Ask for the Ancient Paths
Hipster (n.) - a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.
Whether you're familiar with this term or not, it's not hard to see its application to Paul's audience in Acts 17:19-21. In Athens, an epicenter of Greek culture and society, he's led to the Areopagus on Mars Hill, a battlefield of thoughts and ideas. For the audience, intellectual value was weighed by one critical factor: novelty. "We want something NEW!" They devoted their days to concocting and evaluating new ideas and philosophies, and they were intrigued by the radical claims of this messenger from Syria that a man--not just that, a "god"--had been resurrected from the dead.
While Paul's sermon might have sounded new to these Gentile ears, the idea was not a new one: it was in fact prophecied and teased through God-inspired revelation since the origin of humanity (Genesis 3:15) and throughout time up until Paul's present day. The supposed packaging of "newness" gave Paul an in with this group to preach the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ.
The people of Athens reflect the world of today with uncanny accuracy. Our culture fauns over innovation and breakthroughs; we are enamored with the latest trends, technology and developments of our day. And while these things are by no means evil or corrosive to the human soul in and of themselves, they can easily blind our hearts to the enduring truths that stand the test of time.
Solomon noted in his God-given wisdom that nothing is truly "new," even back in his day (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). For instance, certainly an iPhone might be relatively new; but the idea of communication, both the value and the challenges therein, are always the same. When we read the word "new" and automatically think "good," we set ourselves up for disaster.
That's where we find the prophet Jeremiah during his campaign to proclaim Jehovah's message to a rebellious and wayward Judah. The people kept superficial traditions for appearances while conforming to the new evils of the world around them: they engaged in idolatry, worshiping other gods, other ideas, even themselves while falling into a false sense of security. They had even forgotten how to blush, so far had they drifted from their first love!
But progress is always good... right?
In the midst of laying out the punishment God had in store for this disregard, Jeremiah shares God's solution to the problem (Jeremiah 6:15-19):
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.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
You've wandered far from My will, says God. The way to fix it? Return to the way I've shown you! While Jeremiah's audience refused to walk in this path, the message offers several practical reminders for us today:
Picking a Path. God instructs mankind to stand by the ways (plural) in order to find the good way (singular). True love demands choice: God has given me freewill to determine for myself what kind of life I'm going to live. While the new paths seem appealing and advantageous to make me comfortable, powerful, meaningful or relevant, it is the ancient paths, that single Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4) that give my life its truest purpose (John 10:10).
Just Ask. How can we know which paths lead to eternal life, an abundant life? We must question someone who is familiar with the paths! If I'm going for a hike in a new area, I always ask a park ranger or other professional for their guidance and recommendations. They have been on those paths, they know where they twist and turn and, most importantly, where they end. They even give me a map so I might recall their directions!
God sees all and knows that all those paths that diverge from Him only lead to despair and neverending heartbreak, though they may begin with glittery promises and pleasures. If we are to ask the Creator of the world which paths are the best, and what the ancient paths look like, we will read His map, His word, diligently (Proverbs 8:17, Hebrews 11:6).
Walking to Rest. Once we discover the way God would have us go, we must commit ourselves to it. Follow the signs, refer to the map every step of the way, focus on the destination and travel in a way that allows you to get where you want to go. These ancient paths may not be the easiest, but they are the best because of where they end: true rest (Matthew 11:29; Hebrews 4:9-11).
What path do you travel today? Where are your choices, attitudes and actions leading you--not just today or tomorrow, but in the end? Don't write off God's way just because it's old; the ancient paths He has paved are still relevant and good. Take the time to ask the Lord of all to show you the way He would lead you. Then open His word every day so you can hear the answer!