Track 1: God Has a Plan for Us
Naomi struggled just to survive. Things seem hopeless for them. They stood alone, without family support. Naomi’s husband and two sons had died. She was in a foreign land without support. Only her daughter-in-law Ruth stood by her. Yet things changed. From today’s reading of the Book of Ruth:
Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-17)
Naomi returned to Judah. Ruth found a husband. And then Ruth was blessed with a child who became significant, not only to her and Naomi, but to all of Israel.
The story of Naomi and Ruth is our story. Their struggle is our struggle. Life can be extremely difficult and challenging. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in life for us is trusting in the plan that God has for each of us. Do we trust God? Do we accept his ordering and steering of our lives.
The psalmist wrote:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
their labor is in vain who build it.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.
It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late;
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-3)
I remember a difficult time in my life. I struggled to overcome apparent failures and setbacks. I was experiencing so much anxiety that I had trouble getting to sleep at night. Does that ring true for any of you? The psalmist tells us that God “gives his beloved sleep.”
To gain that sleep with all the challenges that faced me, I had to accept an even larger challenge. One of the greatest challenges in life is to accept the plan that God has for our lives. We cannot make things happen by our own wisdom and strength alone. We must trust God and allow him to take over our lives. I believe this is what Naomi learned to do, opening up God’s outpouring of blessings on her. From the wisdom of Solomon:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Are we ready to accept the challenge of trusting God? From Jeremiah we read:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
Track 2: God’s Economy
God’s economy is not the economy of Wall Street nor the economy of bankers and the market place.It is not the economy which some are preaching:” If you give to the church enough money you will eventually win God’s lottery.” It is an economy that can only be understood by revelation from God’s holy word.
Today we will look two widows: one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. First the Old Testament:
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” (1 Kings 17:8-16)
From the New Testament:
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
What did these widows have in common and what can we learn from them? They were poor and needy, facing desperate circumstances. The widow of Zarephath was barely surviving. There was widespread famine and she had little to eat. Nonetheless, she was willing to give the man of God all that she had. In the New Testament, Jesus observed a widow as she gave all the money she had to God.
How many of us are willing to give God all that we have? What would it take for us to do that? The two widows were desperate. But despite that they were able to take their minds off themselves in order to help others. Hopefully, some of the money in the treasury would go to help others in need. In the case of the widow of Zarephath, she gave all the food that she had to Elijah. In both cases, the widows must have been able to trust God for their provisions. The psalmist wrote:
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
and food to those who hunger.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked. (Psalm 146:4-8)
Are we willing to contribute to God out of our abundance? That is a big step for many of us. But to do what these two widows did would require an even greater step. We would have to believe that God is a just God, that he is in control, and that he is willing to take extraordinary steps to care for our wellbeing. Is that our God?
Jesus said that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our financial blessings can be distractions which take us away from depending upon God. The kingdom of God is made up of those people who place God first in their lives and not last, or somewhere down our list of hierarchies.
Where is our focus in life? If we are blessed financially then, all the more, we should be concerned about meeting the needs of others. Our character must become God’s character. God gives justice to those who are oppressed, gives food to those who hunger. lifts up those who are bowed down, cares for the stranger, and sustains the orphan and widow.
God’s economy requires everyone to do their part to help others. Jesus said:
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (Luke 12:48)
We must take our eyes off ourselves and look at the needs of others. There are great opportunities for us to see the miraculous economy of God. We are part of that economy. All other economies are fleeting at best. They are passing away. Are we passing away with them?