I was just walking to the other side of the room. Life was on the “heavy” side; decisions to make, things were changing. I intended to set my mind on something aimless, and the TV was an easy answer and would provide a mindless activity.
However, in those few steps, God began to speak. The best I can describe what happened is an almost audible voice telling me to look up Proverbs 3:5-6. As I read the words on the page, they seared into my heart and became a life verse that would take me through the days, months and years ahead.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
As we walk through life some experiences impact us for a moment, others for a season and still others for our lives. And yet, when we put them all together we see God weaving and working through this crazy thing called life.
One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Ruth. There are portions of her journey that I can relate to while other portions I’m left to ponder. The thing I love most is that in the picture of her life we find an example of what it means to radically follow Jesus.
Ruth lived in the period of the judges, so we place her life sometime between 1050B.C. and 500B.C. As we journey through the book of Ruth, we are immediately informed that there was a severe famine. This famine was the driving force that moved a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons from Bethlehem (Jewish town) to Moab (Gentile town).
We discover that Ruth married one of the sons and within ten years Elimelech and both of the sons had died. Not only had the men perished but Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law) decides to move back home.
The land of Moab was Ruth’s home, and she was of Gentile descent, not of Jewish descent. We don’t know if her parents or siblings were still alive. All we know about her backstory is that she was from Moab and that she suffered the loss of her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. However, more than that we find that what becomes the defining moment(s) in Ruth’s life is the rest of the story!
We often cry out for God to open the doors to our destiny, yet the fulfillment of that prayer always results in our having to leave some aspect of our comfort zone.
Some years ago I attended a training conference for work. One of the questions that they asked, at the very beginning, was what some of the best experiences of our lives were. Many people shared about a new job, marriage, having children, moving, etc. The instructor quickly pointed out that each answer given was the result of a significant shift/change in the individual’s life. We can only move forward in our God-given destiny when we are willing to leave our comfort zone and radically follow where he leads.
Ruth is presented with the opportunity to head back home to her family. She refuses and states, “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.”[i]
Everything about us, both physically and emotionally, was created for forward movement. It is much easier, in the physical, to walk forward than it is to walk backward. Emotionally we are created to dream with God. Our past was never designed to be a hindrance to our future. God has the amazing ability to redeem our history and use it to catapult us into our future if we let him.
I’m sure traveling with Naomi made it more comfortable but we also need to recognize in the society at that time, women didn’t have standing, status or inheritance within the culture. The decision Ruth made was full of risk. As I look at the conversation that Ruth had with Naomi, I suggest that Ruth saw something in Naomi that she wanted. Although Naomi was grieving the losses in her life, I suspect that she still modeled a relationship with God.
Naomi’s name means Pleasant; pleasantness; agreeable; attractive; my joy; my bliss; pleasantness of Jehovah.[ii] On arrival in Bethlehem Naomi asks to be called “Mara”. The name Mara means Bitterness; bitter; sad. He was arrogant.[iii] I only mention this because Naomi seemed to hang on to the disappointment and trauma of her past. Was Naomi stuck in grief?
In Exodus 15:22 we find a very similar word to “Mara” and that is the word “Marah” which also means bitter. “When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means bitter). As we tend to do, the people complained and opposed Moses. Moses, fortunately, turned to God who gave him a Heavenly solution (Heavenly because it makes no sense in the earthly realm!) and by following God’s command and throwing a piece of wood into the water that water was made drinkable.
God will always have a way to pull us past the bitter moments of life and into our God-ordained future. In Exodus, this encounter was the very place where God introduces himself to the people as their healer (Exodus 15:26).
In Naomi’s place of bitterness, our marvelous God would use this Gentile girl named Ruth to pull her past the grief and pain into her future. The other thing I noticed is that Naomi’s name was never changed to Mara as she is always called Naomi. Real friends and a mighty God will not allow us to stay in the place of bitterness, hence allowing it to become a label. Ruth was a true friend to Naomi who was being used by God in ways she never imagined. All this was setting her up to leave a legacy that I’m sure she never envisioned!
However, stopping there leave us without the rest of the story. Testimonies are important as they release faith! As Ruth’s destiny was walked out her testimony was formed. I am sure as she walked through life she pondered what God was doing, stood in amazement at his goodness, and began to tell the story of His faithfulness. However, it all began with a decision to leave what she “knew” behind.
God will write the story of our future if we are willing to journey with him into an unknown land!
- Is there an area of your life that God is calling you out of?
- Looking at the story of Ruth do you identify with Orpah, who clung to what she knew? Naomi who went back but carried bitterness? Or Ruth, who left it all behind trusting in a God she didn’t fully know?
[i]Ruth 1:16 NLT
[ii]Corwall, Dr. Judson, Smith, Dr. Stelman. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names. Alachua. Bridge-Logos 1998. P. 139.
[iii]Corwall, Dr. Judson, Smith, Dr. Stelman. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names. Alachua. Bridge-Logos 1998. P. 127.