past is affecting you in the present, there’s no way out but through. If we feel ashamed, if we feel regret, we need to let ourselves acknowledge that. Just feel the awkwardness. Let yourself sit in it, name it for what it is. Bring it to God. Then you can move towards repentance, and receiving God’s grace.

And if you feel angry or hurt, don’t shove it down and pretend it’s not there. Acknowledge it. The vulnerability involved in admitting you’ve been hurt or sinned against can be difficult sometimes, but honesty with ourselves and with God about these things is key to moving on, towards forgiveness and freedom.

So when we’re struggling with the past, and with the feelings that it brings about… let’s stop choosing avoidance. Don’t be afraid to sit with those feelings, to name them, to bring them before God, to let yourself feel them. There’s nothing right or wrong about feelings, they’re just feelings. God isn’t going to judge you or turn you away for having them. But the only way to move beyond them, to stop the past keeping you from the present, is not to ignore them, but to be honest with yourself and with God.

Not letting the future overwhelm us in the present

Maybe it’s not the past that’s the problem. Maybe you’re one of those people who, when you sit quietly for a moment, worries about the future come rushing in. What needs to be done today? Tomorrow? Next week? What’s left on the to-do list? Have I even written a to-do list? What time is that appointment again? How on earth will I fit that in along with everything else? What if I fail? Embarrass myself? Forget something important? What if I don’t have enough – time, money, food, ability, people who care – fill in the gap in whatever way fits you best.

And it all piles up, and it all comes rushing in, and it all seems too much. What’s the point of sitting still and doing nothing when there’s all this stuff left to be done? How will it ever all get done?

Jesus had a reminder for us that’s relevant here:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-26, 34 (NIV)

Don’t worry about tomorrow – each day has enough worries of its own. Wise words, often quoted. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” might be how some of you remember it.

It can be easier said than done, though, can’t it?

Leave eternity to God

Look – let’s not mistake Jesus’ words for saying “don’t plan for the future”, as I think some people would like to interpret them. Because saying “don’t be anxious about tomorrow” is not the same thing as saying “don’t be prepared for tomorrow”. Planning and making to-do lists can in fact be helpful tools in stopping us from worrying about the future, because preparing, learning, and doing the best we can now is a concrete thing we can do in the present.

But what it does mean is that we let go of the outcome. We let go of trying to hold eternity in our own hands, of trying to figure out all possible endings ourselves. And we trust that our preparation now will help us be where God wants us to be then. We trust that, as the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and so we trust that whatever small step we’re taking now will set us in the right direction on that journey.

So let’s stop being ruled by regrets over the past, and anxiety over the future, and instead focus on right now. Because what we do have, what God gives us as gift right now and for all eternity, is this present moment.

In the next post I’ll talk about a habit I’m trying to adopt, to help me stay present when I feel the past or the future rushing in to take over my thoughts.

Redeem the time: Kairos moments

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (NKJV)

Time keeps passing

I’m finding it hard to believe nearly two months of the year have disappeared already. In my mind it still feels like early January, like we’ve only just had Christmas and New Years, and honestly, I’m still kind of in holiday mode.

But in reality, the year is well and truly in swing, and time is getting away from me.

Sometimes, time feels like our enemy. The days slip past and we’re not quite sure where they go, but before we know it, one month, two months, ten months of the year have gone by and suddenly people are telling you how many days it is until Christmas again and when did that happen? What about all those things I was going to achieve this year?

And so then I say, oh well, I guess there’s always next year, and then the whole process starts all over again… and before I know it a decade or two has gone by and I seem to be no better at using my time well.

I still keep talking about the 90’s like they were only ten years ago. Where does the time go – and how do we get it back again?

How do we redeem our time?

Time management: a problem throughout the ages

It can’t be just me that has this problem. Time management has become a whole industry now. My iPhone now pops up with a little notification every Sunday morning to inform me just how many minutes I’ve wasted looking at Instagram during the week, or playing Solitaire, or checking my mail, and how many minutes more or less than last week it was. Honestly, I’m not sure I really want to know. It’s an interesting insight into my own behaviour I guess, but I’m not entirely convinced it actually helps me use my time any better.

But these kind of apps, techniques, tricks – they’re everywhere now. Countless ways to try and keep ourselves accountable for every minute, every second that slips by. We devote so much energy towards looking for an answer to that one question:

How do we use our time better?

And we say it’s a modern problem, but you know, I think humans have always struggled with this question. It seems like it was an issue back in Paul’s day, when he was writing to the Ephesians.

“See then that you walk circumspectly,” he writes, “not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Redeem the time, he says. Rescue it, recover it, get it back again, because the days are evil. Get it back from all those competing demands, all those unseen forces that just seem to siphon it away from us, make it seem like we never have enough of it. If you look at that verse in some other translations (like NIV or NLT), you’ll find it’s sometimes translated as “making the most of every opportunity”.

Making the most of our time. It’s a familiar ambition, isn’t it? And they didn’t even have smartphones in the first century.

Kairos time – redeeming the moment

There are two words for “time” in the ancient Greek of the New Testament. You might have heard of them: there’s chronos, and there’s kairos.

The first one, chronos, is where our word chronological comes from. This is talking about sequential, measurable time – days, hours, minutes, seconds. I think most of us have a tendency to interpret time in a chronos kind of a way. It’s fairly natural to mentally break up our days into 24-hour chunks, and our weeks into seven days. We have lists of things to do, and only so many hours to get each job done. We mark out time on our calendars and daily planners, keeping track of it, measuring it, and basically trying to exert as much control over it as we can.

The second word used for time in the Bible is kairos. Kairos time isn’t measured chronologically, the way we usually think of time. You might say that kairos is measured the way God sees time – not marked by the number of hours or minutes or seconds, but marked in moments that have eternal significance. Kairos means an appointed time, or a due season. A kairos moment is the right moment.

A kairos moment is one of those moments when time, as we know it, almost seems to stop.

And this is the word for time that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:16. When he says “redeem the time,” he’s really saying “redeem the kairos.”

Redeem the moment.

Not hours, minutes, and seconds, but moments.

Does that put a different spin on things?

Being present in the kairos moment

Time is just a series of individual moments, isn’t it? Right now I can’t use yesterday’s time better, or tomorrow’s time better. All I can do in this moment is use now better. To redeem my time, I just need to be more present, here in this moment. That should be simple enough.

But sitting in that kairos moment, when it happens, can be tough. If you’re like me, you have the experience that when you’re busy, you long for free time, away from obligations, time to just be, relax, enjoy. But then when that time actually comes, we don’t always know how to make the most of it. We’re so used to urgency, to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, that those rare moments of stillness can be hard to handle. Confronting, even. Often we look around for some distraction until the moment passes by.

Being fully present, here and now, is a challenge. Maybe we’re distracted by the past, or maybe we’re distracted by the future – either way, we’re pulled away from this current moment. And then, before we know it, it’s gone.

What happens when you just sit, quietly, just you and God, with no distractions? Where does your mind go? How long before you’re itching to get up and check your messages, call a friend, turn the TV on for background noise, even do housework… anything to get away from the unrelenting stillness of this moment?

Next post we’ll look into this in more detail, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How do you redeem your time? What distracts you from being present? What techniques do you have to bring back your focus?

(This is Part 1 of a series of posts adapted from a sermon delivered on 23 February 2020.)