Our text this week was Ruth 1:19-2:3:
Ruth 1:19 - 2:3 - So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, "Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.
We’ll spend the next two weeks looking at the answer to a question pastors get all the time: How do I know the will of God? Usually, that question doesn’t revolve around what’s right or wrong. We know most of those things, right? We shouldn’t kill each other, steal from each other, lie about each other, go into debt, have sex with someone who’s not our spouse, submit to governing authorities as long as they don't require us to do anything God has said “No” to. Because of that, we know we aren’t to go 65 in a 25 mph zone. The list goes on. God’s will is pretty clear on those because He’s cataloged them for us in His word.
Most of the time, questions about God’s will has to do with right or left. Do I go to this college or that one, marry this girl or that one, take this job or that one? We’re after whether God has a plan for our lives and whether this step or that step is a good one for keeping in step with God’s ideals for me. You’re not the first person to ask such a question. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, answers such a question. He tells them that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to followers of Christ just as He purposes. And that means, those gifts are given to us with a purpose. And that means you and I have a purpose. Paul also told them that becoming a Christian didn’t necessarily mean that they were to change jobs or go into a new career field. Not every Christian is supposed to go into full-time ministry. You can be a minister right where you are—teacher, dock worker, doctor, apartment manager, musician, stay-at-home mom, a programmer, whatever.
When Paul became a follower of Christ, God came to Ananias and told him to go find Paul and baptize him because—and this is key—“Paul is a chosen vessel that will carry my name before kings and rulers.” So, God had a role, a purpose, a will for Paul’s life. How do you find yours. I hope you’re a bit better at it than the guy who persuaded himself he was to marry this drop-dead gorgeous gal because she had a Chihuahua like he did and it’s right ear was bent the same way his was. I dunno. I have a suspicion that had she been homely, he might have looked at that ear differently.
Well, to help us out, along comes Ruth, because her account contains some very good counsel and steps to discover God’s will for our lives. Ruth, as you may recall, was a Moabite girl who married one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a couple who fled Israel during the time of famine. In short order, Elimelech and those two sons die, leaving three widows. Naomi, after 10 years, decides it’s time to go home. One of the daughters-in-law opts to stay behind. But Ruth will have none of that, and she testifies of his commitment to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, Israel, and to Israel’s God, Jehovah.
Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Israel, to the town of Bethlehem, just as the barley harvest is underway. This is fantastic news, because a harvest means that there’s been rain. And rain means that God’s judgment because of Israel’s disobedience in worshiping other gods has been lifted. And we know from scripture that that’s because the people repented and turned back to God and prayed for relief. And God, as He had done so many times before, comes through for them. Nevertheless, the prospects for these two are not great. Naomi’s family has land, but it’s worthless because there’s no one to work it. You can see from the text that Naomi’s at a low point. That said, she’s aware that all this calamity she’s having is due to God’s chastening. While she may not be real happy about it, she is willing submit to it, recognizing that God’s behind it and that He cares enough for her to not let her stray or stay too far away. We’re not sure, however, that she anticipates life being anything other than barely scraping by to survive. Quite a downturn for a family who left Israel wealthy.
I personally believe that it’s Naomi’s response to God’s discipline that begins to open doors she can’t even begin to imagine happening. We, however, can begin to imagine them, because chapter 2 opens with information for we readers that Naomi and Ruth aren’t privy to. We are told that Naomi has a relative named Boaz, who is a kinsman of her husband. Two things to note. One, in Israel, God had set up a system to ensure land would stay with a family that fell on hard times. If a man died, his brother could marry his widow, give her children, and then give that land back to the family. Also, if a family fell into bankruptcy, only a family member could purchase it so that that land could be returned to the family at some point. The family member who would do such a thing was called a kinsman—a word that actually means “redeemer.” Interesting stuff, especially when you consider that Boaz is a type of Christ—a person who became a member of the family of humans by becoming a man and purchased salvation for mankind through a sacrifice of his resources—in His case, His life--for mankind. We’re going to see that picture become clearer and clearer as the story unfolds.
But, back to knowing the will of God. In chapter 2, we are going see some incredible coincidences that end up with Ruth and Boaz coming into contact. The question we have today is this: How in the world does this happen? And is this relevant for us today? Can we live in such a way that we allow God to maneuver those coincidences in our lives that lead to the discovery of His will for us? We’re going to see some practical tips, but before we get there, just a quick warning. God rarely, if ever, will reveal to you and me the ultimate path our lives will take. That’s His business. What He calls us to do is to be faithful in following Him every day. The good news is God will tell us right now what we’re supposed to be doing. And people who are faithful to what God has told them to do today just seem to be the people that God’s “coincidences” happen to.
So, for me, I know that today, I’m to be a good friend, a submissive and hard worker under the elders at The Surge, a good citizen, a good husband, father and grandpa. I’m supposed to study and teach and love on the people God sends me today. I believe if I do those things faithfully, God will show up and direct my path.
To whet your appetite, there are four things we see in our text today that Ruth is or does that demonstrates faithfulness and a heart that is being transformed and led into action by this new God of hers.
First, she is incredibly likable. Don’t dismiss this. Tim Sanders, a New York Times best-selling author and former Yahoo executive, Tim has written much about the train of “likability.” Likability tends to win people over. Ruth here is very polite, not demanding or entitled. She asks permission to go into the fields and glean. Gleaning is grueling work, going into a field after the harvest is done looking for little bits of grain, hoping to get enough to not starve to death.
Second, Ruth puts others first. She asks Naomi to let her to go the field and glean. Naomi, by this time, is an older woman, and Ruth is essentially saying, “You stay here at home. I’ll go out in this new land, among people who don’t know me, and I’ll do the heavy lifting for us.”
Third, Ruth doesn’t just say she’ll go out and glean, she does it with gusto. She’s a hard worker.
Fourth, Ruth is actually expecting God to show up along the way. She has no idea where to go, really, and knows no one, but it’s almost as if she’s prayed, “God, please lead me to a field where someone will give me permission to glean. So, she’s looking for God to direct. I wonder how many times you and I have missed God-ordained “coincidences” in our path because we were not expecting them and walked right on by?
So, remember the big idea here. If you want to know God’s will or plan for your life, don’t bother to ask Him about all the specifics. He’s not going to tell you. Just obey Him today, be faithful today, do what He ask you to do today. Love God, love others. Do what you do with all your might. Listen, if you’re not doing this today, you should not expect God to lead you into His will tomorrow. We’re told in the book of Chronicles that God looks all over the earth for the one whose heart is tilted His way, and when He finds such a person, He is delighted to move strongly in that person’s life. You and I doing what we’re to do today opens up all kinds of doors for God to take care of all of the tomorrow questions.
We’ll see more on how this plays out for Ruth, with applications for us, next week.