Timing is everything. You’ve probably never heard of him. Ron Wayne was one of the original founders of the Apple computer company, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. However, Wayne became scared of the magnitude and timing of their venture and decided to leave the company after less than 2 weeks. Wayne’s share of the company would have been worth $22 billion today. According to the June 7 Chicago Tribune, Wayne said, “I left Apple for reasons that seemed sound to me at the time. Why should I go back and ‘what if’ myself?” Wayne is now living off social security and sells stamps and coins.
Timing plays a huge role in our world. Our lives are critically affected by when and where we are born and who our parents are. These circumstances are not only beyond our control but also serve as both open and closed doors to opportunity. Gary’s mother is an extremely intelligent person and became a self-taught accountant, not having had the opportunity to go to college. I can only imagine what she might have done had she been born in 1969 rather than 1919. Maria was born in rural Cuba in 1986 but has had no chance to better her life, even though she is very gifted. Andre is a teenager from Guatemala whose mother is an undocumented worker in Michigan. Several times he’s attempted to cross the Mexican border in search of his mother, but each time he is caught and sent back home. This promising soccer player may never be able to live with his mother, let alone achieve his full potential.
On the other hand, understanding the nuances of timing can serve to further our careers and enhance our lives, no matter when or where we live. There is an art to being in the right place at the right time. Businesses can successfully roll out new products when they calculate the proper timing. Politicians can stand out from the competition by timing appearances and public announcements. Non-profit organizations can reap benefits by discerning the right time to conduct capital campaigns.
Some people have a knack for taking advantage of perfect timing to accomplish great things in our world. Others are simply lucky. Still others become victims of timing glitches, like those who have been downsized over the past several years during the economic downturn or college graduates entering a dismal job market.
In everyday matters, developing a 6th sense about timing can serve us well. You don’t ask your parents for money when they are in a bad mood. You don’t ask your boss for a favor when she has just emerged from a stressful meeting. You don’t tell the organist right before a Sunday morning worship service, “You know, John, I’ve never liked the way you play hymns.” And you don’t bring up an important issue with your spouse if he/she is not a morning person and hasn’t had his/her first cup of coffee yet.
Timing is also an integral aspect of our faith. The Bible uses 2 Greek words for “time,” chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to our human calculation of time, but kairos is God’s time. Chronos is quantitative, whereas kairos is qualitative. The most well known scripture about timing comes from Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” In God’s time, Moses led the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness but was not allowed to see the Promised Land. Habakkuk prophesied (2:3), “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” And Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son.”
Last week, I became involved in a non-church conversation with a young man whom I didn’t know very well. When I casually asked what he did, he said that he worked for the government in an office job that he hated. He knew that I was a pastor and admitted being envious that I loved my job and saw it as a calling.
I asked what his passion was and what gave him joy, indicating that this might provide a clue for his future. He gave a thoughtful answer, then said that he was ready for something new because the timing was now right. He has been praying that God would open doors for him but also acknowledged that he had to be patient because God’s timing is not always his timing.
Many years ago, when I lived and studied in West Berlin, Germany, I had the opportunity to sing in a semi-professional choir. I’ll never forget performing J.S. Bach’s Cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit, which means “God’s Time is the Very Best Time.” This cantata, intended for a funeral and composed when Bach was about 22 years old, exhibits great depth and pathos for a composer so young.
The first chorus begins, “God’s own time is the very best of times. In him living, moving, we exist, as long as he wills. In him shall we die at the right time, when he wills.” I am reminded of the many times I have sat with people whose loved ones are dying. Often they will ask, “Why is it taking so long? Arlene is ready to die and is at peace. Why doesn’t she just die?” I usually respond by gently reminding the family that God’s time is not our time and that God will give us the strength to be patient and wait.
The greatest challenge of understanding timing is balance. How do we hold in one hand the fact that some things are just not going to happen for us and in the other hand the knowledge that God has a plan for our lives? How do we reconcile the realization that what we want so desperately may not be what God wants for us at a particular time? Is it possible to believe that when God closes one door, another will open?
The word “providence” is used to acknowledge that God holds all of life tenderly and compassionately. Providenceis God’s activity in the world. All things are in God’s hands, yet they are not pre-ordained, as if we have no say in the choices we make. How do we balance our own desires with God’s call?
Perhaps the answer is to completely let go of self. By setting aside what we think we deserve, what we are entitled to, and what might make us rich and famous, we are free to discern our God-given passions. Those passions, in turn, unlock the door to God’s timing and God’s will, not our will.
How do we know when the time is right to go in a different direction in our personal lives? And how do we know when the time is right to implement change in our church, like begin a building project, initiate a new ministry, or start a second worship service? I invite you to ponder these tips for timing:
- Do I/we have the resources?
- Do I/we have the energy?
- Have I/we built up enough momentum?
- Do I/we have the right leadership?
- Have I/we communicated well?
- Do I/we have a compelling desire or need to change?
- Have I/we let the issue ripen enough?
- What are the people in authority (those who naturally capture our attention) saying and doing about this?
- Does the project fit with my/our vision and where God is calling me/us?
- Have I/we spent time in prayer and discernment?
Even when we think we’ve done everything right, those pesky timing glitches will be there on occasion. Sometimes we don’t even know that the timing is wrong until afterwards. In one of the churches I served, we attempted a major building renovation, which was not approved by the church conference the first time around. The Building Committee was deeply disappointed, but as we analyzed what happened, we realized that our timing was off. We were too far ahead of the congregation, which did not yet have confidence in the vision, details, and financing of the proposed project. After another year of constant communication and momentum-building, the congregation gave overwhelming approval. Clearly, this was God’s timing, and the results were truly amazing.
Timing issues will continue to challenge us every day, from cooking, to medicine, to athletics, to personal finances, to job searching, to engaging in healthy relationships. And, for some, the time will never be right because kairos implies change, and change is difficult, risky, and challenging. The good news, however, is that when we lead with our hearts and are in tune with God’s prompting, we are given the wisdom, strength, and will to recognize God’s time as the very best time.
What time is it for you? I’d love to hear your stories about timing.
“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
I Corinthians 6:2b