Based on a sermon by Ezra Chong—Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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. (Eph 5:15–17)
When most of the world entered a period of lockdown due to COVID-19, many of us felt as though we suddenly had more time. Under strict government measures, all hospitality services and many businesses closed their doors. Members of the public were instructed to stay at home. With more time on their hands, many took up baking, cooking, exercise, DIY projects, gardening, and so on. But some were also overwhelmed. They had to care for and homeschool their children, shield the vulnerable, and work remotely from home. Those employed in essential services and industries saw their workload increase, with the added anxiety of being more exposed and vulnerable to catching the virus while working outside the home. In such cases, the lockdown has highlighted the limited hours in a day.
Regardless of how we have been living our lives during the lockdown, Paul's words to the Ephesian members continue to ring true: we must walk circumspectly, live wisely, and redeem the time that has been given to us. In the English Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, “redeeming the time” is expressed as “making the best use of the time” and “making the most of the time.” With lockdown being the new normal, how can we truly make the most of our time now, and when it ends?
THE FOOLISH AND THE WISE
When Paul uses the phrase “walk circumspectly,” he refers to the way we lead our lives—our behavior, our speech, and our attitude. He talks about two types of people: the foolish and the wise. Using Paul’s explanation, the foolish are those who neither understand how to use their time nor understand the will of God. On the other hand, the wise do know how to redeem their time, and do so, living according to God's will. While we may have thought about this instruction before, this lockdown period is a blessing that allows us to reflect: Have we used our time according to God's will? Is it time to make a change?
Redeem Your Time Wisely
When Paul wrote the word “time” in Greek, the word he used has the root καιρός (kairos) which refers to an opportune moment or a fitting time for action, rather than the fixed concept of time. He intended the believers to take action and grasp hold of the time given to them. Developing this concept further, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that kairos refers to “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a certain action: the opportune and decisive moment.”
Today, we are living in that "right" time, when we can, and should, accomplish important matters. Thus, we should take the time to think, and commit to taking action. However, our thinking, determination, and actions must be in line with God's will, as Paul clarifies in verse 17. No matter how positive our choices may seem, be it establishing family time at home, taking a daily walk in the park, or socializing via Zoom, God's will should underline our actions. In this way, we may be counted as wise and not foolish.
There are two periods of time we can discuss here: the first is during the lockdown, and the second is when lockdown is fully lifted. The word “lockdown” is familiar to us now, but it has never happened before on such a global scale. For almost all of us, it is the first time we have experienced an epidemic becoming a pandemic, spreading so quickly, so viciously and so worryingly. Scientists, sociologists, politicians, and historians have debated and researched the origins of the pandemic. But as Christians, we know that, spiritually speaking, there is a higher purpose and reason for this occurring in our present time. The adverse outcomes of this pandemic have been undeniable. However, in His way, God has given us time.
Before the lockdown, we may have felt freer. However, we may also have been busier: too busy to have breakfast, too busy with work, too busy to speak to our children, busy rushing to church, busy cooking dinner. Now that we have no choice but to stay at home, we realize that family time and prayer time are God-given blessings. With the world having slowed down, we should also slow down. Then we can reflect on how to make the best use of this time and take action to strengthen our faith and relationship with God.
MAKING THE BEST USE OF TIME
The Songs of Ascent describe the Israelite pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, situated on Mount Zion, three times a year. To reach the temple, the Israelites would have journeyed through valleys and wilderness while singing Psalm 15 and Psalms 120 to 134. These songs gave three key reminders to the people of God: to take heed of their relationship with their family's faith, their relationship with the temple, and their relationship amongst themselves.
On making the best use of our time, we can learn from the Israelite pilgrim what our priorities ought to be. Although this is a difficult period where fear and uncertainty abound, we can use this time positively by turning to God, spending time in prayer, establishing our relationship with God, and drawing close to Him. On reflection, we may realize that our family altar has been neglected and needs to be re-established. Now that we do not need to rush to church on a Sabbath, we can slow down to prepare our hearts and make full use of online services and fellowships.
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Cor 13:5)
If we have not examined ourselves in a while, God has given us time to think seriously about our faith, the faith of our children, and our relationships with brothers and sisters. It is a great time now to rekindle daily prayers with our children and discuss with them what they have learned from their online religious education classes. Even more so, the internet allows us to access church services from around the globe, with services streaming during the week, not just on the Sabbath. Some church choirs have established virtual sessions, and online fellowships and Bible studies have become parts of a new routine to look forward to. Additionally, many members have invited non-believing friends and family to evangelistic services to listen to God’s word. These are the positive blessings that we can, and should, enjoy during the lockdown.
Luke 21:36 reminds us:
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
This verse refers to the end of the age, when many signs will be given to us. One of those signs is pestilence, and we undoubtedly count this global pandemic as a clear sign of the end time. What does our Lord Jesus instruct us to do then? We must be watchful and consider our current situation, to examine ourselves, and to strengthen our faith day by day, week on week. At the same time, our watchfulness must be coupled with continual prayer. If we are feeling anxious or fearful: bring it to prayer. If we are feeling overwhelmed: take it to prayer. No doubt, these challenging times may have brought about unforeseen difficulties at home, with our families or with our work. Prayer will give us the strength to overcome, to be guided by our Lord, and to find peace in a chaotic and frightening world.
When the lockdown comes to an end, will our faith and relationships have improved? Will we have changed for the better, or will we remain the same as before the lockdown began? Romans 12:2 exhorts us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Transformation starts with the renewal of our minds. Today, our mindset must change: if we used to live only for our daily routines and to maintain social expectations, or if we lived with lukewarm faith, now is the time to renew our minds and pursue after God’s good and perfect will. With time to think and reflect, we can pray and ask God to renew our minds through the Holy Spirit, so that the time we have gained may be fruitful.
One thing is sure: life after lockdown will be very different from life before COVID-19. While we wait for businesses, restaurants, and schools to resume normal operations, many companies are looking to change the way they work. For example, New Zealand is looking to trial a four-day working week, and many organizations may allow their employees to work from home more often, or even as a norm. Nevertheless, our lives will eventually return to the same level of busyness we experienced before. When it does, will we fall back to the past or look forward to the future?
We may discover a new zeal in our faith and relationship with God during the lockdown. But after the lockdown ends, will we continue to pursue after God, to focus on our families, and to care for the wellbeing of the church? This is a difficult question that warrants serious and careful consideration. We need to maintain and uphold our new routines as the new normal: continue our daily prayers and Bible reading with our family members; attend those extra fellowships and Bible studies; and give ourselves quiet time to reflect and examine our faith. God has given us time now, but He will still provide us with time afterward to either retreat to our pasts or move towards a stronger and closer relationship with Him. The choice is ours.
Today, we must understand why God has given us this special and opportune time. We should grasp hold of it now, deciding to act and renew our hearts and minds. Otherwise, we will later regret our inaction and passivity.
We pray that God will grant us wisdom to understand His will for our life—for now, and for beyond the lockdown and the pandemic. May all glory be to our Lord Jesus Christ!
 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
 Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 “Kairos,” Merriam-Webster, accessed July 22, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kairos.