Furnishing Our Hearts and Minds
A living faith, however, compels us to challenge the behaviors, habits and traditions in our lives to ensure they serve us in our service to God, Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do you have a family heirloom that you cherish? If you do, picture it in your mind and consider what makes it significant to you. What is this item’s rich history? Maybe it’s that classic design you just don’t see anymore? Perhaps it just reminds you of someone you love? Whatever makes it important to you, I’m sure you can appreciate its place in your life.
A few years ago, I inherited two pieces of antique furniture from my dad after he died. Both needed substantial work to restore them to their former beauty. After a lot of thought, I have decided to keep and restore one but sell the other. As you read on, see if you can figure out which I plan to keep and which I plan to sell.
One piece is a hand-carved solid wood sofa made in France in the late 1700s. It’s been in my family for over 200 years, having made the voyage with them across the Atlantic. This sofa was sacred to my dad because of the family history associated with it. As a kid I wasn’t allowed to sit on it or even touch it. All I could do was admire it from a distance.
The other piece is a solid wood secretary bookshelf with a dropdown desk. It was made in the early 1900s and belonged to my great grandfather in New Jersey. My dad loved this piece also because it belonged to someone that he looked up to all his life. When I was younger, my dad let me use it so I could study. I learned about all the secret compartments for storage and hid keepsakes in it throughout the years.
Which one do you think I kept? The French sofa or the secretary desk?
If you guessed the desk, you were right. While the French sofa is steeped in history and old-world craftsmanship worked into its frame, it isn’t very practical. I don’t dare to sit on it because of how old it is. It just takes up space in my house, never to be used or loved. I only kept it out of obligation to honor my dad, not out of appreciation or an intent to use it.
On the other hand, I had a lot of interaction with the desk early on, knowing it would someday be mine. I got to choose what I kept in its compartments and how I used it. Though it was handed down to me over several generations, I learned to appreciate its utility for myself and make it my own. When it came time for me to decide what I would refinish, it was an easy choice to pick the desk.
I wasn’t worried about restoring it to how it looked 100 years ago. I had a personal investment in keeping this desk in good condition for my own enjoyment. Although I agonized over my inheritance of furniture, my real struggle was with inheritance of tradition. Whether you’ve had experience with treasured keepsakes or not, you’ve likely encountered pressure to uphold tradition. It can feel stifling to carry on tradition, especially when the answer to “Why should I do this?” is “Because we’ve always done it this way.”
What makes a tradition good or bad?
While that answer is sadly common, it is also dangerous because it can cause people to be skeptical of all traditions—good and bad. People in the Bible were no strangers to tradition and often felt the same pressures you and I do about upholding them. Just like today, they had dealings with good and bad traditions. Listen to what Jesus told the Pharisees about one of their traditions in Mark 7:9-13:
In that tradition, Pharisees used a feature of the Law of Moses to bypass God’s command to care for their parents for their own selfish gain. Contrast that with healthy traditions, like Daniel’s devotion to daily prayer found in Daniel 6, where he opened a window facing Jerusalem to pray three times per day.
This raises a critical question for us: what makes a tradition good or bad?
To determine this, we need to understand what traditions are and what their role in our lives should be. Traditions don’t just come into being. They start as individual behaviors driven by thoughts and feelings. When these behaviors are repeated over time, they become habits. If a single person’s habits are influential enough to be picked up by a group of people, they become customs. Once a custom is passed down from one generation to the next, it finally becomes tradition.
Because traditions eventually become reflexive behaviors due to repetition, it’s important to ask ourselves: what motivates these behaviors? Is it to help us follow the Lord’s commandments, or is it to satisfy our desire to feel righteous? The Lord raised this very point about Sabbath when He told the Pharisees in Mark 2:27:
God did not create mankind to uphold the laws of Sabbath rest, but rather created the Sabbath Day after creating humanity, as a tool to help us understand the need to rest from works of the flesh. While traditions can help us follow God’s commandments, they shouldn’t take the place of God’s commandments. This brings me back to the example of the antiques my dad left me.
By examining the function of each piece of furniture in my life, I decided to take a 200-year-old tradition and figure out if it was serving me or if I was serving it. Following traditions without questioning their utility in our lives will lead to a weakened faith.
A living faith, however, compels us to challenge the behaviors, habits and traditions in our lives to ensure they serve us in our service to God, Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This might be why the Apostle Paul wrote these words in Romans 12:1-2:
Bear in mind that, just as I plan to keep one furniture piece and sell the other, you may find some traditions still help you. Not only that, you and another follower of Christ may look at the same tradition and derive different levels of benefit. Suits and ties in worship are a common example—one person may see them as a financial burden that causes partiality in the household of faith while another person might see putting on a suit and tie as helpful in preparing their mind for worship.
As we all deal with the extra-Biblical traditions in our society, we need to show each other compassion. We all come from different backgrounds and are at different stages in life. For you, a tradition might be a weight that helps you build strength. For someone else, that same tradition might be a ball and chain that keeps them from running altogether.
Whatever the case may be, keep your eyes on the prize. You are running toward God’s Kingdom, and you need to focus to serve that end. The traditions you uphold will either help you toward that goal or need to be cast aside so that you might keep running. To conclude, we’ll consider the thoughts of Hebrews 12:1-2:
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1 All Scriptural references are from the English Standard Version.