Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sacrifice and Acceptance

Haven't read Ruth yet? No problem! Read it online for free now!

Last month, I set up a new Bible reading plan for myself. I'd been struggling to stick with my devotions, mainly because I felt like I wasn't learning anything or growing. I jumped from study to study, book to book, in my search for a deeper connection with God. Finally, I gave up on books or pre-made reading plans. Instead, I made a list of all the books of the Old Testament I'd thought it would be interesting to read. Yeah, preachers talk about how the whole Bible connects and every word is important, and that's true. But that doesn't mean every word is interesting or makes sense without extensive study and references. I wanted to find a way to make reading the Bible as interesting to me as reading fiction was. So I picked out the books of the Bible that stand on their own, that tell individual stories, that don't involve chapters and chapters of genealogies or prophecies that are beyond my current knowledge of Bible study.

My plan was just to read a chapter a day, less if I was short on time, and then write out a summary and an analysis of what I'd read in my notebook. No dictionaries, no word studies, no cross references. Just me, and God's Word, and my brain. Could I really learn anything that way? With no human teacher to connect the dots of culture and word meanings and other places this story is mentioned in the Bible? I set out to answer that question.

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The first book I read through was Ruth. I was surprised to find the story was only four chapters long. Four days, that's all it took me to read through a book I'd been thinking about studying for months now. Each day, I just wrote in the analysis whatever hit me. I didn't want to spend forever trying to draw deep, profound thoughts. I figured if God had something to teach me, He didn't need me overcomplicating and overthinking every word to teach it. Guess what? It worked.

Each day's analysis mostly focused on the love story, the happy ending, all the clues pointing to how I already knew the story ended. I mostly treated this little book of the Bible like some favorite paperback romance I was re-reading for joy of the story. The overall lesson I discovered connecting the four chapters was one I did not expect.

Ruth gave up all hope for herself, all dreams of family or acceptance or normalcy when she stayed by Naomi. She vowed to be faithful to Naomi and to serve her God - but in doing so, she vowed to give up all that was familiar and comfortable. She vowed to give up all hope of being accepted as a fellow woman by her neighbors, instead living in a land where everyone knew her as "that Moabite woman." She vowed to give up all hope of having a husband, instead resigning herself to being a childless widow at an age where she was a far cry from spinster status.

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She gave up everything she ever knew and everything she ever wanted for a poor, lonely life with her equally destitute and lonely mother-in-law. But Naomi had her neighbors and friends. Naomi had grown up in this land they were moving to. Naomi had known this God all along, had seen Him work in their lives for better and for worse. Ruth had no experience and no knowledge of this land, this people, this God. Still she chose to sacrifice all her dreams for what she knew was right.

The end result? God blessed her not only with a husband, but with a husband that knew and loved the land and the God that Ruth had chosen. God blessed her not only with a family, but with a son that would be grandfather to David, ancestor of the Messiah himself. God blessed her not only with acceptance among this new people, but with a place of honor in their Holy Scriptures, His perfect Word.

I've mentioned before in my OneWord365 posts this year that God often has different dreams for me than I have for myself. Sometimes God's dreams are better and bigger than anything I'd imagined or dared to hope for - like they were for Ruth. After all, I've wanted from childhood to be a teacher or work in an orphanage or go to the mission field. Not until this past summer did I embrace the idea that God still has dreams that big for me, even when I'd given them up for the sake of "being realistic." It's a lot like what my editor Rachelle talked about in one of her recent blog posts.

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Sometimes God's dreams aren't bigger or better than mine - at least, not from my perspective. They're just different. Not necessarily the kind of different I'd choose, either. Different like losing my cat when I thought he was starting to heal from an infection. I know I'm not the only one who's discovered God's different dreams, either. Sometimes different means a child with cancer. Sometimes different just doesn't make sense.

Whether God asks us to give up dreaming altogether, or to accept a dream that we really think should qualify as a nightmare, there is always a reason. Only when we take up His challenge to us and do the right thing will we realize the blessings laid out on the path God's mapped for us.

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