Choosing to Walk the Ancient Paths

by Kristen Hartman

April 7, 2021


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)

Stand and look.


Walk and find rest.

They seem like straightforward commands with a beautiful promise.

Stand by the roads—by the place of movement—and observe. Take in.

Then ask for the ancient paths, the good way. Don’t ask for short cuts. Don’t ask to be at the destination or for upfront, turn-by-turn directions. Simply ask to be pointed in the right and good direction.

But then it gets harder because asking isn’t enough. Stepping away from the wide road onto the narrow, ancient path isn’t enough either. Knowing which way is the good way and facing that direction means nothing without placing one foot in front of the other, over and over. “Walk in it” implies more than a step or two. It’s a call to ongoing action in the midst of countless unknowns.

And the confirming sign—the soul rest—comes after the act of faith. It’s in the walking of the ancient paths that rest will be found. The details are vague, though the promise is clear, and I feel tension rising inside me because this is not the way I like it. I like lots of details and a clear promise.

Maybe the original audience did, too. They were blunt in their response. “We will not walk in it.”

They didn’t say, “we won’t stand and look.” And they didn’t say, “we won’t ask.” Maybe they followed those initial directions. Maybe they stopped, stood by the roads, looked and asked for the ancient paths. But they didn’t walk in them. They didn’t even pretend to. They told God no—flat out, unequivocal, no question about their decision—“We will not walk in it.”

When I was in Israel, our guide pointed out little lines crisscrossing the hills and desert. Foot paths. Worn into the landscape by centuries of sheep and shepherds and travelers. Still just as reliable as they were two or three thousand years ago.

Staring at a series of hills, I could maybe see how sheep could keep their balance on those paths—what with their low center of gravity and all—but people? It seemed absurd and unnecessarily risky.

As if on cue, some young shepherds and sheep and a donkey came into view trekking along that very path. That ancient path. That good way. They were walking in it.

Yet my response was like the people of Jerusalem. I saw the path, and I said no. I stayed on the wide, paved highway (in an air-conditioned bus).

I looked at the narrow, established, challenging, slow way and found it less direct, less impressive, less comfortable and less desirable. But it was the ancient path. It was the tested and proven way. And I saw it as less valuable than the convenient, efficient option that required little more than passive compliance from me.

And I realize I’m willing to try what doesn’t cost me much. I’m good with the stopping, the looking, the asking—and I want the rest for my soul—but that’s partial obedience . . . or, if I’m honest, it’s disobedience.

My heart mirrors the hearts of the people God spoke to through Jeremiah. My comfortable, me-centered, latest-and-greatest, faddish religious practices are more similar to theirs than to the ancient paths God called them to and still calls me to.

But it’s not too late for me. With an image of worn footpaths in mind, and the knowledge that a great cloud of faithful witnesses has already walked this way, I’m trying again.

I’m standing and looking.

I’m asking for the ancient paths.

I am ready to walk in them. One unhurried step at a time. Unsure what’s around the next curve. A little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable. But trusting the One who calls will guide me.

And in the walking, He will provide rest for my soul.

Kristen prefers to walk with an eye on the birds and has had lots of time for walks and seeing new birds in the past year.