How do you measure time?
I read an interesting article in Newsweek about Henry Kissinger’s new book about China and his diplomatic work there. Dr. K’s Rx for China (I recommend reading the whole article before reading the rest of my comments). Generally, the article is about the vast differences between Chinese thinking and American thinking and how that creates problems unknowingly. What stood out to me was the following quote:
The most profound insights of On China are psychological. They concern the fundamental cultural differences between a Chinese elite who can look back more than two millennia for inspiration and an American elite whose historical frame of reference is little more than two centuries old. This became most obvious in the wake of June 1989, when Americans recoiled from the use of military force to end the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations. To Kissinger’s eyes, it was doubly naive to retaliate to this crackdown with sanctions: “Western concepts of human rights and individual liberties may not be directly translatable … to a civilization for millennia ordered around different concepts. Nor can the traditional Chinese fear of political chaos be dismissed as an anachronistic irrelevancy needing only ‘correction’ by Western enlightenment.”…
…“Chinese negotiators,” observes Kissinger in a passage that should be inwardly digested not just by American diplomats but also by American businessmen before they land in Beijing, “use diplomacy to weave together political, military, and psychological elements into an overall strategic design.” American diplomacy, by contrast, “generally prefers …c to be ‘flexible’; it feels an obligation to break deadlocks with new proposals—unintentionally inviting new deadlocks to elicit new proposals.” We could learn a thing or two from the Chinese, Kissinger implies, particularly Sun Tzu’s concept of shi, meaning the “potential energy” of the overall strategic landscape. Our tendency is to have an agenda of 10 different points, each one to be dealt with separately. They have one big game plan. We are always in a hurry for closure, anxiously watching the minutes tick away. The Chinese value patience; as Mao explained to Kissinger, they measure time in millennia.
One of the defining elements of Chinese culture, one of the primary reasons it stands out against American culture, is how they measure time. They measure it in millennia, rather than years or decades.
How do you measure time? Does your citizenship in the kingdom of God affect your measurement of time? I don’t just mean on Sundays, or on Wednesday nights. I mean on a daily, hourly basis. Does your measurement of time cause people to step back and notice, in the same way that Henry Kissinger steps back and observes the Chinese? Does your measurement of time affect your decision making in such a way that it beckons others to study you? Or is your decision making no different from the rest of the culture around you?
For many years, economists have studied what they have labeled “the Protestant Work Ethic”. Of course, they debate over what exactly this ethic is and why it was practiced, but the interesting point is that they noticed. They noticed something was different about these people in the wake of the Reformation. Protestant beliefs drastically effected their economics, their “human action” and decision making.
So while Americans measure time in years, or maybe decades, and the Chinese shock the world by measuring time in millennia, Christians are called to measure time eternally.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10)
But don’t just look at the big ticket items like your house, family, and property – look at the little ticket items too. Take time to listen to this excellent sermon – a great example of measuring time eternally: Take Time to Be Holy
By the way, if you answered no to the questions above (and if we are honest, we must all answer no, not as we ought), then how can you change? How can you begin to measure your time eternally? The answer is not by making a resolution to do so. It will be of no help to write on a post-it-note “Measure time eternally”. If we want to actually measure time eternally, then we need to study the doctrines of Scripture that relate to eternity, and there are many (so study them all 😉 ) Have you put off a study of the end-times because it’s so confusing and because so many people disagree? While I can sympathize, I can also say you won’t make any progress if you never meditate upon the new heavens and the new earth. Here’s a great place to start: The Last Things According to Peter