September 24, 2019
Grace Means God With Me in My Bitter Season
September 11, 2019 | Didi Bacon
This past Sunday in our message, we began a journey through the story of Ruth. The summary of the first chapter is captured in the last two verses. In this part of the story we are told that Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth return to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. They are both widows. Naomi had left Bethlehem years ago to go to Moab with a husband and two sons. She returned empty. When the folks of Bethlehem welcomed her home this was her response.
She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"
So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Ruth 1:20-22 (NASB)
We will all experience this feeling in life. A season we want to call “Mara” - bitter. A season where all the choices you made, hoping for the best ended up some of the worst. Maybe it happened in your marriage. You started in love but ended in divorce. Maybe it is your health. You were once fit and able but now you are unfit and unable. Maybe it is in rearing children, you thought you were doing the right thing but the kids are now doing all the wrong things.
In these seasons of bitterness, it is hard to see how God is with us. Faith, optimism, trust in prayer become harder and harder. It feels like that you are not really moving forward towards anything good. It is hard to see God at work. But that is why I love this book of Ruth. Because the story makes us aware of another perspective in play. We are able to see Naomi and Ruth in their plight but also able to see God at work. We are able to see something about the God of Israel, the God of Naomi and Ruth, the God of the great shepherd king David who will be a descendant of Naomi and Ruth, in turn who would be the ancestor of the Jesus, the one who will make a way for all to have God with us. What we will see is that God’s grace is God is with us even in our bitter seasons. He was always with Naomi and Ruth. As things went from bad to worse, He was with them.
As we work through this little story we see that the God we love is a God who is at work even in the lives of the lowly and marginalized. We see the path to which Naomi and Ruth will be brought out of their season of bitter emptiness and into a season of sweet fullness.
The first steps on that journey are captured for us in this first chapter. Naomi never gives up her faith in God. Even if it was weak and small. It is faith that accesses God’s grace. And faith can be simply in looking up in prayer. In verse 8 and 9, notice Naomi’s prayer -
And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. "May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
It was her prayer and hope in God that then moved her forward. She got up and moved toward home in Bethlehem. Faith always moves us forward. Faith is never passive. A ship cannot be steered if it is sitting still. It needs movement to be directed to a course. Faith means choosing to move. It is no surprise that exercise can be more effective than anti-depressants in bringing folks through depression.
And faith always has to include community. Depression isolates. Faith congregates. Naomi’s journey out of bitterness into blessedness involved her being open to community. She tried to push her daughters in law away. Orpah left. Ruth stayed. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture - in verses 16 and 17…But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me."
Grace means God with me in my bitter seasons. Trust in Him. Look up. Move. Be open to community.