June 25, 2013

"The ancient paths"

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.’” Jeremiah 6.16

It seems to me that those words of God, originally spoken through Jeremiah to God’s Old Testament people, are as apropos today as ever. How readily we either forget (or simply reject) “the ancient paths;” the biblical truths and godly habits that made the great men and women of old what they were!

Sadly, as in Jeremiah’s day, it may often be that we simply want things our way, and don’t really care about what God says. But maybe, too – in this modern culture of ours, with all its technological advances and corresponding bustle – we assume that contemporary living precludes (or even makes obsolete, impractical, or frankly burdensome) the more methodical rhythms of life that Christians, not so long ago, found to be the very life-breath of their faith. How obvious it sometimes seems that, in this rapidly moving culture of ours, we have to live in the fast lane, and not in the well-worn footpaths of our great grandparents. But it is not that simple, is it? If we’ll slow down just a bit, we will often find that “the good way” is to be found on “the ancient paths” – in the same truths and habits that godly people have practiced for centuries, but which have fallen out of fashion in our own fast-paced day. Let me mention three of those “ancient paths” that I earnestly desire to see Christians walking on, once again:

1. Family worship. I wonder how many adult Christians, reading these words, grew up with the daily routine of sitting down together as a family to read the Scriptures, to sing praises to God, and to pray together with mom and dad. Maybe more than I think. But I’d suspect far fewer than I’d like to think. We grew up watching TV as a family, perhaps playing games together, and maybe even eating dinner together (as rare as that may sound today!). And there may well have been health in those things (especially the games and the dinner!). But “the ancient paths” – the godly examples of generations gone by – tell us that there is a peculiar blessing in father and mother leading the family in devotions together, day by day by day. Here is where children became strong in the Lord, in times of old – not simply in a once a week Bible class (helpful as those are), but under the consistent tutelage of mother and father, each night, at home! This is “Where the good way is.” So turn off the TV, put down the video game controller, and “walk in it.” Stepping back in time may mean great leaps forward in faith!

2. The psalms. We may, today, think of many of our hymns as “ancient.” But before hymns became the order of the day (and long before the era of CCM!), Christians were in the habit of singing the psalms – rendered in rhymed, metered verse. And, while we are surely enriched by theologically robust hymns (both old and new), it seems a pity that Christian individuals, families, and churches are often so unacquainted with the psalms, set to music and sung as heart cries to God! So often, as we have said in recent weeks, the psalms put to voice exactly what we were feeling, but hadn’t the words to say – especially when we are struggling. Some hymns do the same, but probably not as many … and rarely, if ever, as powerfully as the inspired psalms. Christians of old had them readily at their disposal, as divinely given aids to prayer and praise. We should, too! So pick up a psalter at your Christian bookstore (or find a free version online) and return to “the ancient paths, Where the good way is.”

3. The Sabbath. How does a modern Christian have time for all these old-time habits? Isn’t there a reason why these things have fallen out of contemporary practice – namely that modern life is incredibly busy and full? Well, yes! That’s exactly part of our problem! So one solution is that we ought to carefully consider our schedules – our extra-curriculars, our overtime, and so on – to see if maybe we’re just a teensy bit overbooked! But you know, the Christians of old were busy, too – what with milking the cows in the morning, and the ploughing the fields until dark, and all the added time that it took to wash clothes, and cook meals, and so on! In fact, though I have no way to prove it, I suspect that the average person two and three hundred years ago was far busier than we are today (if we count busyness in terms of real, productive work). And yet they had time for their souls!

How so? Partly because, unlike many modern Christians … they actually took seriously (and delighted in!) the fourth commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” There was a time when it would have been unthinkable for a serious Christian to spend his Sunday pulling in overtime, or mowing his lawn, or sitting at the ballpark, or getting the shopping done, or raiding the smorgasbord! Not because any of those things are bad, in and of themselves … but because there is a full complement of six days on which to do them; and because, on this one day, we have far more delightful engagements to attend to! What a blessing we should consider it to have a whole day free of errands, free of appointments, free of have-to’s, free of pressing studies, and free of the other days’ work! We pay big bucks to get those kinds of freedoms at the resort! But every week God is offering us a day of freedom from secular affairs – completely set aside to rest our bodies and feed our souls. It’s not a very modern thing to do, I know. Some might even snort at our “ancient” ways of thinking. But if Jeremiah 6.16 is right (and of course it is!) then it is in just such “ancient paths” that we will find “the good way.”

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