Streets filled with buses and taxis, people strolling along the crowded sidewalks, the colliding smells of wet brick, cigarette smoke, and a restaurant every now and then, the grandeur of thousand year old churches with towers that reach and point up into the sky as if to silently declare who they were made for; each embedded into my memory of Oxford, England. This April I got to experience the trip of a lifetime; a writing and history retreat in Oxford with a small group of Christ-serving writers.
Many things have spun my mind as I attempt to regain my footing at home from the trip to Oxford. One of those things that has been on my mind especially is what my Sunday school teacher said he would ask his each of daughters after a journey far from home. He would ask them, “What do you think God accomplished through your time away from home?” He got me asking myself that question. What did God accomplish through my time in Oxford? What has influenced me that I can share with others? The list has been slowly growing in my mind but there is one topic that jumps out at me to share here: change. As I walked down the streets of Oxford, gazing at the many towering buildings and marveling at the varying ages of the structures around me, I began to consider for the first time ever, the effects of change.
The Beauty in Change
Change can be a very beautiful thing. Time wears down the pristine to an appealing rustic that makes one wonder about the adventures it’s gone through and the things it’s seen. “If only these walls could talk,” the common phrase goes. Picture an old, Oxford church for example; imagine if that had a voice. It could speak of the designer’s wit, the builder’s dedication, the brilliant combination of God’s provided materials that make it up, the voices of the choir, the laughs of the many children, the sermons of the ministers, and the times the bell ringer would climb its tower, ringing its bell to toll out signals to all of the town. Over the years it would see much change and innovation, representing the beautiful growth and cultivation of its parish to make it more a place of accessibility and consolation as opposed to making it merely modern.
The Dangers in Change
Some kinds of change, however, can be dangerous. Our culture seems obsessed with change, for no other reason than to glorify change itself. We spend so much time caught up in changing ourselves and the way we look, act, or seem to others that we lose sight of the beauty in change. By bending over backwards in order to stay with the times and current trends, we slip into unhappiness and feel incomplete.
As I have been thinking over the differences between good changes and bad changes, there is one common source I’ve seen. It all comes down to the motivation behind the change. There is God-glorifying motivation and there is man-glorifying motivation. God-glorifying change elevates Him up over humanity and betters the object of change and the society, while man-glorifying change puts us in the forefront and leads to discontentment. As glorifying God becomes my primary motivation for the changes I make, my changes will be permanent, useful, focused on growing my identity in Christ, and finding security in His arms. Those changes will be full of worship and knowledge and wisdom gained through seeking Him.
When I put man first, I end up chasing an identity that is counterfeit, which leads to insecurities about myself. I make myself an idol along with the opinions of those around me and the objects and experiences that I think will make me happy. I live in willful ignorance, an aimless life full of discontentment.
Let’s go back to that thousand year old church in Oxford. Has it caught up with the times by now? Has it been distorted by man glorifying motivation? Down its columns can be spotted slim, sandstone-colored speakers. Its floors are lined with heating vents for those chilly England mornings, and its pews are furnished with cushions embroidered by an expert’s hand. When all the modern fashions and trends are enveloping the world and constantly changing, the old church keeps up with the comforts and accessibilities of the time without losing its history or foundation. The roots of the church were never forgotten or changed through man’s motivation, but merely appreciated by a new generation with added innovations to keep it practical but true to its original purpose and identity.
“We judge things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences.”
― John Newton, Letters of John Newton
When man-glorifying change is our goal, we forget history to move into new and appealing changes, changes that are meant to benefit us in the present and in the future. Modern mindsets say that the past is irrelevant and that progress demands we forget it. But is that really the right mindset to have when everything we are now is dependent on knowledge of the past? We have to learn from our history and past mistakes to be mature and ready to handle both challenges and opportunities that are presented to us in the future.
Winston Churchill said, “Those who who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Take that saying in comparison to Mark Twain’s words, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Whether you believe that it repeats or rhymes, the truth can be seen. If we pretend that history doesn’t matter and ignore everything that has given us moral standards and sound perspective, then we are condemned to fall back into patterns of past mistakes.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:9
God is faithful in giving us reminders of what is truly important. France recently had their own reminder, a chilling reawakening. The Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames; history burned before all our eyes, bringing terror and grief. One positive note in that dreadful event was that roaring fire spread not only through this sacred monument to faith but into the hearts of those in France, bringing them together in a sobering remembrance to sing, pray, and worship the Lord.
The history contained in Notre-Dame cried out for the people to return to their God, and the people heard it.
“Let us chide our cold unfeeling hearts and pray for a coal of fire from the heavenly altar
to send us home in a flame of love to Him who has thus loved us.”
― John Newton
“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.”
~ William Cowper
From these reflections I have concluded that the best way to preserve history is to take time to learn it, cherish it, and value it as a foundation. To gain knowledge but, more importantly, to ask God to make that knowledge into wisdom.
We have a God who is stays the same through the trends, the times, and our fickle hearts. I do not have to fear the future or feel the need to rewrite history. All He asks of me is that I believe and trust in Him and that I give him the glory in the space He has gifted me to fill. I pray that this encourages you through today’s changes and tomorrow’s uncertainties, and that you are able to cherish the past in a new and beautiful way.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
~ Romans 15:4
“For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?”
~ Job 8:8-10
“Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
The images in this post are made by Sadie Miller and used with permission for The Cultivating Project.
Sadie Irene Miller is a young writer finishing high school. She is a proud homeschooler and the oldest daughter of five children. Hanging out with family and friends, playing sports, and writing are some of her favorite pastimes. She is also the co-creator of a small writing group in her area. Her goal is to reach others with the love of Christ through her writing and her example.