Surviving in this world and the next requires taking risks for God. We see this in the story of Ruth and Naomi:
Naomi and Ruth and Orpha experienced a period of intense trial and difficulty in their lives. Ninety to ninety-five percent of their lives were quite good. But, as in our lives, there were periods of difficulty where life became very, very hard. Sometimes you feel that it piles up on you. First, there was a famine in the Promised Land. They finally have to move, and imagine the difficulty of a total relocation to a different country and to a different nation. They went to a country with a religion that was apart from theirs. While they are there hoping to do well, Elimilech dies. After a time, Naomi's sons marry and there is celebration and hope in their home again. Then the two sons die, and Ruth and Orpha lose their husbands.
Imagine what that must have been like, especially for Naomi. She leaves her home hoping for a greater future, but now everything she had is gone. What would it be like for you if you lost everything and everyone, especially your children? Life was incredibly difficult. To make things worse, they were living in Moab without any family support. There was no one there to bring comfort other than the two daughters-in-law. There was no one there to support them, encourage them and lift them up.
Naomi feels that God did this to her. In verse 13, she says "The Lord's hand has gone out against me." As a believer, it is difficult to believe that God is responsible for all of it. There were many times in Israel's history that families had to relocate. Abraham did it in Genesis 12. Jacob did it in Genesis 41. Elijah and the Shudamite woman in I Kings 18 and II Kings 8, respectively, experienced famine in the land of Israel and left to go to a foreign country. God had no problem with this.
Some people think that this happened to Naomi because she intermarried. If you look at the law in Deuteronomy 7, it does not forbid marriage to Moabite women. It forbids marriage to Canaanite women because they were incredibly corrupt and they would lead the people's hearts astray. Only in Ezra 9:12 do you see Moab listed as ones that Israel should not intermarry with because 500 years later they became just as corrupt at the Canaanites. Gad, Ruben and the half-tribe of Manasseh settled in Moab with God's blessing given by Moses in Joshua 13.
When you go through difficulties, it is easy to feel that God is allowing this to happen. What I find interesting is that God does not condemn her. As believers, if you turn your life over to the Lord, you believe he is sovereign and if he is sovereign and something bad happens to me, although he didn't do it directly, he does allow it to happen which is causally indirect. Isn't that even kind of cruel? If someone knows you are going to step into a hole and fall and they allow it to happen, isn't that cruel. Isn't that inhumane?
That's how Naomi feels about God. I'm sure she questioned if it was something she had done. Jesus is asked that same question in Luke 13. A tower fell on a lot of people and a terrorist attack by Pilate killed a lot of Galileans and the disciples said, "Who sinned? Why did this happen? Was it because of a sin?" Jesus said, "No. These things happen. It's not because of the work of people." You don't know when or where things like this are going to happen, and that's why you need to be prepared.
Jesus doesn't answer the question why. If you read the whole book of Job, he struggles with the same question: Why does a good God allow suffering? There is no answer. Maybe that's the answer-that there is no answer. The answer is unique to each situation. It is a mish-mash of free will and God's purposes and the foibles of life and frail people.
God does answer what it is not. In James 1: 13-18, James states that when bad things happen, don't say that God is using it to test you. God doesn't test anyone to sin. God is the father of lights who gives only good gifts. In Matthew 7:9, Jesus tells the people that earthly fathers know how to give good gifts. Fathers don't give their children scorpions if they ask for bread. How can you think that of God the Father? He wants to give good gifts.
Ruth and Naomi later recognize this because the heart of the book of Ruth is Chapter 2:12: "May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." Note the imagery. God is not a strainer that allows some drips to get through that collide with our lives. He is a mother bird who protects his young. A mother bird will die to protect her children. God is a refuge, a cave, one to whom we can go to for protection. God is not a mine field where he allows things to blow up unexpectedly.
The message of Ruth is between Judges and I Samuel, books about national significance. Yet between these two very important books about kings and rulers is the story of Ruth, two insignificant people with insignificant problems compared to national issues. God takes notice of them and cares for them. He reaches out, redeems and heals, and provides a new future and a new hope. That's the message of Ruth. That's the type of God we serve.
What's the stuff in your life that makes you bitter and angry. Maybe you are going through a period like Naomi and Ruth right now. You wonder where God is and how he has allowed this to happen in your life, and doesn't it make God cruel? What do we do about it? We can blame God, pull the covers over our heads and stay in bed. We can allow this to paralyze us and make us bitter and angry. We can give up and have no hope, or we can walk out the door of the church and say, "'I've had enough of this." Or we can do what Ruth and Naomi did-they took a risk.
This is another message from the book of Ruth. Even though God is sovereign and is working things out for good, he does this through people. He turns events through people to bring an answer to prayer.
Ruth and Naomi took a risk, went to seek their fortune, and it failed. It didn't stop them from trying again. The person who took more risks than anyone else was Ruth. Naomi was going back home, but Ruth was leaving home. Instead of deciding to be a wife to a new husband, Ruth decided to be a daughter-in-law. Think about leaving your family and your mother. Think about being willing to give up family and kin, your own culture and your own religion. Think what a change that must have been for Ruth. Did she have any assurance that things would turn out better? No. Ruth took the form of a servant, gleaning the fields for grain. She wasn't poor in her other country. In fact, she was far better off than this. She could have unloaded her mother-in-law. It wasn't her responsibility. She had the perfect opportunity to get away from her, but she willingly stays with her because of her love for her. Just like Jesus in John 13, she takes the role of a servant with no assurance that things will work out.
What happens? Things work out, God provides. She has a chance meeting with a Christian man who happens to be wealthy. She eventually marries him and her future is secure.
There are hundreds of examples today of people who take risks. If you want to succeed in life and faith, it requires risk-taking. Think of Bill Gates. The common knowledge was that you had to have a four year degree to be successful. He quit college in his sophomore year to try to make the computer useful. He didn't know how to build a company, but he did so by taking risks. Missionaries in Korea one hundred years ago said that the country could not be redeemed. Korea now has more Presbyterian Christians than the whole nation of the United States because people took a risk and reached out in God's name.
John Ortmer talks about risking in his book:
"Failure does not shape you. The way you respond to failure shapes you. Jesus is looking for people who will get out of the boat. Why risk? I believe there are many reasons. It's the only way to real growth. It's the only way for true faith to develop. It is the alternative to boredom and stagnation that causes people to wither up and die. It is a part of discovering how to obey your calling. I believe there any many good reasons to get out of the boat, but there is one that trumps them all: The water is where Jesus is at. The water may be dark and wet and dangerous, but Jesus is not in the boat. I believe that God's general method of growing a deep, adventuresome faith in us is by asking us to get out of the boat. More than hearing a great talk or reading a great book, God uses real world challenges to develop our ability to trust in Him. The call to get out of the boat involves crisis, opportunity, often failure, generally fear, sometimes suffering, always the calling to a task too big for us, but there is no other way to grow in faith than to partner with God."
"I don't know what this means for you. If you get out of your boat, whatever it happens to be, you will have problems."
What is God challenging you to risk for him? There's a storm out there and your faith will not be perfect. Risks always hold the possibility of failure, but if you get out, I believe two things will happen:
First is that when you fail, and you will fail sometimes, Jesus will be there to pick you up. You will not fail alone, and you will find that he is still holy and adequate to save.
The other thing is that every once in awhile you will get to walk on water. Why? Because you took a risk.
What is God challenging you, and White Clay, to risk for him? The biggest risk that Ruth took that day was the risk of giving her life totally to the Lord. Naomi said go back to your gods, and Orpha did. Ruth said no, and she made a tremendous profession of faith in verse 16: "Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your god, my god."
She did not use the Moabite word for God which is "Chemosh." She doesn't use the general generic term "Elohim." She uses the personal name of the god of Israel "Yahweh." She risked her entire future by putting it in his hands. How did this change occur? I believe it was due to the testimony of Naomi. In spite of the difficulty she experienced, this woman of faith still trusted in the God she believed caused this in some indirect fashion. She was able to move on in her life. Where does that strength come from?
Ruth noticed that it did not come from Chemosh. It came from the personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I wonder if there is someone here ready to do what Ruth did and to make this leap and risk your entire life for him? Notice what happened when she risked her entire life in one moment of faith. Not only did she gain a new future, a new security and a new family, she wrote herself into the Bible. She was the grandmother of David. Better than that although unknown to her, when you get to the New Testament, she is the great-great-great-great-grandmother of Jesus.
The things God can do when you risk your whole life and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Imagine what he can do for you.
Lee Womack puts this into a wonderful song called "I Hope You Dance." I challenge you to join this dance of faith.
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