Dr. Arnold Cook




Dr. Arnold L. Cook

I dutifully had my annual full physical exam since age 50.  Each time I was encouraged by my low cholesterol report.  I exercised weekly with a vigorous one hour’s workout on the tennis court, year round.  Then I added golf in the summer and hockey in the winter. Since official retirement 2000 I have cut back my schedule twice. Retirement in 2000 from C&MA Canada, then again in 2004 from AWF.  I ate and slept well.  I had just come off a wonderful (albeit a very busy ten days of ministry in Regina)—a most enjoyable trip down memory lane in the Queen City—where we started training for ministry 52 years ago.  I arrived home and proudly announced to my wife, that I had cleared my schedule and was dedicating the week to her and our daughter’s wedding on October 28th

Wednesday I awakened at 1:00 a.m. with heavy chest pains.  My first impulse was—it’s a bad dream. But it continued in real life after I awakened.  I often wondered how seriously I needed to take chest pains, which can have multiple causes.  This one left me with no doubt—I needed to get to emergency quickly 15 minutes away. Our son Tim had just arrived from Edmonton for Beth Ann’s wedding.  He and Mary-Lou whisked me down to the local hospital.  All of my life was about to take an unexpected turn.

In the following days I shared with my cardiologist, an Orthodox Jew, the words of Psalm 90:10:  “The length of our days is seventy years. . . “.  Making the point that at 74 years of age, I was really living on borrowed time.  To which he vigorously retorted:  “Oh no, in our fellowship we’re studying the book of Genesis where people lived much longer. We’re trying to discover why.”  This man became my key advocate for getting me a five hour pass from our local hospital, just before surgery, to attend Beth Ann’s wedding and walk her down the aisle. This was very special for me.

In the same Psalm the writer urges us:  “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  As Evangelicals we have been schooled well that “salvation is the gift of eternal life.” In recent years within current evangelical Christianity we have snatched the phrase out of Ephesians 5:16 “redeeming the time” KJ); (“making the most of every opportunity” NIV),  “for the days are evil” KJ.  We have made it our golden text for promoting efficiency and excellence as core church values.  

Those of us who have worked cross-culturally in non Western countries have discovered a radically different concept of time.  In the West it’s all about “punctuality and production.”  But in non-Western cultures the focus is on relationships and events. In his helpful little book: “The Gift of Time” William T. McConnell recalls his first experience in Brazil at a gala dinner announced for 6:00 p.m. sharp.  He recalls it was now seven o’clock and no one seemed up tight.  In fact the speaker was still at home ministering to a needy unexpected guest.  Someone graciously spoke in his place. Eventually they ate their cold meal greatly enjoying the fellowship and the relationships of the event. Welcome to Latin America!

The New Testament uses primarily two common Greek words for time:  “chronos” and “kairos.”  How do they differ?  1) “Chronos” refers to chronological, everyday events that we undisparagingly call “clock time.” E.g.  The special occurrences, or seasons, in the life of a person or of our nation  . . .”.  (2) “Kairos, on the other hand, indicates more the idea of ‘right time, or opportunity,’ such as the ‘time for figs’ (Mk. 11:13)” (McConnell p. 63).  Jesus said in John 7:6 “My time is not yet come.” Compare with His statement in Mk.1:15:  “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.”

In the past year I have lost two very close colleagues who passed away at 70 years of age. One struggled long and valiantly with cancer.  The other went suddenly with a massive stroke—no time for farewells.  And I have been given a “wake up call.”  This is cause for great pause.  Why the extra time?  How “must I now live?” What am I learning?

1.         My first conclusion is: “I must shift from my penchant to focus on “chronos” time (i.e. a full day timer), to a refocusing on “kairos” understanding of time—those divine appointments.  I confessed to feeling good with a full schedule.  I enjoyed the challenge of squeezing one more appointment into a day, one more breakfast with someone else in the same restaurant.   I was a strong advocate of the “early morning hour”. I considered myself a master at “using my time twice or thrice.”    

2.         I discovered that accepting the “kairos” opportunities for ministries often lead to effective yet stressful ministries.  I look back at the ministries that were “high stress” involving responsibilities for people. Many of those could have been avoided if I had simply turned down the opportunities of moving to new ministries.  I could have stayed in Colombia and not have gone back to study, or accepted the invitations of Argentina and Peru for ministries.  Yet especially the three years in Lima, Peru were indeed a “kairos opportunity”—as we say in Spanish “un capitulo aparte” (a very special chapter). 

3.         The answer must be found in the wise blending of “chronological and kairos times” without rejecting either one.  But rather in learning how to marry a wise schedule with sufficient times of rest, quietness, reflections and times alone with God yet ready to respond to those “kairos opportunities.”  We’re reminded by a very hard working and busy Apostle Paul that we need to “labour and struggle with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me“(Col. 1:29). Then the minor prophet’s reminder that it is “not by might nor by power, but it’s by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). We used to see this quote from Zechariah frequently on the walls of our sanctuaries.

I’ve a question John Wesley in heaven about this matter of tyranny of time this statement he made:  “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake more work that I can go through with calmness of spirit” (McConnell p.105). This is the man who arose at 4:00 a.m., preached multiple times daily and died at age 84. Maybe traveling by horseback was less stressful than driving in urban traffic and flying around the world in planes?