The second day after we arrived in Auckland I had to run some errands in the city. To avoid the city traffic and parking I parked just outside the city and went the rest of the way on foot. And so it was on my return that as dark clouds rolled across the sky I found myself a good 20 minutes from the car as the first drops of rain started falling.
At first the rain was light enough for me to keep going, but as it steadily grew to a real downpour and I started getting properly drenched with no shelter in sight I was grateful to spot a large old tree to take refuge under.
It was a Moreton Bay fig tree, with wide overhanging branches full of large leaves and man-sized crevices amongst its buttressed roots to hide in. The two ladies in the largest crevice waved me over as I tentatively made my way under the umbrella-like canopy. “There’s a good spot,” said one of them, pointing me to another crevice on the side.
Having just freshly arrived from a fast-paced city state where people rarely greet or speak to strangers, fellow refugees from the rain or otherwise, I was struck by their friendliness and gratefully took up their recommendation. When their ride arrived shortly after and I moved over to their cushier spot, I marvelled from under the fig tree at God’s amazing ability to provide for His people rest and refuge – even in the most unusual of forms – in times of need.
My first sojourn under a tree might have been unexpected and brief, but it gave me a lasting glimpse into the beauty and preciousness of just lingering a little in the moment.
As our responsibilities grow and the world gets increasingly fast moving we end up running a perpetual race against the ticking clock. We always seem to be rushing to our next appointment, looking forward to the next project, phase in life, or iPhone release, keeping our eyes out for the next big thing, so much so that we forget to stay in the moment and appreciate the now.
Because our minds are constantly preoccupied with what’s next, we miss noticing people and things right in front of us.
Even our meet ups with friends run the risk of becoming a cursory rolling newsfeed of “so what’s new in your life?” and “did you hear about so and so?”, rather than simply enjoying the time together and growing the relationship through a deeper knowledge of each other.
To us who are so often chasing and rarely pausing to be fulfilled, Jesus offers: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Grace is unforced. It is not, however, slow, and neither is it unproductive.
During His time on Earth, Jesus was always at rest and He always exuded grace. He could go from resting in a boat amidst a fierce storm one moment and then calming it with a word the next when His anxious disciples woke Him. He would be on the way to healing a deathly ill child but then still have time to stop and turn to talk to a woman face to face who came from behind to touch Him and take her healing.
Jesus always knew the right thing to say and do at the right time. Grace opens our eyes to see and appreciate people and things as they are at that very moment.
There’s a Chinese saying that whatever we keep company with we will tend to become. Having kept company with the relaxed and neighbourly Kiwis for the better part of the year I found myself striking up a light conversation with a food stall seller while on a trip back home, which I think surprised me as much as it surprised her.
Keeping company with Jesus allows His grace and rest to infuse us.
So as we step into another year, let us pause to linger in the moment of the days just passed and the season that we are still presently in.
Happy New Year and a blessed 9th day of Christmas. I pray that you will have your best year yet in 2016 and get to encounter Jesus in a fresh way.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.