“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls….” Jeremiah 6:16a
Ancient trails are all around me in Appalachia.
Just a hop, skip, and jump from where I live is Boone’s Creek, named for Mr. Daniel himself who hiked around it. Among the Boone legends is the story that he hid under the creek falls to escape marauding Cherokee who were irritated with him for hunting on their lands.
Boone was well-known for blazing the Wilderness Trail through this area in 1775. From Long Island in the Holston River at Kingsport, he took a crew of 30 axmen and marched about 200 miles up into eastern Kentucky. Together, they bushwhacked a pathway for the great Western migration of European settlers through the Cumberland Gap.*
Daniel Boone was a pioneer for multiple reasons but primarily because he knew where to look for old trails. Centuries before Boone arrived, paths were carved out of the mountains by deer and bison hooves then followed by moccasined feet. This well-established network of routes meandered beside creeks and up through the lowest gaps in the mountains—usually along the easiest ways possible.
Today, many of those ancient paths are covered in asphalt or rails…it makes sense for cars, trains, and other vehicles to ride along smoothly where ridges and bumps have been leveled.
Some trails, though, are still accessible only to those with hiking boots. The well-trodden Appalachian Trail incorporates some of the ancient passageways that skirt along the tops of ridges from Georgia to Maine. But a few footpaths are just barely visible, disappearing into the underbrush or rock slides, more difficult to navigate.
My husband and I have taken some of those remote hikes, occasionally with harrowing moments…snakes, thunderstorms, yellow jackets (wasps), mama bears with cubs, sliding in mud…but always with a good tale to tell afterward.
The prophet Jeremiah warned the ancient Israelites to seek the “old paths,” referring to the original tenets of the faith—the “morally straight” ways of life illuminated by the word of God and guided by the Holy Spirit.
When God’s people stood at the crossroads, they needed to look for the trusted roads to safety laid out in God’s laws. However, where those pathways meant a rocky, steep climb, the Israelites were enticed to seek out slippery slopes that paved the way to disaster.
We face the same dilemma today. Perhaps 2021 has brought you to an intersection of decisions. Which direction will you choose? Be careful. The road to misery—perhaps well-marked with billboards promising a comfortable ride—could be deceiving.
More faintly discernible are the ageless passageways that God offers to us, asking us to step out in faith and follow Him. He has promised us that we will, indeed, encounter suffering at points. We may have to sacrifice some of the earthly burdens we hold dear for the freedom of reaching the heights that await. Like Boone, we may be chased by those who seek our harm.
O, but what adventures we will find along the way! What great testimonies and stories we will have to share with others! And God Himself is our reward. His mercy is in the heavens…His faithfulness reaches to the clouds…His righteousness is as mighty as the great mountains around us (Psalm 36:5-6).
Like a trustworthy mountain guide, God will take you on the right trail, even if it’s daunting at times. You can be assured that your arrival at His beautiful destination is safely in His hands.
Lord Jesus, Faithful Friend and Guide, lead us in the way we should go. Let Your word be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Keep us on the right road, and do not let our footsteps slip. Your ways are mercy and truth…lead us in the paths of righteousness, for Your name’s sake. In Your name, Amen.
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© Copyright 2021 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*One of Boone’s hunter buddies, William Bean, camped and settled along the Watauga River in the late 1760s. Less than 15 years later, my five-greats-grandfather bought land on Boone’s Creek from Bean. I’ve only discovered this connection in the past few years…I grew up in Mississippi and Memphis, never realizing our family had this heritage so close to my backyard now.
For a fascinating modern account of a boots-on-the-road view of Boone’s great adventure, read A Familiar Wilderness by Simon J. Dahlman (https://www.amazon.com/Familiar-Wilderness-Searching-Daniel-Boones/dp/1621904784/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dahlman+familiar+wilderness&qid=1627248691&sr=8-1)