“When hard times come, be a student, not a victim.” — Ray Pritchard.
A victim says, “Why did this happen to me?” A student says, “What can I learn from this?”
A victim complains he is being treated unfairly. A student thanks God he is not being treated as he deserves.
A victim tries to get even with those who have hurt him. A student seeks to serve others in the midst of his difficulty.
A victim believes the game of life is stacked against him. A student believes God is at work even in the worst situations.
We rarely control what happens to us, but we can always choose how we will respond.
Sometimes we will make the wrong choice and pay a heavy price for our mistake.
Sometimes we won’t learn the right lessons until we can look back and see how God was at work in our trials.
We can’t control what happens to us.
We can always control how we respond.
Something like that happened to a woman named Naomi.
You can find her story in the Old Testament book of Ruth.
It is a love story that starts with misery and ends with joy.
This tiny book (four chapters) covers a vast range of human emotions, starting with heartache, then moving to intrigue, then romance, then happiness.
Along the way we discover God behind the scenes, which means the real star of the book is the Lord who works in, through and sometimes in spite of the decisions we make.
The opening verses set the scene for us: “During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there. 3 Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband,” (Ruth 1:1-5).
Oswald Chambers wrote about the “dance of circumstance,” by which he meant the hand of God working through seemingly random events.
As far as we know, God never speaks directly to Elimelech, yet he is the Unseen Hand moving behind the events.
Whatever else you may say about your life, don’t ever forget that God oversees the tiniest details.
Nothing escapes his notice, and even the most unlikely events are part of his plan for you.
When the family left Bethlehem, there were four of them, three men and one woman: Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Chilion.
But now Naomi has buried the three men in the mountains of Moab.
When she discusses her situation with Orpah and Ruth, Naomi declares that God has turned his hand against her (Ruth 1:13).
God knows what he is doing even when we don’t have a clue.
In what sense is Naomi prepared for a great work of grace?
As our text ends, Naomi is still in Moab, far from home (figuratively and spiritually), coping with the loss of her husband and her sons.
She is where she shouldn’t be (in a pagan land), separated from God’s people, facing the consequences of her husband’s unwise decision.
She is an older widow, in the company of two younger widows.
It was not an ideal place to be in any sense.
Write over this story in big letters the word HOPELESS.
Naomi is stuck in Moab, a widow with no hope of ever having another child, with two younger widows by her side and those two younger women are not Jews but Moabites.
As far as Naomi is concerned, not only does she have no future, but neither do they if they stay with her.
Part of our challenge in reading the book of Ruth is that we know how the story ends.
We face the same issue when we read about Joseph in the book of Genesis.
How much did Joseph know about the end of the story when his brothers cast him into the pit in Genesis 37?
The answer is nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero.
Ask the same question when he is carted off by the Midianites and then sold as a slave to Potiphar.
How much did he know about the future when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape?
Or when Potiphar had him thrown into jail?
Or when the cupbearer promised to remember him but instead forgot about him while he languished in an Egyptian prison?
The answer is the same.
We like to repeat, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” (Genesis 50:20), as if it explains Joseph’s endurance during the hard times.
But Joseph had no advance knowledge that he (a Hebrew slave) would eventually be second in command in Egypt.
When I’m asked, “Does God have a blueprint for my life?”
I like to reply, “Yes, but there’s only one copy, and it’s locked up on the second floor of the administration building in heaven, and I don’t know any way you can get a copy.”
We aren’t given advance notice of what tomorrow will bring.
That’s true for all of us — rich and poor, young and old, new Christian or mature believer.
We all must take life as it comes to us, one day at a time.
Naomi still believes in God, even in a foreign land, cut off from her own people.
If she is bitter at the Lord, at least she has not turned from him.
She is a bruised believer, brokenhearted at what she has lost.
If we callously say, “She got what was coming to her,” we only reveal how little we understand about God’s heart.
He is rich in grace, and his pockets are deep and full of mercy.
God has not given up on Naomi, no matter what she may think about him.
He has big plans that are about to unfold.
Little does she know that one day she will hold a baby in her lap who will be the grandfather of King David.
Still less could she imagine that her daughter-in-law Ruth (a Moabite maiden) will end up in the line of the Messiah.
Her sadness will be turned to joy, and she will discover that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. But all that is yet to come.
Dear friend, will you be a student or a victim?