04 October 2013

Anywhere with Jesus I can Safely Go (Ruth's Story, Day 4)

Ruth.  Ah, what a love story!

She gets one of the best men in town.  
He's courteous, caring, and generous, and what more could a girl want in her man?

It's so easy to read the end of the story, skipping over the pain, turmoil, loss, and steel determination that precede the romantic perfection of the man who brilliantly rescues her from widowhood AND from marrying the wrong guy.  If the happy ending is all we see, we actually miss its fullness of joy, its gold instead of gray, the hope rekindled out of ashes, and the way God has of restoring the years that the locusts have eaten.  (See Joel 2:25)

 Let's not skip over the loss this time, but stop there and ponder it for a few moments.

First, Naomi, her husband, and her sons lose their homeland, their farmland, while everything there is under a sever drought.  The sacrifice it all and travel to a distant land where no one knows them, much less their God.  They remain Jehovah's worshipers, yet for a decade live far away from His temple and, as far as we can tell, from fellow believers who could encourage and strengthen them in all the stress of life.

If you've ever moved, and especially if you've ever moved to a place where there weren't other people around who believed as you did, you know exactly what they faced.

Then, more loss.  Naomi loses husband and sons.  Ruth loses the husband of her youth. And as Naomi learns of the rains that come to her homeland, she determines to return.

Alone, if necessary.

She's prepared to lose her daughters-in-law even after the loss of everything else, who both weep and beg her not to send them home.  They both show a deep attachment to this, their mother-in-law.  We don't know much about the bonds between these three women, yet we know from just a few short verses that Orpah's departure from them was a painful, hesitant one.  Perhaps a parting she grieved the rest of her life, but who can really tell?

It's at this moment that the two Moabite women get a choice.  Haven't we all wished sometimes that we could have at least chosen what we lost, how we lost?  Rather than being stuck with something we could not control?

Orpah chooses to lose Naomi and Ruth--and by extension the God of Israel.  

But Ruth, looking permanent widowhood in the face, as well as alienation from everything (culturally, at least) she's ever known, chooses to lose the familiar in favor of the God of her dead husband and her living mother-in-law.  

To all outward appearance, Ruth has chosen a life of barrenness, yet it's a price she's willing to pay to remain faithful to the truths she must have learned as a young bride in a foreigner's house.  

It's here we get those utterly romantic words we hear all the time at weddings.  But they're spoken to a mother-in-law and her God, not to a groom.

"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."  (Ruth 1:16, 17)
Ruth would suffer the loss of everything--family of origin, homeland, future husband, future children, possibly even food on the table--rather than suffer the loss of her new-found Savior.

It's only against this backdrop of faithfulness in loss--to her mother-in-law become more-than-mother, and to God become her very own--that the sweet romance of Ruth and Boaz could begin to blossom.

The whole town knows about her, this foreign widow woman.  They quickly hear of her loss, but even more so of her faith.  Her character impresses them all, including Boaz.

I'm not going to finish the story.  We all know the happy ending well enough.  I want instead to focus on how Ruth handled the losses life threw in her way, at no choice of her own.
  • She stayed true to her faith, no matter how much grief she faced.
  • She made a life-changing choice based on the convictions of her faith, even though she couldn't possibly know how it would turn out. 
  • She worked hard--physically--to provide for the home she did have.
  And in this place of faithful determination, God stepped in and provided abundantly above all she had dared to ask or think.  (See Ephesians 3:20--"Now to Him who is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us...")

Here me carefully on this.  I'm NOT saying that God works on a reward system in which we earn restoration instead of loss by how we behave.  God's purpose and desire is always to bless.  Even when we don't deserve it.
It's hard for Him to turn our losses into blessing when we turn our backs deliberately on Him and choose the way of the enemy.  Because the enemy's purpose and desire is always to curse.
Remember the condition of the promise that all things work together for good?  It's for those who love God.
When we face loss, we must, like Ruth, make the kinds of decisions that will help keep our love for God alive.  Even when we don't understand why and how all kinds of painful things are coming into our lives.  
Like Ruth, when we place ourselves in the positions where we will most likely experience the least opposition to our faith and the most encouragement of it (think about how she surrounded herself to the best of her ability with the people of God rather than the people of the pagan religion of her homeland and all its inherent temptations), we open a door in our hearts, clearing the way for Jesus to come in.

When we do this, He says, "I will come in to [them], and will sup with [them], and [they] with Me."  (Revelation 3:20)

I believe that's exactly how it worked with Ruth, and although I can't guarantee you a romance, or a job, or any of the particular things you've lost, and I can't guarantee an exit from your current desert experience, I can put full confidence in the promise of God that says He will come to be with you as soon as you open the door, no matter how barren you think the landscape is that surrounds you.

What is more, I can say from experience and from the word of God, when Jesus comes in, life can't stay barren or dry or bleak anymore.

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  1. Wow- I am so behind. My son had his daughter this weekend - which means we are pretty busy enjoying her.
    This was such a great post. I loved your insight and how you explained about blessings. What a blessing to read this! Lisa :O)

  2. It WOULD be interesting to know what happened to Orpah. And I wonder if there were times Ruth questioned her own decision or grieved what she had left behind.

    It is true that our working cannot guarantee an outcome -- but NOT doing the work DOES!


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