Last week we cracked the door open to look at knowing God’s will for our lives, and we promised to dig in a little deeper this week. And we’ve found that our gal, Ruth, as a new believer in this God of ours, is doing some incredibly smart things to allow God’s will to be revealed.
As we said last week, pastors don’t get a lot of questions related to God’s will in terms of what is right or wrong. The answers to those questions are found out easily enough from a general reading of scripture. We know from God’s word that we’re not supposed to kill each other, steal from each other, lie to each other, or drive 65 in a 25 mile per hour speed zone.
"God’s will" questions can arise from just the good and bad stuff that happens to us as we navigate this planet on our few years here. You get promoted, you get laid off; you get a good report from the doc, you get sick; you win a free trip to Hawaii and your plane lands safely, another airplane elsewhere goes down; an aunt dies and leaves you a bunch of money, you get mugged on the way home.
We love the good happenings. It’s the bad we have trouble with. Some of them are the result of living in a fallen world. Some could be the result of dumb decisions we’ve made. For example, we mishandle our money and end up financially strapped. And some hard things we experience might not result from anything we did—maybe it’s just God growing us to look more like Christ in some area of our lives. Our job in those is just to trust that God knows what He’s doing and hang on.
In reality, most of the God’s will questions involve less right and wrong and more right or left—do I go to this college or that one, marry this guy or gal or that one, take this job or that one, move to this city or that one. We discussed last week that discovering God’s will is a lot more about having a heart that’s willing to be led by God than getting all the specifics from God on how everything’s going to play out. Here’s a verse that helps with that:
Prov. 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
So, trust God and obey him today, then do it again tomorrow, and then again the next day. You get the trend, right? And this attitude of daily faithfulness is illustrated for us Ruth. She is a picture of how a Christian ought to live. So, we’ll grab about 15 verses here from Ruth, chapter 2, and I want to pull out four things from the text as it relates specifically to discovering God’s will. This will be a little different than my normal expository lesson where we go through a text verse by verse, but I hope it’ll bless you just the same. Here’s our text:
Ruth 2:2-17 – 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. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” And at mealtime, Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” So, she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
Point Number 1: You have to have a proper view of God, that he is someone you can trust.
Ruth 2:12 - The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
What we have in this verse is something theologians refer to as a zoomorphism—assigning an animal characteristic to God to help put something of God in a context we can understand. This concept of coming under God’s wings is something Israelites would say to someone who was not a believer in Jehovah, who didn’t believe in a coming Messiah, and who didn’t expect a Jesus to show up and make a way for the forgiveness of sins, but who came to believe in Him. God was likened to a great mother hen chicks would scurry to when fearing for their lives. And the hen would cover them with her wings and be willing to die to defend them. Boaz sees this kind of faith in Ruth, a foreigner who has come to believe in the God of Israel. And he’s essentially praying that this God would deal kindly with Ruth for that faith, knowing that God is a lover and protector of his own children. We have to trust that God will never drop the ball on us. We may not think we’re that special, but God says we are to Him, so we just have to continue to believe that every day.
Point Number 2: Ruth is faithful in areas she can control in the present, knowing God can use that faithfulness to open doors in the future she can’t know anything about.
A gleaner is essentially a person on welfare, going along after the reapers to scrounge for bits of grain left behind, just hoping to get enough to keep from starving to death. It’s admittedly not a great situation, but Ruth isn’t angry or bitter or miserable. She continues to exhibit likability and character and hope even under such stress. She doesn’t demand to glean; she asks politely. And given the opportunity, she makes the most of it, working hard all day. But Ruth went out that day expecting that God would use her efforts to lead her to the land of someone who would show her favor.
I’m learning, when people approach me asking about a job change or new venture and whether it’s God’s will, to ask questions related to faithfulness in the present tense. "Tell me about your prayer life. Tell me about your time in God’s word. Tell me about your relationship with your family, your spouse, your kids. Tell me about how you handle your finances." And when you ask those questions, you find out a lot of the time that people are not being faithful to what God has asked of them in the here and now that they can control, but they sure want God to guide them in things down the road they know they have no control over. Here’s the hard truth—God’s will probably has little to do with the decision they’re making. It’s most likely about their will, not God’s,and they just want God to rubber stamp it. And, He’s not a rubber stamp God, if you haven’t noticed before.
I served for several years on a missions board at a church immensely committed to foreign missions, and here’s what I learned the hard way. Missionaries who felt called of God to go start churches overseas need to have been building the church right here at home first. Be faithful here at home, where you know the turf, the language, and the culture. Lacking that, I saw missionary families, just as they were finally reaching the point where they could make a difference, go belly up and crawl off the mission field. The trick is to be faithful in the here and now.
A great example from scripture is David. He’s anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. The problem? He’s a whipper-snapper teenager with the job of shepherd. You don’t go lower on the totem pole than that in Israel. He’s got to be wondering, “How in the world is this ever going to happen?” So, he just continued to be faithful out in that field, taking care of sheep. In his spare time, he’d write songs and play the harp. If a wild animal ventured by and grabbed a sheep, he’d chase it down and kill it. He didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to maneuver things to become King. God had it all under control. Little did he know how all that faithfulness would pay off later. God ends up sending a demon to harass King Saul, and his team began to look for someone who could play some soothing music. One of the young men around the King had heard about David and his music. The next thing David knows, he’s sitting in the equivalent of the White House playing for the President.
Point Number 3: Prove faithful for the long haul, no matter what.
Things had gone south for Ruth in a big way. She marries a young Israelite, who then dies, leaving her a widow. Her faith in God, however, pushes her to make the trip back to Israel with Naomi, her mother-in-law. But there, prospects are virtually nil. Just to survive, she hits the fields to find scraps of food. It’s a pretty low point. But she remains faithful and expectant in God making a way.
We see a similar illustration in the story of Joseph, a snot-nosed teenager who had a dream all his older brothers would one day bow down to him. He makes the mistake of sharing that dream with them. Add to that the fact that Joseph was daddy’s favorite, and you’ve got some dysfunctional family stuff going down. His brothers eventually decide to sell him to a passing caravan headed to Egypt. And Joseph goes through about 15 years of things going from bad to worse. Sold into slavery, accused of attempted rape, imprisoned, and seemingly forgotten. But not forgotten by God. Nor did Joseph forget God. He just remained faithful no matter what. And out of nowhere, he is plucked in an instant out of prison, brought before Pharaoh to interpret a dream, and ends up as the Prime Minister of the entire country. But that all was made possible because he did not stop being faithful even during those 15 years of misery.
Point Number 4: Your heart, molded by God and spurred into action, will be the crowbar that opens doors.
As you read the conversation between Boaz and his foreman, you see Ruth become more and more elevated. First, she impressed the socks off the foreman when she asks so politely for permission to glean. And then he watched her work hard all day long, only taking one break in the hot sun. This testimonial fit what Boaz had heard about Ruth on his own, so he goes to her and just shows her incredible favor. She asks why he would do such a thing, and we find his answer in verse 11:
Ruth 2:11 - All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.
It’s her heart, demonstrated by actions, that opens the door to this favor from Boaz.
So, we see how God’s will gets manifested in a life—have a proper view of God, that He is someone who can be trusted; be faithful to do all God has asked of you in the here and now so that He can lead you into paths He has for you that you know nothing about; continue to be faithful no matter what, knowing God can move in an instant; and realize that it’s your heart, transformed by God and spurred into action, that will be the crowbar that opens doors.
We may be put off by the epic stories in scripture of people like David, or Joseph. But realize that Ruth is no superstar. She's just a regular person who’s fallen on hard times. But in those hard times, she has placed her faith in God, and she simply chooses to trust Him to lead. You and I can do that, too. Fortunately, Ruth’s story shows us how to do it. It’s probably true that our problem is not that God isn’t willing to lead us; it’s far more likely we’re less interested in being led. So, let’s knock it off. Ruth’s way is the only way to discover God’s best life possible for each of us.