Christmastide came to a close yesterday with Epiphany on January 6th. We’ve all come through a busy season of ministry, family visits and celebration, and we emerge from a haze of confusion and cheese into the new year. We are supposed to be found raring to go, to embrace all that the new year holds, to start making plans, or at least bold statements about this being ‘my year!'. Gym memberships increase, alcohol dips as we encourage ‘Dry January’, and all the best intentions run riot as we start to feel the pressure once again. We’ve only just left the pressure behind after Christmas, so we could briefly hibernate and simply ‘be’ for a short while. Let’s not be too quick to succumb to it once more…..
For there is a softer, gentler invitation if we will only slow down just long enough to notice.
The world invites you to set goals to better yourself in one form or another, moving up a gear to begin producing once again. Anxiety-inducing voices all vying for our attention, often bringing some false consolation. All the while, nature around us is still at rest. No sign of spring or new life has even begun to appear. Roots still grow down deep unaffected by the Gregorian calendar and social media influencers!
What if we were to follow nature’s example a little more closely? It’s worth remembering that God has created this world to move in cycles - the tides, the moon, the seasons, circadian rhythms - and when we live close to nature, away from prefabrication and strip lights, we discover an ease and a pace that’s actually sustainable rather than back-breaking and soul-shaking. God ushered in Sabbath when He formed the world and human experience of it, gifted to us as a regular time of rest, retreat and delight in Him. I wonder what would happen if we see the hiddenness of wintering as a gift to be received with gratitude rather than a desert time to be endured and raced through? What if we rested alongside nature?
While spiritual seasons don't always correspond neatly into natural ones, we can still learn from the rhythms that our Creator God ordained for us to live close to and to steward. He is the great artist, and art reflects the heart of the one in whose hands it manifests.
Nature doesn’t try to rush each season, it simply accepts the cycle and allows the process to unfold.
And so, the gentler invitation comes through Jesus’ offer of 'unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matthew 11, The Message) and thus surrendering our own agenda and propensity to run headlong into a new year, prophesying to the greatness that will be! When you alleviate the pressure to have your plans carefully curated and your vision for the next twelve months firmly established, you find your steps ‘free and light’ and a lightness of breath in your body. You discover an ease in which you can re-emerge from the aforementioned cheese hangover. You discover permission to tread lightly and slowly, finding a pace with God that allows your soul to catch up.
Spiritual practices and rhythms all too often get a bit neglected over the festive period. To reintroduce them takes time and intentionality. So be kind to yourself. Your soul needs tender nurturing as it transitions, not a fierce military-style motivating kick up the posterior.
My encouragement is to lay aside the tendency to run ahead of God in your fervour to get started with the new year. Instead, begin 2024 by listening for the invitations. Quieten yourself, they are often heard only in whispers.
What do you hear?
God is found in the waiting. Rest a while. It’s only when you recline that you hear the heartbeat of Jesus.
Jon Timms Director: Scotland and Northern England