The one Greek word you ought to know

I have a confession to make: I know very little Greek.

But I do have a handful of Greek words that I find to be extremely significant words. In my humble opinion, the most significant Greek word is the word kairos. Kairos is the one Greek word everyone ought to know.

There are two words for time in Greek: chronos and kairos.

Chronos (where we get our English word ‘chronology’) means a literal minutes-and-seconds time (i.e. Tuesday at 3:45pm). The clearest image is that of a clock or a wristwatch. Kairos, however, implies a different type of time – a less literal, but more significant time.

Chronos is quantitative minutes. Kairos is qualitative moments.

Kairos is pregnant time, the time of possibility – moments in our day, our week, our month, our year or our lifetime that define us. It is a crossroads. It has the ripe opportunity to make you bitter or better. It is a teachable moment. It is the right or opportune moment. They are rarely neutral and always leave an impact on us.

From a ministry perspective, kairos is the time of God’s activity, the time where we sense God may be trying to get our attention, where we anticipate He may be up to something and it would be wise for us to pay attention in this suspended time and place.

I first heard Mike Breen articulate the significance of kairos moments a few years ago.

Kairos moments are a string of moments that possess possibility – clarity brought on often by pain, uncertainty or crisis. They force us to be absolutely present: to ourselves, to God and to the experience of reality that we’re facing.

In Greek mythology, both chronos and kairos are portrayed with wings (i.e. “time flies”). Here’s a picture of the god Kairos portrayed in a 16th century painting Francesco Salviati.

Even more striking, in Greek mythology chronos and kairos are sometimes portrayed with long hair growing out of their faces but with no hair on the tops or backs of their heads. If they were coming your direction you had the opportunity to grab them by the hair as they were approaching, but once they have passed you, you may reach out for them but will be unable to grasp them. A disturbing image, but one that is striking and clarifying.

As human beings, all of our growth happens in kairos moments.

Wasted kairos moments are wasted opportunities to grow. It is like grasping for hair but finding there to be none to grab onto. Kairos time is talked about numerous times in the New Testament. Think of how many kairos moments Jesus finds himself in as he interacts with people throughout the gospels. (You don’t think this is a coincidence, do you?)

Tim Keel in his book Intuitive Leadership wrote that a kairos moment is “as if God is hovering over the chaos of my life and calling forth life.”

For those of us called to lead people it is of utmost importance to notice, observe, embrace and help others recognize kairos moments.

  • What kairos moments are happening right now in your own life?
  • What kairos moments are present in the lives of people around you?
  • How can you help walk beside them and help them steward that kairos moment well?