Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there?…the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi…Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields.—Ruth 2:5-8
People have a difficult time relating to God. I realize some have grown so disenchanted with the idea of God that they are no longer even trying, but most people have a God-sized emptiness in their life they are trying to fill, even if they don’t know it.
Two common misconceptions about God misguide us in our efforts to relate to him.
Boaz went over and said to Ruth…
This is a picture of how God approaches people.
Boaz approached Ruth. She did not introduce herself to Boaz. The rich land owner was not obligated to meet her. The needy immigrant had no right to converse with Boaz. Why did the introduction take place?
God, the Creator, owes us nothing. As needy, fallen creatures we have nothing to offer him that he needs. Why would he come to us?
Here is a secret to the inner life: We don’t find God—he moves towards us. It is called grace. The Holy One, the Almighty, the Lover of Souls—he comes to us first. We don’t approach him.
It was Boaz who noticed Ruth. It was Boaz who took the initiative to speak to Ruth. It was Boaz who freely offered Ruth what she needed. She needed grace. She needed someone to see her and care. Someone to not hold her past against her. To give her a voice. To offer her a future she did not deserve. To extend an opportunity she could not earn. God’s grace does all of that and more for us.
One of our human struggles is assuming that we deserve opportunity because we exist. Another is believing that we are entitled to blessings because we prop God up with our beliefs and morality. Ruth was doing the best she could with the strength she had. It was here that Boaz approached her.
God is still in the business of approaching people, but it is the humble, broken person who is extended grace first. God will not waste the opportunities grace offers on those looking to make bargains. He does not extend the future grace provides to those who feel entitled to it. God gives proud skeptics a cold shoulder, but if we are down on our luck, he is right there to help.*
Quit trying to bargain with God. Stop attempting to believe him into blessing you. Be you. Work with what you have. Humble yourself. Wait. He will approach you and extend grace.
I Need a Miracle by Third Day is a song that reminds me I need God’s grace. May it do the same for you.
* Proverbs 3:34 from The Message
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing…, whose name was Boaz…So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. —Ruth 2:1, 8
Our world is tribal. We like to think we are global, accepting one another, and moving towards a common unity, but watch the news. Our world is broken and we can find many of the fractures around the tribes vying for our allegiance. Political parties, the issue of racial inequality, educational groups, financial status’, ethnic heritages, and generational descriptions are just some of the tribes promoting fear, hate, and mistrust. These tribes point out what makes us different and rarely highlight what we have in common. Instead of using diversity to strengthen society, they use differences to stir discontent and create targets. As long as there are humans, there will be tribes.
One of the things I love about Ruth’s story is that it shows us how to defeat tribalism.
…a man of standing…whose name was Boaz
Ruth did not know that she was harvesting grain in Boaz’s field. She also did not know that he was a “man of standing.” It is a difficult phrase. It means three things:
Here is how he met Ruth. He comes to check on his employees to discover an immigrant—one he did not hire—gathering grain from from his field. She was working alongside his hired employees as if she belonged there. She had asked permission and it had been granted by the field manager, but Boaz is just discovering it. To Ruth’s credit, she was not looking for pity. She was engaged in hard labor to feed herself and her mother-in-law.
Boaz could have shamed her, shooed her away, mistreated her or even assaulted her. No one would have cared because she was a female immigrant without legal status or protection working in his field, digging into his profits, without his permission. But because he was a man of standing who loved the Lord, he pushed back against the normal tendencies of tribalism, fear, mistrust, and indignation over perceived wrongs. Instead, he extended equality and generosity to someone who was different and uninvited.
“Don’t go glean in another field and don’t go away from here.”
He did not do this blindly. He had heard of Ruth’s sacrifices to care for Naomi. He had seen with his own eyes her work ethic and disdain for pity. He combined his heart to follow God with the information he had about Ruth and he let his tribal walls fall down.
The same must happen today if we are going to see violence, racism, prejudice, inequality, and fear of differences dissipate in our communities. Boaz lived in an era of dysfunctional political leadership and poor morals. It is said that during his time everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Each had their own tribe. Their own set of values. Their own preferences. Their own filters. It was a tumultuous, dark season in ancient Israel’s history. Yet, we find this man of standing being different.
We can be different in our tumultuous time. We can combine our desire to follow God with intelligent, non-biased information and extend grace to someone we might initially mistrust or fear. And in the process, our own tribal walls will fall. To not do this would mean we value our fears over our hopes. That we value self-preservation over loving-kindness. That we value the darkness of our world over the Light that has entered our world.
Here is a song for your journey. It has helped me much in my own: Fear Is A Liar by Zach Williams.
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.” Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, —Ruth 2:2-3
“Let me go…pick up…grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Ruth and Naomi are destitute widows. They have no source of income, no property, and no one to advocate for them. Widowhood has created holes in their financial stability, social standing, and opportunities for the future. Ancient Israel provided no social safety nets for poor widows. They were solely dependent upon the kindness of others to have their basic needs met.
COVID has taken things from our lives and left holes. Each person has been impacted by it differently, but the one thing we all have in common is the knowledge of being powerless to make the world the way we want it to be or the way it used to be. Just as Ruth could not change her poverty, we cannot change our powerlessness.
Ruth, in spite of her desperate situation, decided she would do what she could. By begging to work for grain, she was communicating her willingness to work where she could work and act where she could move. Here is a secret to the inner life: God seems to be most active in our lives when we are willing to work where we can. Moses was tending sheep when he had his burning bush moment. Gideon was harvesting grain when the Angel of the Lord showed up. David was doing chores when the prophet came to find the next king. Peter, James, and John were on the clock when Jesus showed up and said, “Come, follow me.” Ruth will meet Boaz, her God-send, because she was willing to work wherever the door was open.
If God has gone silent in your COVID world, I suggest you get busy doing what you can with what you have where you are. Stop mourning. Stop complaining. Stop being afraid. Stop distracting yourself. Stop having a pity party. Stop giving up. Do something. Work. Serve. Share. Give. Don’t just be busy. Start adulting. Care for yourself and someone else at the same time. We greatly increase our chances of encountering God when we are responsibly caring, working, moving, and doing. This kind of living is proof that we are trusting God to provide and move on our behalf.
As it happened…
From Ruth’s perspective, she just happened to start working in Boaz’s field. To her, it was a random wheat field where no one chased her away. But when one is moving in faith, nothing happens by chance. It is all part of a Divine plan. Ruth had no idea she had just started moving towards God’s grace for her.
When you and I actively “faith” God, nothing happens by chance. We enter the Faith Zone. The Faith Zone rarely feels comfortable. We feel dependent and vulnerable. We usually feel humble and needy and small. We bring nothing to the table but the meager resources of a willing attitude and a weak hope—but that’s enough. God seems to notice our limitations more than our abilities.
I can’t prove it, but I bet Ruth felt pretty small that day working in a stranger’s backyard. It is how I feel some days when I come into the office or get ready to share God’s Word on a Sunday morning. I bet it is how you feel sometimes in this world right now.
If this is you—if you are responsibly moving forward the best you can with the little faith you have—you are in good company. You have entered the Faith Zone and are racing toward the grace God has for you. Press on. The Almighty God will meet you there. I know it doesn’t make sense, but God’s ways are just different from ours.
Only You, by Young Oceans featuring Evan Wickham, is a good song for the journey. Enjoy.
When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. —Ruth 1:19-20
…call me Mara…
In ancient Israel, names were not labels. They were descriptions of inner character traits that parents would speak into the life of their child. As an infant, Naomi’s parents gave her the name pleasant. Upon her arrival in Bethlehem, her old neighbors and relatives called her by that name. She quickly informed them, “Don’t call me that. Call me Mara.” She declared that she is no longer pleasant. She is now bitter.
The pain life can bring has a way of robbing the very best away from us. It happened to Naomi. It happens to us. Loved ones die, careers crash, dreams morph into nightmares, friends turn into enemies, good days fade into social distancing and masks. No one is exempt from the strange turn of events that turn a pleasant life into a bitter one.
When it happens, it is not uncommon for us to look for a reason or a culprit. Naomi views her past decisions as the reason, and she sees God as the culprit. She tells everyone that will listen: “God has made my life bitter. He has emptied all that was good out of my days. He is holding my sins against me and punishing me. He has broken my world and I see no recovery.”
Not everyone blames God when things go sour. Some people don’t point to God because they don’t even think of him enough to blame him, but for those of us who believe he is sovereign, pain can cause us to ask, “Is God really good?” Just as COVID exposed all that is wrong with government and society, bitterness exposes all of our flawed ideas about God.
Bitterness also blinds us. When we grow bitter there are three things we cannot see:
When we are suffering, we tend to magnify what we don’t have and minimize what we do. We tend to forget what God has done when we’re convinced there’s something he should be doing. Bitterness blinds us. Fortunately, it does not disqualify us. God has a good plan for bitter people. Naomi will discover this.
If we will give God some space, we will discover it too.
Here is a song that helps me when I get frustrated with God: Hurry Up and Wait by Mercy Me.
“Look,” Naomi said to Ruth, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” —Ruth 1:15-16
…your God will be my God.
Ruth’s declaration of faith in God is one of the strongest in all of the Bible.
Ruth married into a family that believed in Yahweh, then her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all died. I have to think she had some serious questions about the love of God. Not to mention, to go with Naomi, Ruth would be turning her back on her citizenship, her family, her culture, and any means of security that might be available to her. Ruth has no logical reason to say to Naomi “Your God will be my God.”
God spoke to Abraham, was in the burning bush for Moses, wrestled with Jacob, gave strength to Samson, and sent an angel to Gideon. All of these men experienced something that would bolster their faith. Ruth had no dream, no experience, no voice and no angel. Why would she claim Naomi’s God as her own? What incentive did she have?
Most who place their faith in God are like Ruth. Few people today hear God’s audible voice, see a burning bush, receive a supernatural ability, or rub shoulders with an angelic visitor (and if they claim to have experienced any of these things…we have serious reservations). Ruth was able to place her faith in God without any of these experiences. She has endured pain, listened to Naomi’s inaccurate rants about God’s character, and received no special messages convincing her God has some special plan for her life. Where did Ruth find faith?
I don’t know the answer to the question. All I know is that somewhere along the way, Ruth heard some truth about God and she believed it. She trusted what had been revealed to her and it became an opportunity for her to trust Him more. It is a divine mystery, but all faith in God is. If all elements of faith can be understood, it is no longer a faith in the Almighty.
The Bible tells us faith in God comes from hearing the word of God. Even though I cannot pinpoint where Ruth heard about the true, living God; we can be certain this is where her faith was birthed. The same is true for you and I today. Our faith springs forth when we hear, accept, and trust real truth about the living God.
Many of us have endured the obstacles Ruth faced. We have experienced the pain of our broken world. We have waded through all the comments about God that do not even come close to explaining who he really is. We have had no “aha” moments or special visions. We, like Ruth, get tidbits of truth that nudge at our hearts. It is in those moments we must decide to follow the truth or lean on logic. Ruth chose the truth.
When we follow truth and let faith blossom, we also gain wisdom. By the end of Ruth’s story you are going to think she was really wise when she chose to follow God. But wisdom is a by-product of accepting truth and living by faith. She doesn’t look wise right now, but heavenly wisdom rarely looks wise in our world. To learn more about wisdom read this.
Don’t neglect the nudges of truth God sends your way. Accept them. Trust them. Each time you do, you are telling God you want more of him. He never disappoints.
Here is a song to encourage you in the journey: Word of God Speak by Mercy Me.
But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes…Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept. “No,” they said. “We want to go with you…But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me?…Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. —Ruth 1:8-14
Why would Naomi encourage two young women who love her as their mother to return to Moab? Why would she tell them to leave her side and go back to a people who worship a false god? Why would she ask them to consider finding men to marry who do not know the Lord? Why would she advise them to raise children in a society that sacrificed children in cult worship? This is Naomi’s worst moment.
Why would anyone discourage another person from trusting the Lord? It happens frequently. We may not say it the way Naomi said it, but we are capable of advising someone near us to go back to a life away from God. Why would we do that?
…the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.
Like a footnote at the bottom of a page, this comment reveals some background information about Naomi’s strange advice to her daughter-in-laws. Naomi believes in God, but she believes God is against her. She believes God is angry with her. She believes God is out to crush her, ruin her, or teach her a lesson.
I am always shocked when I encounter someone who feels this way. They believe in God, but they also believe God is against them. Two things feed this faulty thinking and we find them in Naomi: pain and shame.
Naomi has endured much pain. Three trips to the cemetery has convinced her God is angry at her. She also has shame. She allowed her sons to marry godless women from a godless place. In ancient times, there was no greater sin than allowing your children to marry outside of the faith. Naomi let it happen twice. No wonder she believes God is angry with her.
Bad things happen to us everyday. Believing in God is not umbrella of protection from pain nor a guarantee that we will not make decisions we deeply regret. Sin has broken our world. It has broken us. We will feel pain. We will have shame. But, don’t ever think God is not for you. He is in your corner. He desires for you to see him as he really is, not as how you think he is. That’s why Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. God was in that hug. Naomi just doesn’t know it yet.
There is a way to remain happy even when life hurts. If you would like to know how, read this.
I’ve shared this song before, but it has become a “go to” song when my life is hurting. I hope you enjoy it: There was Jesus by Zach Williams & Dolly Parton
If this has encouraged you, please share it. Someone in your world is feeling pain and shame.
Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah. —Ruth 1:6-7
Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah…they took the road that would lead them back…
It is easy to get separated from God’s aid. Separation from his blessings is not being separated from his love. We can never be separated from his love, but we can be in a place where he chooses to no longer provide help. I’m not talking about a geographical location. I’m talking about a spiritual settling down that leaves faithfulness to God out of the picture.
Naomi went to Moab because there was no food in Bethlehem. Ten years and 3 funerals later, she finds herself a destitute widow with two widowed daughter-in-laws. Without a husband and without any sons, her future looks bleak. It is here that God begins reach out to her.
Naomi heard…We don’t know how she heard. God in his grace has a way of dropping hints to us when we are far from him. He is not obligated to do this. He does it because he loves us. He wants us to be near him. If you have a hard time believing God’s wants you to be close to him, read this.
Where have you spiritually decided to settle down? If your place does not include being faithful to God (especially if you have been faithful in the past), God will remove his aid from you. However, do not interpret that as God not loving you, not wanting you, or not desiring you to come back. Look around. Listen. I bet he is dropping hints right now.
…they took the road that would lead them back…Naomi heard and she responded. She had to tell her daughter-in-laws and friends in Moab, “I can’t stay here anymore.” I’m sure there were questions. A decade is a long time. Would it not have been interesting to hear her explanation as to why she could no longer stay where she was?
I’m sure the tone and logic of her answers left those people wanting, but that is case when we start to move in faith. Those around us, those who helped us in our journey away from God, will never understand why we would return to him. Nevertheless, Naomi packed what was needed and left everything else behind.
The road leading back to God requires a steady dose of humility. But why must we be humble? Because of the sinful choices that took us down the wrong path. The way back to Bethlehem was the same road Naomi took to get too Moab, but the journey back was paved with regret and brokenness. She realized she should have never gone down that road in the first place.
Sin is like that. When we start down the road of sin it rarely feels evil. It usually feels fun or justified or logical or right. But after we have spent some time away from where we are supposed to be, we realize we have messed up. Sin can be hard to recognize, but it is God’s grace that always shows us the way back. If you’re having a hard time seeing your sin, read this.
Occasionally, we find ourselves in a place where God will not bless. If that is you, and you are reading this, then take it as a hint. God is calling you back.
Here is a song for the journey. On My Own by Ashes Remain
Please share this with a friend. Who knows? Maybe God wants to drop them a hint.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. —Ruth 1:1-2
…there was a famine…they went to Moab and lived there.
A crisis can cause us to do things we thought we would never do. I am sure this is what happened to Elimelek and his family. They lived in a country that was experiencing economic uncertainty along with political turmoil, social unrest, and spiritual apathy. Every person was doing what was right in their own eyes because there was no moral compass or common ground guiding society.
Elimelek believed in God, and by all accounts, he appears to be a decent man doing his best to take care of his family. His name meant “God is my king” but the famine caused him to feel God was no where near. That’s exactly what a crisis will do. It will cause us to doubt what we held to be true when there was no crisis. Elimelek could trust God when there was no problem, but the famine revealed his trust was only as strong as the comforts God provided.
On a clear day standing on the hills in Bethlehem, Elimelek could see the green pastures of Moab. Moab was to Israel what Nazi Germany was to America during World War II. You could not find two more opposite people groups with opposing values. The Moabite culture was so morally bankrupt that even Hollywood would blush…or vomit. Yet, Elimelek was willing to move and raise his young family there. Why? Because a crisis can make “wrong” look “okay.” I can hear Elimelek’s reasoning, “Yes, the values of that place are horrible, but I can get a job there and we can have food to eat.”
Elimelek had been raised to follow and trust God. Up until this point he has, but the fear and uncertainty of his crisis, caused him to compromise his convictions. When he moved to Moab he was intentionally ignoring what had always guided him. The tone of the verses indicate that he never intended to stay in Moab. He was just going there until things got better in Bethlehem. It was intended to be a temporary fix.
When we encounter a crisis, we have three options:
We are in a crisis. In fact, we have more than one crisis in our country. The COVID pandemic…bad politics…social unrest…spiritual apathy…I could go on. What has been your response? A recently released survey revealed that 1 in 3 Christians (33%) have quit attending in person and online worship services since March of this year. In the midst of crisis, one-third of Christians have quit worshipping God with others. It appears many are following Elimelek. In this time of upheaval and uncertainty, I plead with you to trust the Lord. If that is a struggle, read this.
Don’t look for green pastures somewhere else. Embrace our new world and trust it is part of God’s good plan for you. I know this is not easy, but discomfort is an opportunity to trust God. Keep trusting!
Here is a song that encourages me. I hope it does the same for you: Amadeo (Still My God) by Ryan Stevenson
Share this with a friend if it has encouraged you.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. —Psalm 146:1
Today’s headlines are not pretty…bad politics…inequality…riots…injustice…police brutality…school closings…white privilege…conspiracy theories…crimes against police…COVID-19…defaming monuments…stay at home orders…Black Lives Matters…All Lives Matter…school openings…unemployment… It is easy to be discouraged.
Just one of those issues has potential to create a dark cloud, but all of them together form an emotional black hole that has the potential to suck the joy out of any day. What am I supposed to do? Ranting on social media may create a moment of satisfaction, but ultimately it just contributes to the problems. Sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the issues is a good way to get my butt kicked. Joining a cause pulls me into the fray. Remaining silent gives the appearance I am indifferent. My options to respond to today’s problems don’t seem very good. Except for one…
Praise the Lord, my soul.
The writer of this psalm reminds me that I always have the choice to praise the Lord no matter what is taking place in the world. Literally, the phrase “Praise the Lord, my soul” is the psalmist telling himself to praise God. Another way of saying it would be: “I will tell myself to praise the Lord.”
To live a life of praise is too acknowledge the goodness of God in spite of my problems. It doesn’t mean I ignore the things that frustrate me. It means I choose to acknowledge God is present in the issues. Praising God keeps me from having a critical spirit toward myself and others. It empowers me to cancel my negative thoughts, keep my mouth shut from complaining, and ultimately become a voice of hope and promise. It reminds me of the foolishness that happens when I strive to keep life fair. It balances me so that I will stop comparing myself to other people. Praising God allows me to be grateful for something in everything.
I do not know what problems the writer of this psalm was facing when he penned this praise, but he lists 11 reasons to praise the Lord in his psalm. Praise the Lord because…
When problems are overwhelming and answers are hard to find, it is a perfect time to praise. I get it. It sounds like a waste of time. It sounds like a pie-in-the-sky theology, but if you think God has become irrelevant, read this.
God is not distant when we find ourselves neck deep in problems. Praise him and see what begins to unfold in your heart and mind. See how it gives you a new perspective in spite of problems.
This Could Change Everything by Francesca Battistelli is a great song. I hope it encourages you.
Please share this blog with a family member or friend. You never know, God might be wanting to use you to encourage them.
Pairs of…animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground,male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark… —Genesis 7:8-9
…animals…came to Noah and entered the ark…
Have you ever wondered how this happened? Wild animals, from chipmunks to elephants, filed into the ark side by side. Lions walked by lambs. Snakes slithered beside rats. Hawks flew in over the rabbits. The animal kingdom, full of natural enemies and deeply imbedded habits to eat one another, peacefully entered a confined space and lived together.
Not only were these animals ignoring their survival instincts, they were also submitting to the commands of Noah—a human, also prone to not get along with wild animals. Why did the chaos of the animal kingdom calm down for Noah?
The answer: It was a benefit of obeying the Lord. The Bible says, “Noah did everything the Lord commanded him to do.” I think there is more to that than just building a large boat. Noah lived for the Lord in a community where selfishness was the value and violence was the norm. God called Noah’s world corrupt. It means it is used to be good, but it had turned bad.
Noah could not change his world and he had a difficult time influencing it. While living among his neighbors, I’m sure he shared his values and priorities. I bet he was generous and helped the needy. I think he had friends, was honest in business, loved his enemies and defended the weak. I believe he talked about God whenever the opportunity presented itself and I’m certain the people who knew him knew that he worshipped God. Do you know how many people outside of Noah’s family wanted to be like Noah? Zero.
Yet, the entire animal kingdom with all of its untamed members calmed down and cooperated with Noah. Would this have happened if Noah only partially obeyed the Lord? How much more difficult would it have been if Noah were not totally committed to everything God commanded?
Any person of faith knows it was God that calmed the animals, but what if God’s display of power was made possible by Noah’s devotion to God? God calls all of us to live for him, but the level of chaos we endure answering his call may be reduced when we strive “to do everything” the Lord instructs us to do.
Noah obeyed the Lord. That means, he made good choices—and what should have been chaotic, was peaceful. I wonder if the same principle applies to me and you? What chaos in our lives might be calmed if we would just make the good choice and obey the Lord?
There is an art to making to good choices. It doesn’t happen just because we want it to. You can discover that process here.
Wanderer, a song by Colton Dixon, encourages me. I hope it does the same for you as you pursue the good choices that will allow God to calm your chaos.
If these words of encouragement have strengthened you, please share them with a family member or friend. We all need encouragement.