Yesterday, a friend shared a verse with me that really made me think. It was from Jeremiah. The Old Testament book of Jeremiah is difficult for me to read. A major focus of this book is to proclaim God’s judgement against his people for their decision to forsake him and to pursue other gods and worthless idols. Even in the midst of this judgement, God repeatedly calls his people to repentance and to a renewed relationship with him.
For example, in Jeremiah 6:16 (ESV) the Lord says:
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.
In fact, throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are many examples of God calling out to people and seeking a right and a close relationship with them. 1 Timothy 2:4 reminds us that God’s desire is that everyone come to a knowledge of the truth and thus find eternal life. And yet, many reject God’s offer. As an example, here is the full quote of Jeremiah 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.’
Did you catch the last sentence? Even as God holds out his hand and offers forgiveness to those who chose to forsake him, they again reject his offer. They chose instead to go their own way. This may have seemed good at the moment, and yet history tells us that they suffered greatly for their choice.
The amazing thing is that God’s offer of closeness and rest still stands today. Some 2,600 years after Jeremiah walked the earth, we have the opportunity to draw near to God through Jesus. In Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Jesus says:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Both the Jeremiah and the Matthew verse, written centuries apart, tell us how to find salivation, and how to find rest for our souls. The ancient paths are still open, and we can walk in them today by choosing to follow Jesus. The ancient path to God is well worn, and has never failed anyone who chose to follow it. And yet, like those who rejected God so many years ago, many today reject him as they choose to follow their own way.
Jesus reminds us in John 14:6 that following him is the only path to God the Father. Only through Jesus can we receive forgiveness and eventually spend eternity with God. This is the ancient path, and it leads to a glorious end. But what about life on the path until we reach the end?
Jesus was very clear in his teaching. He mentioned time and again that those who follow him will have trouble in this world. For example, John 16:33 (NIV) states:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Yes, walking on the good road, choosing to take the ancient path, daring to be a Christ follower in a world that loves darkness is costly. And yet, as Jesus said in this verse, in the midst of trouble Christ followers can know peace. In fact, as we follow Jesus and learn to listen to the guidance of God’s word and the Holy Spirit, we can live in what’s known in Scripture as the fruit of the Spirit. Consider Galatians 5:22-23a (ESV):
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
I’m not sure about you, but I want this fruit in my life and in the lives of those I love. These are the result of walking the ancient paths with Jesus. As individuals and societies around the world forsake God and take their own way, the result is evident. Many people today live with anxiety, hatred, anger, and have little or no hope.
So what about us? As we stand at the roads an look, will we choose the ancient paths, the good way, and walk in it? Will we come to Jesus and find rest for our souls? The offer is there for each one of us. We can receive it and know the fruit of the Spirit, or we can reject it and go our own way.
Even though the offer is there for all to consider, it seems that relatively few will choose to draw near to God through Jesus. In Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV) we are encouraged to buck the trend:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jeremiah is sometimes called the Weeping Prophet. I suspect this is due in part to the fact that those who heard him rejected God’s offer. Let’s do all we can to encourage one another to be among the few who choose Jesus. Let’s pray for those we love and all others to do the same. We can’t make decisions for others, yet we can follow Christ and live out the Fruit of the Spirit in hopes that others will want the peace and joy we find in Christ as we walk with him on the well-worn ancient paths.