Show Us The Ancient Paths


Ancient pathways

By Tom Inglis

Lord we confess that we have wandered
Far from Your purpose and plan
And willingly walked in the wrong direction
We’ve disobeyed Your commands
Father forgive us, Spirit come lead us
Back to the way
Back to the truth
Back to the foot of the cross

chorus Show us the ancient paths
Lead us along eternal highways
We want to walk in the ways of Jesus
We want to enter Your rest
Show us the ancient paths
Lead us along eternal highways
We want to follow the footsteps of Jesus
We want to enter Your rest

Lord it’s Your mercy and good intention
That constantly calls us to You
Your infinite patience and kind correction
Your covenant love coming through
You are our hope and our salvation
You promise joy
Your give us grace
And courage to carry the cross

(repeat chorus)

We want to leave a clear set of footprints
For those who will follow behind
Signposts in our lives that point to Jesus
A pathway they’ll easily find
We want to fill up the sufferings of Jesus
As we obey our lives display the glorious way of the cross

(repeat chorus)

Lead us along
We want to follow
We want to enter your rest
Show us the ancient paths
Lead us along eternal highways
We want to follow the footsteps of Jesus
We want to follow the footsteps of Jesus
We want to follow the footsteps of Jesus
We want to enter Your rest

There are many ways to interpret the developments in Zambia today. Yester year was a year of Jubilee in our land. We lost  another president (second sitting president to die in office), elected another not so well president and shortly after elections he falls sick. Our nation has meanwhile been so slow in enacting a new constitution that can resolve this entire hullabaloo once and for all. When you look around the nation, you are daunted with the gravity of poverty and deprivation that is still rampant in this time and age when all our neighbors speak a different language of livelihood. What can one say about all this?

We have known some good times in the past before. My thought goes back to the time when Chiluba declared Zambia as a Christian nation. How happy we were and proud to have that opening in the preamble of our constitution. But , did we go further to ensure that godliness was a virtue for the nation? Did we just become a Christian nation in name only? Or did we even bring a curse upon ourselves by evoking the name of the mighty one? Where are the biblical principles to guide us, and where is the dependence on the Holy Spirit to protect us from evil attacks. Will we keep on wallowing in these mysteries forever?

Many times, God’s people feel lost in a rapidly changing world, trusting all the wrong things and but his prophet Jeremiah invites them to seek the ‘ancient paths’. In fact, it was also the advice that God gave to the children of Israel many centuries ago in Jere. 6:16: Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jer 6:16. My take is this. Zambia needs to Stand by the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for national souls.

One of the principles I have learned over the years is that you should never forget the basics. And I will say it again, if you get away from the basics, you will always run into trouble. And when you do you must go back to the basics to get back on track.

In this verse, we are given the image of a traveler who comes to a fork in the road.He has the opportunity to go anyway he desires, the choice is totally up to him. But God speaks up and tells him to ask for the “old paths, where is the good way.” So he is now presented with a choice: 1) Does he allow pride to take over and just blindly travel on because, after all, “I know the way!” 2) Or does he stop and ask for directions?

This is what Jeremiah spoke of during his turbulent times that were political and economic. There are hot spots on the planet where nations flex their muscles; and God’s people are having a crisis of confidence and identity. This could describe our day as much as Jeremiah’s. God’s restless prophet speaks as clearly to our situation as he did to that of his people then; and his word to us is as uncomfortable as it was to Judah caught between the rock of Babylon and the hard place of Egypt. How will they and how do we choose?

The short of it all is this, When we find ourselves in a hole, the sensible thing to do is to stop digging. We need to take stock of where we are and what the best way is to get out of the situation we’re in. This is Jeremiah’s message to his wayward people. They need to stop and take stock of where they are and then seek the ancient paths — the Law God gave them — that will lead them in the way of peace and justice. But what will they say?

Jeremiah lived in turbulent times and the book that bears his name reflects this. It’s a political text more than a religious one, expressing trenchant views on the foreign policy choices and economic decisions of Judah’s kings. It made Jeremiah unpopular among his contemporaries; he was frequently shunned and in the end he was arrested — being freed only by Judah’s enemies! It is also a deeply personal text. I hope I do not end up the Jeremiah way in that dry well.

Of all God’s prophets, Jeremiah is the one whose heart is most revealed in his writings; he is troubled by doubt, vents his anger at God, struggles to square his call with his feelings about the land he loved. For this reason he is a wonderful companion for us as we navigate troubled times and our own doubts and uncertainties. He shows us a God of grace who calls us to a life of obedience, a life that might set us apart from our neighbors and work colleagues, even our families; a life that will be hard and dark at times but a life that will also lead us deeper into the arms of God.

We know a good deal about Jeremiah: he was born to a priestly family in Anathoth, 5km north east of Jerusalem, at the end of Manasseh’s reign (though he himself might never have served as a priest). He was called to be a prophet in 627BC (1:2) some 16 – 18 years later and his public life probably ended pretty soon after the final fall of Jerusalem in 587BC (see chapters 43 – 44).

He lived through the reforms of Josiah, based on Deuteronomy, the scroll of which was discovered in the temple or written by temple scribes early in the young king’s reign. It had a profound effect on Jeremiah. His book is not written in chronological order, it flits from episode to episode tracing themes rather than following a narrative. This is partly because Jeremiah’s ministry came in fits and starts; he was probably not very active in the period of Josiah as he waited to see if the king’s reforms would have the effect he hoped.

The account that we have of his mission was probably compiled after his death (most likely in Egypt) by his faithful scribe, Baruch. In common with Israel’s other writing prophets, Jeremiah was not as concerned with future events as with the consequences of the present behavior of God’s people, in the light of his past word, especially in the Law of Moses. So, Jeremiah holds up the plumb line of God’s Law and asks his people to measure themselves against it; and to judge whether or not God will hold them to account for their failure to be the people he has called them to be.  Hence beginning our reading of this wonderful book with 6:16, where Jeremiah calls for the people to take stock and seek again the ancient paths laid out in God’s revelation to Moses on Sinai.

The prophet writes at a time of crisis for the land and the temple; and we read his words in a similar but different time. In our cluttered lives, we face difficult decisions; trouble looms in our families, the economy or among the nations; and personally, we feel that we are chasing our tails, not progressing in our spiritual lives. We long for a word from God; what does he say?

1) At Haut (Stand Still)

Stop moving, says the prophet. The crisis in Judah is of impending attack and you cannot stop it (6:4 – 6) which suggests we that we should run and get out of harm’s way or join the battle. Do not disturb the wrath of God as it comes with force. Josiah did that and died! As in Ps 46:10 (literally ‘stop fighting’), so here God says stop doing it your way. People of God, let us stop trying to resolve our problems our own ways which are carnal, but leave it to God. Do it the God way.

2) Look

There are at least three ways to go at crossroads. So, we need to stop and:

  1. Focus: everything’s a blur when we are moving all the time; only by stopping will we get the lie of the land.
  2. Form an opinion: not all ways are equal. Stopping helps us see things as they really are so we can assess which way is best.

3) Ask

We can’t do this alone, however; we need to ask those who’ve walked this way before which route we should take out of our current predicament. God says ask for the ‘ancient paths’; this is not about hankering for the ‘good old days’, but looking for what has been:

  • A tried & tested Path: we need a way of living that’s stood the test of time; many lives have been well lived this way; many crises survived by going on this path. It’s been proved ‘good’.
  • A path taken with others: we don’t make up the way forward in the light of the latest fad; it is something we share with those going with us now: it is a path taken in community, not just now but over the centuries.

4) Walk

Having found it, we take it; having stopped to ensure we can see which way is up, we walk along that path. This is discipleship; it’s the way of life Jesus calls us to:

  • John 14:6: here Jesus tells us how to live our whole Christian life, not just how to start it: he is our model
  • Galatians 2:20: Paul reminds us that the cross isn’t just how we begin but how we live day by day — allowing the Son of God to live through us
  • Philippians 3:10 – 12: both knowing our Lord and pressing on to know him by walking the way he calls us to.

5) Rest

In the midst of war, national crisis and personal turmoil — even in a time of impending judgment — God offers us a way of peace and rest:

(i) grace in action – we don’t deserve this choice, but God offers it to us;

  1. ii) God worth knowing: life might be tough, at times it might not make sense, and yet God comes to us and says ’take a chance on me’; he invites us to follow him in the turmoil and find rest — just as Jesus said we would in his call in Matthew 11:28 – 30

But Judah says ‘no; we’ll not do any of this’. It believed it would get out of this mess on its own, trusting its ability to form alliances, use its military might, it native wit, whatever, to stay afloat. And so with tears in his voice that Jeremiah says his words will become obstacles; God will move from being a stepping stone to being a stumbling block (v21). If they choose badly, they will perish.

And what’ll we say?

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