Rarely does life ever turn out the way we plan.
Sometimes it turns out good.
Sometimes it turns out better.
And sometimes it turns out abundantly more than anything we could ever have imagined.
After losing all the things she held most dear to her heart, Naomi came to the end of herself in Moab. Without her husband and her sons to provide for her, Naomi’s future seemed hopeless. In the eyes of the society in which she lived, Naomi was destitute.
Moab hadn’t changed. It was still a lovely place. It was still beautiful. Still filled with an abundance of food and drink. Things in Moab hadn’t changed, but things for Naomi in Moab had. She was no longer thriving in the land of prosperity.
Naomi’s sons had married Moabite women in Moab, even though God had told His people over and over again, “Don’t intermarry with the nations around you” because He knew if they did they would also marry into their philosophies and ways of life. They would become more and more like those whom God had said, “Don’t be like them.”
How can we expect to make a difference in this world–a difference for Jesus–if we’re not willing to live with a different spirit?
To those who can’t understand it, it sounds harsh. To those who don’t want to understand it, it sounds intolerant. To those who don’t know the true character of God, it sounds unloving.
Yet, the truth is…if God’s children look like the rest of the world, act like the rest of the world, talk like the rest of the world, and agree with the rest of the world, then doesn’t it make sense that the world would look at us and think, “Well, Jesus hasn’t made that much difference in you so what do we need Him for?”
Because that’s how I react to that question. Not with condemnation.
But with conviction.
God had called His people to have a different spirit.
To be in the world…not of the world.
To be in The House of Bread and The Place of Praise–even in a famine–and not in Moab.
When Naomi heard that the “Lord had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them” back in Bethlehem-Judah she no longer wanted to be in the world of Moab. When she took those first steps out of Moab with her heart longing for home, her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, wanted to follow.
But, on the banks of the Jordan River, with Bethlehem-Judah just over the hills, something happened that would change the course of their destinies.
One daughter-in-law would return to Moab. The other would stay close to Naomi all the rest of her days.
Orpah is symbolic of a woman who has to make the choice between the old way of life and the new, between the wide road and the narrow road, between the way back or the way forward.
Even though the choice was difficult, even heartbreaking, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, weeping loudly. She exits the pages of Scripture and we never hear from her again.
We journey with certain people on this earth for a time, for a season, but one day we realize we need to let them go because they just might hold us back.
Some friends just don’t want to travel with us on difficult journeys. They don’t want to go where God is leading us. They can’t understand it. Don’t want to understand it. They don’t know the character of God the way we do.
As difficult and heartbreaking as it is, sometimes we have to say good-bye. We can’t hold onto them. We can’t change them. We can’t save them.
The parting between Orpah and Naomi was painful. Just because Orpah chose to stay in Moab didn’t mean she didn’t love Naomi and Ruth. It didn’t mean she wasn’t going to miss them. It didn’t mean she was heartless or selfish or reckless.
Orpah just wasn’t convicted.
When God brings us to the banks of our own personal Jordan, it’s easy to stay there by the river with our idols still within our grasp. It’s easy to compromise our convictions. To give in to fear. To let our emotions, our tears, and sadness hold us back.
Letting go is never easy because…
…there’s a longing within each of us to be loved. Adored. Treasured.
…there’s a yearning within each of us to be needed. Wanted. Accepted.
…there’s a wanting within each of us for companionship. Friendship. Fellowship.
Letting go of good things is never easy. Some friendships are good for us, but they’re not God’s best for us in seasons of change and transition.
Oprah couldn’t follow because her heart wasn’t willing to go and if her heart wasn’t willing then she would only have made it harder for Naomi and Ruth.
We need to travel life’s difficult journeys with those whose hearts travel with us.
The road out of Moab led through a mountainous terrain. It was a road that would take Naomi and Ruth uphill. They would make their way through the Judaean hills to get to Bethlehem on the other side. The climb would be treacherous for 2 women. Dangerous. Hazardous.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling perilous terrain I don’t want a wimp beside me. I want someone with Strength. Courage. Conviction.
Ruth was so convicted that Naomi’s own discouragement did nothing to dissuade her.
Wow. I love that about her.
One of the most beautiful passages of undying love and affection in the Old Testament is found right here in the Book of Ruth as Ruth pledged her loyalty to Naomi:
“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 anything but death separates you and me.” 1:16-18
Strength. Courage. Conviction.
Ruth had it. Orpah did not.
Ruth had lived in Moab her entire life. She’d known many gods, but she’d heard Naomi talk of the One True God and something deep inside of her wanted to know more.
Ruth’s heart was more than willing to go. She left it all behind to reach for Namoi’s God and she would be richly rewarded. Ruth would marry a good man in Bethlehem-Judah, a godly man, a man who–along with Ruth–would be listed in the lineage of Christ. (Matthew 1)
Ruth dared to believe that her prosperity wasn’t in Moab with all it’s flowing streams and abundant grain, but in the land of God’s chosen people, even though it didn’t look promising for her and her widowed mother-in-law.
This is where Ruth reveals the moral integrity of her heart and this is where Ruth sets herself apart.
This is the moment Ruth confesses a different spirit. Denying all but declaring all.
And how God would lift her up! As she journeyed with Naomi through mountain pathways, He would not let her foot slip. He would not let her fall. He would make her stronger than ever.
God would make Ruth the friend Naomi needed. Together they would journey out of Moab and into Bethlehem-Judah. Together they would find their way back into a land of great spiritual promise and true prosperity. Together they never looked back.
Scripture tells us Naomi left Moab with a bitter heart. We gamble when we step outside of God’s will for us. There are no guarantees we won’t lose it all, but even when life doesn’t turn out the way we plan and the future doesn’t look good or promising…
…it doesn’t mean it won’t get better. God is in the restoration business, my friends!! The whole message of Ruth is all about His redeeming love.
The story of Ruth doesn’t end with a bitter heart. If you read the rest of the Book, you’ll discover that Naomi surrendered her bitterness and God restored her joy. He made her full again.
From bitter to better.
Not just better, but abundantly more than she could ever have imagined!
I love, love, love it about God that there is absolutely nothing He can’t redeem. Nothing He can’t restore. Revive. Refresh. Renew. There’s just so much promise in all those RE-words.
And I love it that there are still Ruths in this world with a different spirit. Friends with Strength. Courage. Conviction. Friends who come alongside us in seasons of famine and help us to persevere in our House of Bread and our Place of Praise so that we won’t want to venture into the land of Moab where the grass is NOT always greener on the other side.
Because “it’s always better to be hungry in the will of God than to be full outside the will of God.” –unknown