The God of Hope

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 (NIV)

A portion of my day is spent being captivated by the lives of two women in Scripture that lived thousands of years ago. My wonderful friend, Holly, is being greatly used by God to make these women, belonging to a different time and place, come to life each Wednesday morning. I belong to a wonderful small group of women that the Lord has ordained for me to learn from and care about. Something amazing happens, my dear sisters, when we invite Jesus to be the focus of our friendships. I have seen Him take complete strangers and transform relationships forever through the study of His Word. If anyone is looking for deep, meaningful relationships, join a Bible study group where Jesus is lifted up.

Each week we are doing an in-depth study of a particular passage in the book of Ruth. This is our fourth week and we are not even out of the first chapter of the book yet. There are so many things I have learned, but the one thing that strikes me over and over again is that whether someone lived thousands of years ago or is living today in 2008, the needs, pains, and desires of the human heart are the same.

Both Ruth and Naomi were widows. In a culture where a woman's status was wrapped up in her husband, these two women were in dire straits. They had no way to support themselves. Naomi had lost not only her husband, but her only children also--two sons--one of whom was Ruth's late husband. In an astonishing display of her commitment to Naomi, Ruth vowed to never leave her mother-in-law.

This week of study focused on Ruth 1:19-22:

19 [Ruth and Naomi] traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and [the local women] exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?"

20 "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara," she answered, "for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I left full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has pronounced [judgment] on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

22 So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Can't you hear the despair in Naomi's voice? She left a prominent woman in her community, blessed with a husband and two sons, having left her homeland full in her own words. Naomi's name in Hebrew means, "my joy, pleasant, sweetness." Now a widow, homeless and destitute, Naomi cannot bear to hear her name spoken in reference to her. Too many old memories, more bitter than sweet. "Naomi" mocked all that her life had become. And so she requested her friends of her former lifetime and status not to call her by her given name. Instead, she wanted to be called what her soul had become--"Mara," which means "bitter."

My sweet sister, are you stuck in that place of thinking that even God Himself is against you? Have circumstances in your life become so unbearable that you, like Naomi, feel as though He has pronounced His judgment against you? It is the lowest place we can possibly be when we believe that God Himself is against us.

The Bible does not soft-soap consequences for our sin. There is judgment. If we are living in defiance to the Word of God's authority over our lives, we can experience the most bitter place imaginable. But do we realize that our God is always and forever the God of hope? Maybe your pit is not one that you have made for yourself through any disobedience of your own, but you still find yourself in its depths. Corrie ten Boom, a survivor of the Holocaust in Europe during World War 2, said this,

"There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still."

My beloved sister, did you hear that? Whatever pit you may find yourself in today, our God has gone before you, making a way of hope out of your bitter despair. Hold on to Jesus! Take His hand!

The wonderful thing that the Bible does, in many of its God-breathed stories, is give us the ending. Naomi could not see that God had a plan for her back in the land that she had returned to empty. She had yet to learn of all that her God was orchestrating behind the scenes to ensure her provision and care. Can you and I believe that He is doing the same for you and me? He is always at work, giving us the opportunity to change our bitterness into our joy. He gives us back our name!

Jesus, I am overwhelmed right now at the thought of Your amazing grace in my life. You alone have the power to redeem that which causes me such pain. You invite me to trade my ashes for Your beauty, my bitterness for Your joy, and my despair for Your gladness. Help me, Jesus. Help me to rest knowing that my job is not to figure You out, but to be still and know that You are the God of hope!