5 Ways to Read the Times

We read in 1 Chronicles 12 of men from each tribe who came to support David in the wilderness. Among their number are the those of Issachar, who send 200 chiefs with their retinues. We also read that they “have understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

It’s oft quoted in Christian circles, typically as the men who “knew the times and seasons,” and we’re encouraged to be the same. I can’t source which translation has that reference in it, though it must come from somewhere. I suppose it could just be the Christian obsession with jamming the word ‘season’ into every time reference you can imagine.

“We’re moving to a new season of ministry!”

“So are we, you can tell because the leaves have fallen off the trees. We call it Autumn.”

I don’t think the men of Issachar were looking for a word to describe the phase they were in that sounded more overtly spiritual, but they could ‘read the times.’

We need to be able to do that too. Even if we stick with the seasons analogy for a bit, if you’re in the middle of a metaphorical storm in your life, it makes a huge difference if you can tell if it’s an autumnal storm—a harbinger of Winter—or a storm that heralds Spring.

It isn’t often so easy to read events in our lives that way though, and it can lead us astray if we infer too much meaning into a random collection of circumstances as though this must be the last bad thing to happen to me because Spring is coming. At the same time, God does speak, and he does speak through our circumstances.

More broadly, churches need to read their moments to make decisions about what they do next, and even more broadly we should be trying to read the waves of history to know the moment in which we live. I think the Bible gives us the resources to do so: history moves in patterns, if not always in strict cycles, so the shapes we discern in the Bible’s theological history books that make up large swathes of the Old Testament are shapes we can discern in more recent history too. That is one of the things those books are for.

This also helps us learn to hope because we see where we are, we know this won’t last forever whether it’s good or bad, and we know that the story is yearning towards a conclusion.

How do we read the times we find ourselves in, big and small?

1. Read the Bible

Funny that I’d suggest that, but there you go. Not because we’ll find an immediate answer, but reading carefully over decades will form our sense of the warp and woof of Scripture, of the patterns we find there. Then we’ll spot the similarities and differences in our moments.

2. Pray

If you seek you will find, we read (Matthew 7). There’s a verse to struggle with, because anyone who has followed Jesus for a while knows that doesn’t seem to be true. And yet, I think that when wisdom is what is sought, it is always found.

3. Expect the Spirit to tell you

If we read the Bible and diligently pray, the Holy Spirit will give us eyes to read the day we live in, and to read the pattern of our own lives—not perfectly, but enough to do the next right thing.

You may find he instructs you through the wisdom of others or their prophetic words or something you read, or through thoughts that literally appear in your head. As long as we weigh these carefully (using the first and fifth steps here), that’s all helpful.

4. Hold your dreams

We should have dreams in God, not necessarily for ministry as though that were the good end we are all for—it is not, thank goodness—but dreams for ourselves and our lives. We should hold them before God, lightly enough that he can let them die if need be, but firmly enough to weather the storms of life. Remember that everything that dies in God is like a seed pushed into the ground, it comes to life; though not always in the shape you had hoped for.

5. Consider in community

Do all that, and then weigh your thoughts with others. If like me you’re called ‘old and wise’ in your context at 36 and know that’s a hilarious nonsense, seek out older Christians who can help you weigh the stages of life you’re in. Perhaps speak with your Pastors, but it doesn’t have to be them necessarily. Humans aren’t meant to be alone (Genesis 2), so we consider these things together, and then we make decisions accordingly.

See the Future

Honestly, it isn’t that revolutionary. There’s no magic bullet.

Ultimately, we need to know that however we look at it, our lives and our historical moments are ‘Autumn’ and ‘Winter.’ We know that because Autumn is symbolic dying and Winter symbolic death. The world’s spring is found in Jesus’ resurrection—timebound to the 5th April AD 33 and somehow also timeless metaphysical reality—and her summer is found in the light of the divine Son in the new earth after the resurrection of the dead.

To speak more plainly, however bad or good today is, however bad or good this week is, however bad or good this month, this year, this decade is, something profoundly better is coming. Goodness is coming. Kindness is coming. Hope is coming. The life of a thousand tiny moments of promise, hope and failure is but a flutter of an eyelid of the days laid before you. This is the prologue, and the story is one of trees that fruit every month of the year (Revelation 22).

In other words, dear friend, today’s pain says little about tomorrow’s joy. Hope is worth cultivating because he is coming.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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