I want my life to count. I want my ministry to count. And I want this more than ever as I move into the later stages of my life. And so I am encouraged when I have the opportunity to mentor significant people. And though I am still extremely nervous, I also feel good when I have the opportunity to preach the word to key people at key occasions. (One of my dreams is to speak at Urbana.) There is only one problem. God wants me to know that what is truly significant is that my name is written in the book of life (Luke 10:17-20) and that I am His child. So instead of going through life fixated on a quest to find significant people and significant events, I am to be faithful to choose Him and His ways in all the decisions of my life, big or small, and to leave the results to Him.
This truth came home to me yet again as my daily Bible readings returned to the book of Ruth. The story begins on a dark note. It was a time when Israel was in spiritual and moral chaos. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25 NIV).” Against this sad backdrop we meet three widows, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. In the patriarchal society of the day, women were defined by the men in their lives (e.g. fathers, husbands). We can understand why Naomi was bitter (Ruth 1:20). She had lost both husband and sons. Yet in her bitterness she showed kindness. As Noami intended to return to Israel, she released her daughters-in-law, who were Moabites, to return to their families and to their people and to their gods. There would be no future for them in Israel. But they could have a fresh start back in Moab.
Orpah and Ruth had to decide. Do they take up Naomi’s offer or not? Orpah, with a heavy heart, I am sure — she was weeping loudly as was Ruth — decides to take up Naomi’s offer and goes home. Ruth decides differently:
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 1:16-18 NIV)
We wish we had more information as to why Ruth chose as she did. Was it because she had come to believe Yahweh was the true God? Was it compassion for a mother-in-law who had lost everything? We are not told. But Ruth had a decision to make and she chose compassion, and God, over her own legitimate needs. She chose to care for Naomi and embrace Naomi’s God, and in doing so, she goes to a Israel where she will be a foreigner, second class, with no prospects for her future.
We know how the story ends. God is no man’s, or woman’s, debtor. Ruth finds a good husband and the story ends on a joyous note. But what is interesting is that her sacrificial decision, made in a dark and sad time, results in Ruth becoming the great-grandmother of David (Ruth 4:18-22). David was Israel’s greatest King and from him would eventually come Jesus (Matthew 1:1-18). Ruth would become a key player in salvation history.
But when Ruth made the costly decision to stay with Naomi she had no idea that her choice would be so significant. Indeed she never knew, this side of heaven. She wasn’t on a campaign to live a significant life doing significant things for significant people. She had a choice to make and she chose “to love God and to love neighbour.” And God used that choice to do great things.
So then this is the lesson that comes back to me again. Instead of always being obsessed with doing significant things with significant people, I am to choose God and to choose good when faced with the decisions I have to make, whether big or small. And in God’s economy, spending time with aged parents is as significant, if not more, than speaking to key groups, and only time will tell which decisions are more significant in the plans of God.
So dear friends, if you are going through tough times, when the circumstances of life seem to kick you in the gut, and you wonder why God has allowed your life to be bitter, or if your life and the impact you have seem minimal, pick up the book of Ruth again. It will not answer all your questions but it may remind you, as it has reminded me, that no decision you make is insignificant, indeed no life is insignificant. All that God desires, all that He has always desired, is that we trust and obey.