Sunday, September 10, 2023
Call to Worship: Come, Let us worship. Teach us Your ways, O Lord, that we may walk in Your truth; give us undivided hearts to revere Your name.
We give thanks to You, O Lord our God, and we will glorify Your name forever.
For Your love is great towards us; …You are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Let us worship, let us praise, let us give thanks!
The God Who Stays and the God who holds us as our world seems to fall apart at times. This is who our God is. This is why we sing this professed truth about who He is, not for Him to know, but for our hearts to remember when the earth below us is crumbling away God is right there by our side; right there reaching down His hand to pull us up; and right there to comfort when we are crushed. It is so imperative that we both read His Word and sing out songs of praise proclaiming who God is and reminding ourselves of His unfailing love, because the truth is this world can deal some pretty heavy blows and we can be left looking around wondering what happened and feel like we are living some life we don’t recognize and we certainly don’t want. We might feel very alone.
It’s in these moments we must train ourselves to come back to His Word and speak truth over our thoughts and our heart-who is God. We just sang about who He is. There are hundreds of promises in His Word about who He is. He is our firm foundation, the rock on which we stand if everything else changes around us. He is our constant that keeps us grounded and enables us to go on and not completely crumble.
If we don’t train ourselves to do this and choose to trust what He says about who He is over what we see and feel; we can grow bitter and cold towards God-blaming Him for the hardships we face, wrongly thinking He has turned from us or forgotten us, or changed in His nature. But that isn’t what His Word says. Then we start living out of what we feel vs. what His Word truly says. Bitterness grows and it moves into hopelessness and this is no way for us to live. This isn’t living at all.
We’re going to look at a family in the Bible who was dealt a really hard blow and there was great loss endured. In this series of forgiveness, I want us to look today with eyes to see what can happen to our hearts when we let bitterness take hold and how that changes our view of who God truly is-which then changes how we live our lives. I also want us to see the nature of God throughout this family’s life and see how He was working in their lives all the way through. See His true nature and may this be an encouragement for us that if we are holding any bitterness towards God for losses we have endured we release it today and ask for a purifying of our hearts. This is the only way for us to know life abundant in Christ and experience the depths of God’s unfailing love.
The family we’re going to look at is in the book of Ruth. Elimelek was married to Naomi and they had two sons. They were from Bethlehem. Note this town, from the tribe of Judah. Note this tribe. There was a famine in the land so they left and went to Moab. What we don’t know: Was this ordained by God for them to leave for provision, or did they make their own decision to leave out of fear and not trusting there would be provision if they stayed? That isn’t recorded. Whether they left on their own, making their own plans or God guiding them to fulfill a bigger, eternal plan that couldn’t happen if they stayed- God worked their great loss and suffering for good, because this is who He is. Our pain is so heavy we can’t always see the good God is bringing forth because all we focus on is our pain. Let us have eyes to see the unfailing love of our God during great pain and suffering.
The family went to Moab and shortly thereafter Elimelek died. The sons married Moabite women and ten years later, the sons also died. All that was left was Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. Tremendous loss and suffering for her and these women. But also provision. Naomi learned the famine was over and since she was now older, she knew she had to return home to be with her extended family. The daughters wanted to come too Naomi tried to encourage them to stay in their homeland and remarry because she wouldn’t have any way to provide for them. She left Judah full with her husband and two sons, then daughters added, and she would be returning empty, bitter, and without hope for her future.
Ruth 1:11-20 NIV
11 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? 12 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— 13 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!” 14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16 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. 17 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.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. 19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.
- Suffering in This Life. Naomi was greatly suffering-as were her daughters-in-law. They all experienced great loss. This is not a message to make light of our suffering because that is real and devastating at times. This message is acknowledging the truth there will be times we can’t find an answer as to why we are amid this suffering, sometimes our choices bring it on ourselves to be sure, but other times it just arrives doesn’t it? We live in this broken world that is full of sin and where there is sin, there will be suffering in all kinds of forms.
God never promises us a life without suffering as we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord. That is a great misconception and discouragement for many young Christians who think but I believed and I am following you, why would You let this happen to me God? I should be exempt from all this pain. We can become very angry with God when we have this wrong understanding and place great blame on God for any hardship we face. This causes us to turn from God and puts a wedge in our heart between us and God’s love. When we have this mindset, we treat God as if He must respond to our desires and our will. When we do this we are not revering God as Holy, Sovereign and Lord of all.
Here is what we are promised though as we believe in Jesus and walk with Him:
Psalm 34:19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all;
There is certainty in this statement that the righteous WILL have many troubles, repeated troubles and trials. No escaping this truth in this life. BUT the promise that gives us hope to endure and press on is this, the Lord delivers him from them all.
Jesus affirms this promise of hope for us:
John 16:33 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
He is saying Child-I am with you and I have overcome this sin and brokenness-you will be restored, you will be made whole, you will be at peace fully-one day. It’s a certainty because I have already accomplished it. Trust Me and lean into Me to help you through these hard times. I am your rock to stand on.
Jesus was not without suffering as He walked this earth. He suffered terribly, not just in His horrible death for our sake, but in rejection and mocking of others who refused to acknowledge who He was and is. He suffered in watching others die as we all do. He knows suffering and He understands our suffering, so He gives us hope to cling to that He delivers us from all of it and He has overcome all this brokenness. We receive this by faith. It’s our faith in Him and what He has promised that helps us endure and keep living without becoming bitter.
Naomi in her great loss allowed her heart to grow bitter. It’s understandable and very much in our human nature to have happen, but this can destroy us.
- We Must Guard Our Hearts.
Ruth 1:20 20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.
The name Noami means pleasant and Naomi felt her life was far from pleasant and God was surely against her, so she made a point to tell all her extended family and friends who knew her before her great losses-I’m not that person any more I don’t identify as Naomi. I am now bitter, which is what Mara meant. She intentionally chose a name to reflect what was growing in her heart.
The danger when we do this-Naomi was projecting this upon her life and manifesting it more and more in her heart-bitterness over love and hope. The more we speak in this manner, the more we bring it forth in our lives. We must be careful what we speak out. Bitterness makes our heart sick.
When we experience deep suffering, we can turn away from God and blame Him for all we endure. We can become bitter or disregard Him altogether because we feel He has failed us or one we love. If we have let this happen we have to release built up anger or even hatred towards God in our hearts. We often can’t comprehend how any good can come through the great losses we suffer, and yet this is what God does. Many times, it’s beyond our understanding of what we feel would be good; but as we keep our hearts pure before God, we eventually see beauty rising from our ashes. More so, one day we will see the glory revealed in us as we trust in God.
Romans 8:18 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 5: 3-5 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Do you hear today what we have in Jesus? Our present sufferings-no matter how great they are- won’t hold a candle to the glory that is to come! That might be hard to process now, to imagine something so great that all our hurt and suffering pales in comparison but this is the promise, this is the hope we cling to! For this is what awaits us.
We glory in our sufferings. It doesn’t say we are happy or joyful even in that pain and loss-no our pain is real and we feel it. We are told we glory in it-because through it we are being shaped, molded, and matured in Christ to develop His character and to grow our hope. Let us have eyes to see what God is doing in us and those we love in these seasons. Let us be willing to let Him shape us and strengthen us and let us increase our hope for what is yet to come that Christ has promised us.
We will suffer in this life-but we have a choice to press into God and lean on Him in our times of suffering, holding on to the hope of what is yet to come through this; or we can go it alone. I pray for you that you choose the first option because living without hope is no way to live at all.
As we come to know God and His Word, we learn and begin to trust more and more that even in our greatest hardship and Noami certainly was living great hardship-He promises to work good.
- God Works All Things for Good.
Romans 8:28 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This is why we must guard our hearts-to love God. As you love Him, the promise is He will bring good from your pain. This doesn’t mean it erases what was lost, but as only God can, He will bring goodness in some way.
God was going to do something amazing in Naomi’s life, far bigger than anything she could have hoped for. Far greater than just her life-but she didn’t know that amid her pain. She came back empty and God was about to fill her overflowing. Watch what happens and how God was working for good.
They arrive back in their homeland and Ruth says she will glean leftover grain on the edges of the field-which was a practice for those in need- and she happens upon the field of Boaz-who was a relative of Naomi’s husband. Boaz learned of who Ruth was and how she honored her mother-in-law by staying with her, leaving her own family, to follow the living God Naomi believed in. Boaz greets Ruth and blesses her:
Ruth 2:12 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.”
Ruth went back to Naomi and shared about her encounter with Boaz. Suddenly, hope emerges in Naomi again. She sees, there is a way, they could be provided for and instead of bitterness, she speaks blessing again.
Ruth 2:20 20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.
Boaz told Ruth to continue to take what she needed from his fields so she would remain safe from anyone who might otherwise harm her. He also gave her extra to take to Naomi. Look at what he said to her and see how God was speaking through him.
Ruth 3:17 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
God knew Naomi felt empty and this was a foreshadowing of what was to come for her and Ruth.
It wasn’t long before Boaz agreed to marry Ruth and redeem her since she was a widow. This was a practice in their day so those who died without children would not be forgotten. Note-Ruth was a Moabite-not an Israelite. But because she chose to believe in God and honor Noami, God used her in a most significant way.
Look at what the women say to Naomi as they welcome her new grandson into the world.
Ruth 4: 14-15 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
Ruth 4: 16-17 16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
This means God used this story of tragedy and great loss, to bring incredible good through His eternal plans and purpose-this baby continued in the lineage to bring forth our messiah, Jesus who came through the line of King David. Naomi could have never known this as she left for Moab and as she felt abandoned by God without her boys-but she was never abandoned. She had Ruth and God restored her family beyond what she could ever hope for. They were not forgotten-they were redeemed and part of His divine plan.
This is our promise:
1 Peter 5:10 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Conclusion: Let us guard our hearts from bitterness. Let us choose to press into God’s unfailing love in these times and trust He will comfort, strengthen, and provide what we need to bring us through. Let us believe by faith, He will bring good as only He can and restore us in ways we can’t even imagine asking for.