relationships

When We Try to Help God

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Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I try to look for a home that would be good for you? Ruth 3:1 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

“God loves you and people have a wonderful plan for your life!” This is what a good friend of mine would say when people made suggestions to the pastor or other people. It was a rephrasing of one of the Four Spiritual Laws by Bill Bright of Cru and had a ring of truth to it.

My friend and I, along with countless other pastors, have heard well-intentioned suggestions from people in the church many, many times. It goes something like this—”Pastor, I think you should…” or “Pastor, it would be good if you….” You get the idea.

It is human nature to do this. We all have thoughts about what others should or should not do, or how we might do something better or differently. Even if we don’t verbalize these thoughts out loud to others, we still have them.

This is the byproduct of our self-centered nature. It’s our attempt at helping God or even acting like Him in other people’s lives. It’s something we inherited from our ancestors Adam and Eve.

Our plans or God’s way?

In chapter three of Ruth, the story takes an important turn. It zeroes in on one relationship within one day. Although God has His plan and His way for bringing Boaz and Ruth together, Naomi sees the need to step in to help. She spots a way to secure a better future for herself and her daughter in law.

When we view things from Naomi’s point of view, as best we can, we get an idea of why she sets this plan in motion for Ruth to encounter Boaz in a closer way. Here’s a glimpse into what motivates Naomi—

  • Bethlehem is Naomi’s homeland not Ruth’s

  • Naomi feels responsible for Ruth the Moabitess whom she brought to Bethlehem

  • Naomi understands the customs and traditions of her people in a way Ruth would not

  • Naomi sees an opportunity to help Boaz and Ruth come together in marriage

  • Naomi understands the role of a kinsman-redeemer (Lev 25:25) and how it benefits her

  • Naomi knows Ruth will submit to her and whatever advances Boaz makes toward Ruth

This is putting the best construction on things as far as Naomi’s motives. But the reality is this—Naomi is trying to manipulate a situation—as well as Boaz and Ruth—for her own purposes.

Naomi sees an opportunity and sets her plan in motion (see text below). She explains the timing and describes how Ruth should make herself available to Boaz. Naomi also instructs Ruth how to look and smell her best for the occasion. Naomi adds her final advice to let Boaz take the lead when the time comes.

This is manipulation, nothing less. When we try to do similar things in the lives of others, we’re being manipulative. When we do such things, we are interfering with God and His ways. In a sense, we see ourselves—like Naomi—helping God in some way.

Some things to consider

Was Naomi just trying to help move things along with the relationship between Boaz and Ruth? Yes!

Do you think Naomi expected Boaz to take advantage of Ruth in this situation to force something to happen between the two of them? I’ll let you decide but it should be obvious.

What isn’t obvious, or perhaps expected, is how both Ruth and Boaz handle themselves in this manipulated situation. We’ll see this in the next episode of our stories of redemption in the Book of Ruth.

Are there ways you have or are currently trying to help God in some way?

Reflection—

When we try to do similar things in the lives of others as we see Naomi do, we’re being manipulative. When we do such things, we interfere with God and His ways. As has been said before—we don’t need to be the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself trying to suggest how others ought to be or what they ought to do, stop and repent. Ask the Lord to help you see how you might be doing this with others, and ask Him for the grace to let go and for His forgiveness.


Devo Scripture Text

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.

When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. (Ruth 3:1-5 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

Wherever You Go, I Will Go

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Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Ruth 1:16 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

This is one of my favorite segments of the story of Ruth. It is a pivotal scene in the narrative. This dialog between Naomi and Ruth illustrates a few important and valuable themes in Ruth representative of the Bible’s larger narrative arc.

Four things in particular stand out to me—faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship.

Faith

Ruth demonstrates great faith with her insistence to go with Naomi to Judah. Unlike her sister Orpah, Ruth is not returning to her homeland, her people, or her gods. She trusts in the Living God of Israel—Naomi’s God. She trust Naomi’s confidence in God’s provision (Ruth 1:6) although she has not seen it.

Ruth is willing to commit herself to Naomi and follow her to a land she has not seen and a people who are not hers. Remember, she is a Moabite widow—a foreigner to Naomi’s people. And, Naomi is clear there are no guarantees (Ruth 1:11-13).

Faithfulness

Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi is expressed in an emotional and strong way in verses 16-17—

“Don’t force me to leave you. Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and I will be buried there with you. May the Lord strike me down if anything but death separates you and me!”

What a dramatic and heartfelt plea! Consider how personal it is. This isn’t about beliefs and theology, it’s based on Ruth’s relationship with Naomi and Naomi’s relationship with her God.

It’s also an astounding commitment of faith and faithfulness to Naomi, her people and customs, her land, and her God—the Living God of Israel.

Redemption

Redemption is seen in Ruth’s confession in two ways. She converts from the gods of her people—the Moabites—to trusting in the Living God of Israel. Ruth is also a prophetic indicator of things to come. She is a prophetic sign of the inclusion of Gentiles—non-Jewish people—in the redemption of all humanity by Jesus.

The Jewish people saw the Kingdom of God as exclusively for them. Unless Gentiles were converted to Judaism, they wouldn’t be included in God’s Kingdom. The early church thought this way as well, as seen by early Jewish church leaders protesting the apostle Peter’s involvement with the conversion of a Roman centurion (Acts 10:45-46; 11:18).

This prophetic sign is also seen in the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Typically, women would not be included in a Jewish genealogy but she is one of two Gentiles and five women listed (Matt 1:5).

Discipleship

Ruth’s declaration of faith and commitment to Naomi is a model of true discipleship. Not to another person but to the Lord. Consider Ruth’s statements as if addressed to Jesus. Jesus calls His followers—His disciples—to deny yourself, die to yourself (take up your cross), and follow Me (Matt 16:24.

Let’s look at them line by line—

  • Don’t make me turn back…— this models repentance, a turning away from our former life.

  • Where you go, I will go…stay…— this is a personal commitment to follow as Jesus calls believers to follow Him.

  • Your people…my people…Your God…my God.— this models a confession of commitment and identification with God’s people, the church community, and corporate worship.

  • Where you die I will die…— because Israel’s God is a living God, this expresses a hope in resurrection from the dead—the believer’s living hope (Job 19:25; Matt 22:31-32).

One last thought. Notice how Naomi responds to Ruth’s confession of commitment and faith. At first, Naomi doesn’t see the level of Ruth’s commitment. When she does, she accepts it and Ruth’s faith and allows Ruth to journey with her to Judah.

We need to be wary of limiting God’s power to draw people to Himself through us, even when we don’t see it right away. Don’t look past the people in your life. Engage with those you come in contact with on a daily basis. Listen to their life stories. Build relationships.

All people have value to God because His image is imbedded in each of us. Jesus is the focus of our faith (Heb 12:2) and all humanity is the focus of redemption (John 3:16).

Reflection—

Consider Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi as a declaration of faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship in the Lord. This is what God calls all of us to when we respond to His love and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Regardless of your present circumstances—whether favorable or not—allow Ruth’s confession and declaration to be a guide for your prayer and trust in the Lord.


devo Scripture Text

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:15-18 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

The Challenge of Bitterness and Blame

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“No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.” Ruth 1:13 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

I’ve called these devotional studies in the Book of Ruth, Stories of Redemption, because of the many turns in the larger story of Ruth.

The story of Ruth the Moabitess is a glimmer of light in the midst of the national darkness Israel went through in the periodic leadership of the Judges sent by God.

The theme of redemption runs throughout Ruth but looks ahead in a prophetic way to Jesus—the Redeemer of all humanity.

The bitter goodby

In this story, Naomi plans to return to her homeland with her two widowed daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth. As they prepare to head to Judah, Naomi realizes how difficult the travel and transition back home will be for all three of them.

The two Moabite women would be outsiders back in Judah and Ruth expresses her own bitterness about her situation and blames God for it. Naomi urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their own people, land, and gods, then speaks a blessing over them.

As she kisses them goodby, Orpah and Ruth weep out loud and insist on going back with Naomi. But Naomi tries to reason with them—she doesn’t have anything to offer them and they’d be better off in their own familiar homeland.

There’s an obvious bond between these three women forged by time and shared hardships. Each of them is without husband or children. They’ve grieved together in their life together.

At this point, Naomi shares her heart in an honest and open way—

No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.

Once again, they erupt with loud grieving with the realization a choice needs to be made and Naomi tries to clarify her self, her decision, and the inevitable separation.

Orpha kisses Naomi goodby but Ruth clings to her.

This is a redemptive turning point. It may not seem so at first glance but it is a significant event as the story unfolds. It’s a choice with future impact seen later in the larger story.

Grief, separation, and choice

Imagine the bond between these three women. They were family and they shared common memories and grief. The two Moabite women seem to have a sense of hope and shelter in Naomi’s God.

Saying goodby and moving far away brings the reality of separation into clear focus. It is often preceded and followed with grief. It was especially so in those days. Once they separated, there would be no going back to see one another either way.

Our freedom to travel from one place to another now was unknown even a century ago except for the very wealthy. Only those looking to find a new life in a new place would risk this kind of separation. Even so, it isn’t without its own often immeasurable costs.

The missionaries who set out for distant lands in years gone by knew the grief of goodbyes and separation from loved ones and their homeland. Many knew they would never return. They either didn’t have the resources or knew they were destined to die while on mission.

Even now, cross-cultural missionaries have a lot of goodbyes to say. Some are much harder than others. Every missionary experiences this not just when they leave but while on the field. You need to learn to say goodby often as people come and go in your life.

When we left our family and friends, our home culture, and home church to move to the Philippines, we also left our oldest son to finish school. That was the hardest goodby and the roughest year for us as a family on the field.

It was difficult when we said many final goodbyes as we brought our ministry to a close several years ago. But each goodby came because of a choice we made.

There are some goodbyes where other people leave and we remain. Some separations are not our choice but the result of circumstances beyond our control.

Where’s the redemption in all this?

Redemption can come when we make the choice to say goodby and move on because we see beyond the separation and grief of those goodbyes. Sometimes it’s a matter of faith to see beyond the situation. Other times God’s grace and comfort help us move forward in faith.

Naomi only saw her own situation from her point of view. She was bitter and blamed God. Orpah realized the logic of Naomi’s choice to go back to her homeland and people. So she chose to stay in her homeland with her people and her gods.

But Ruth saw beyond her situation by faith. She trusted in Naomi’s God and had hope. As the story continues, we’ll see how pivotal a figure Ruth becomes in these stories of redemption, even the redemption story for all humanity.

Reflection—

Times of separation and grief are also times of choice. We can choose to hang on to the bitterness they bring or let it go of it. We can choose to blame or trust God. We can see only loss or look forward by faith beyond the loss.

Prayer Focus—

When you face a difficult goodby or separation, ask the Lord for grace to handle it well, comfort to endure it, and faith to see beyond it.


Devo Scripture Text

With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband.

Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them?

No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:7-14 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

These 4 Things Are Inside-Out and Upside-Down

Three things cause the earth to tremble,

even four it cannot bear up under:

a slave when he becomes king,

a godless fool when he is filled with food,

a woman who is unloved when she gets married,

a maid when she replaces her mistress. (Proverbs 30:21-23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:20-33 GW)


Benjamin Franklin is credited for several proverbial sayings typifying early America. Many of his sayings ascribed a sense of order important for a new nation birthed through a revolution. Here’s one of them—

A place for everything, everything in its place.

This isn’t just an American sentiment. It’s universal. It’s innate in our humanness. We like and want order. Something inside us wants to bring the chaos or disorganization around us into some form of order.

Out of order

When things are out of order, it’s unsettling. When a different or new form or order comes, it’s more than unsettling. It’s as if things are turned inside-out and upside-down.

This happens in many ways in daily life and across generations and centuries. A basic knowledge of history makes this clear.

Revolutions and wars have a way of resetting the previous order of things—new governments and far-reaching societal upheavals. Modern examples are the American and French revolutions. But political and social change reaches around the globe and back through many centuries.

Most of us aren’t students of world history and sociology. We’re more concerned with disruptive changes impacting our lives in a personal way.

These three verses give us four life situations where things are not how we’d expect or want them to be. Each of them can be found throughout history and also in the Scriptures.

When a slave becomes king

In one of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, it speaks of a vile or contemptible person who would become a king but not recognized with royal honor. Later, he does terrible things to the people of God—slaughtering many.

He was an infamous king who desecrated the temple of God in Jerusalem when he sacrificed a pig on the altar (Dan 11:21, 29-36).

This illustrates what happens with a person who does not know or understand how to handle authority. They abuse their power at the expense of others and themselves.

The full fool

Here’s another story of a king from the book of Daniel. Daniel was known as trustworthy and faithful. He became a great statesman and advisor to the great emperor, Nebuchadnezzar—even in the emperor’s worst times (Dan 2:27-34).

Much later in Daniel’s life, when Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar reigned, Daniel was forgotten and Belshazzar was foolish and impudent. During a great feast, when he was full of food and wine and himself, he had the sacred articles of Jewish worship brought in to worship his gods (Dan 5:1-7).

His foolishness cost him the empire and his life. That same night after being warned by a miraculous sign of a finger writing on the wall, Darius the Mede invaded, conquered the empire, and put him to death.

When a fool is full, he becomes full of himself and a danger to himself and others.

An unloved woman

The story of the patriarch Jacob’s first wife, Leah, is an example of the impact of neglect, jealousy, and favoritism. Each of these has a harmful ripple effect for obvious reasons.

Sadly, the repercussions of Jacob and Leah’s troubled marriage and the children born by her and her handmaidens rippled on for generations. It didn’t just impact their family but the nation of Israel for generations (Gen 29:30-32).

One way we see God’s favor upon Leah, almost as compensation for being unloved by Jacob (Gen ), is how she was blessed to give birth to six sons—three times those of Rachel, the loved wife. Even when we disrupt God’s order, He moves to bring restoration.

The replaced mistress

Sometimes ideas and plans don’t bring their expected results. When it comes to our own efforts to circumvent God’s direction and provision for our lives, it never brings the results we expect.

God promised a son to Abraham but it took much longer than expected. In fact, he and his wife had grown old past the age of bearing children. Sarah, his wife decided to make God’s promise come to pass by having Abraham lay with her servant, Hagar (Gen 16:1-5).

After Hagar gets pregnant she despises her mistress, Sarah, thinking she was better and preferred over her. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Sarah and Abraham is caught in the middle. The story gets worse as it goes on except for one thing—God’s faithfulness.

So many lessons could be drawn from this saga but the connection to this proverb is simple. When we try to reorder things our way from what God intends, we turned things inside-out and upside-down and wonder why.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the exceptions don’t become the rule. When a person is not equipped or prepared for a certain role, they aren’t able to handle it well. When their expectations aren’t met or are unrealistic—there will be unintended consequences.

Reflection—

We always have the choice to trust God when faced with various life situations. Trusting Him means having the long view of things—willing to wait upon the Lord’s direction and provision. When we try to reorder things our way, we’re likely to turn things inside-out and upside-down.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself struggling to trust God in any life situation, reflect on these life lessons and others like them in the Bible. Consciously choose to trust the Lord rather than figure it out your own way. Express this choice to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for the wisdom and grace to leave it in His hands.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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