Hanging Around The Holy But Never Hearing The Holy Spirit

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God wants to speak to you. And he will. That is good news indeed. Through your daily times with God and in the gatherings of your faith community, you should expect to receive a word from the Lord. God desires to speak to you, and that should be the ongoing experience of both your personal and corporate Christianity. If it isn’t, you are missing out on one of the glorious benefits of being a New Testament believer.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 3:1

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

I Samuel 3 introduces the Bible reader to Samuel. It is also the introduction to what will be one of the greatest periods of spiritual awakening in Israel under Samuel’s leadership. He will be the last and arguably the greatest of Israel’s judges. We actually met Samuel in the first chapter of this book that bears his name when the Lord granted his previously barren mother Hannah’s request for a son.

In fulfillment of a vow that Hannah made that dedicated Samuel to the Lord’s service, when the boy was weaned she took him to Eli the high priest so that he could serve as an assistant in the tabernacle. Samuel would grow up hanging around the holy. Our story today occurs most likely when Samuel is around twelve, and Eli is well into his nineties.

While the time of Samuel’s leadership will bring Israel back to God, it begins because of very dark conditions in Israel. Not only had the nation drifted from its spiritual moorings, Eli was a bad High Priest, and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were thoroughly wicked. Eli was lazy, and he had neither controlled his sons nor held them accountable for their immoral behavior. And the sons were so corrupt that the Lord has determined to slay them.

All of what I have just described will unfold in intriguing detail over the next few chapters. Samuel will be uniquely dialed in to the voice of God. But in this chapter, he wasn’t. We could excuse his initial spiritual dullness because he was so young. And throughout his life he would regularly experience the voice of the God like few ever have. Yet on this occasion when God spoke, Samuel didn’t have a clue it was God.

So let’s focus on that very thing, and extract an application from it. We are told in the very first verse that Samuel was serving the Lord in the daily duties of the tabernacle. He was the high priest’s assistant. We are also told that any word from God was rare in those days. People were not receiving revelations—the prophetic voice calling Israel to repentance had been silenced. So rare was it that God spoke that when he finally did, Samuel was clueless that it was God. He actually thought it was Eli messing with him.

How sad. That anyone could hang around the holiness of God, administering his holy things, yet never hear the voice of the Holy Spirit—and in fact, not even be aware of the Spirit or crying out for a word from the Lord or expecting God to speak—that itself is a spiritual indictment of the worst order.

You and I live in a glorious time when the presence of the Holy Spirit is continual. We don’t need a priest to mediate the Lord’s presence or a tabernacle to be the place where God’s voice can be heard. Through our daily times with God and in the gatherings of our faith community, we should expect to receive the voice of God. God desires to speak to us, and that should be the ongoing experience of both our personal and our corporate Christianity. If we are not hearing from God; worse, if we are not even expecting God to speak, then something is amiss in our spirituality. If our kids are clueless about the voice of God, then we—and they—are missing a vital piece of what it means to be part of New Testament Christianity.

Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs. (Dallas Willard)

God wants to speak. If he isn’t, that is not his fault, it is ours. We have moved away from him. We have put distance between the Almighty and us. We have programmed the Spirit right out of our daily lives and our weekend gatherings. We are hanging around the holy yet never hearing from the Holy Spirit. When you think about it, how terribly sad is that!

If you are not hearing from God, the good news is, he wants to speak. So come before him with a repentant heart, realign your life to give time to hear his voice, get into his Word, begin to ask him to talk to you and then listen on a consistent basis, and he will speak.

You and I need a word from God, and he longs to give it. May God grant us a hearing of his voice!

Going Deeper With God: If you are not hearing from God, come before him with a repentant heart, realign your life to give prime time to hear his voice, get into his Word, begin to ask him to talk to you and then listen. Do that on a consistent basis, and God will speak to you.

Intentional Parenting or Unintentional Consequences

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The ultimate parental dereliction of duty is to allow the children to parent themselves. Your children need a dad and a mom who will give them definite direction in the way they should go. And the promise of scripture is that when they are old, they will not depart from it. That is quite a risky promise, but it is God’s, not mine.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 2:12-13, 22

Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests…. Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel.

Eli was the high priest of Israel as the period of the Judges was coming to a close. Arguably, there was no higher public role than his. Yet there was a job more important than being the Chief Spiritual Officer of Israel, and that was being a dad to his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.

Now while these two were grown men and Eli was very old at the time of this story, it is obvious that many years had passed where Eli had been derelict in his parental duties. Hophni and Phinehas were very wicked men, even though they were priests of the Lord like their father.

The story of this family doesn’t give any details of their upbringing, except that as we have already seen, this was a time in Israel’s spiritual journey that God had been moved to the margins and people were doing whatever they thought best. (Judges 22:25) We don’t know what had happened, or what had not happened. We don’t know if Eli had been off shepherding Israel but not shepherding his own home. We don’t know if Eli was simply lazy as a dad, or if he had a pushover personality, or if his sons were just bad apples, or all of the above.

What we do know is that when we get to these early chapters in 1 Samuel, Hophni and Phinehas were abusing their spiritual authority. They were cheating people out of sacrifices that were meant to the Lord, they were seducing women who came to worship, and were using their role to benefit themselves, and they had deeply offended the Lord, who was now ready to end not just their ministry as priests, but their very lives:

Eli said, “You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. If someone sins against another person, God can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:24-35

Now like many parents, Eli had a heartfelt concern for his sons’ wicked behavior. But unfortunately, like many parents, his concern was not matched by action. And his dereliction of duty only allowed their evil to grow worse, until it reached the point where God had determined to slay them. Keep in mind that God didn’t predetermine that these two would be evil—that is not what the writer is telling us when he says, “they wouldn’t listen to their dad, for God was planning to kill them.” What he is saying is that because of their deliberately evil actions, the Lord allowed their hearts to grow beyond repentance. In other words, God had given them what they were determined to have, and now they would harvest the wild oats they had sowed.

Of course, the over-arching purpose of this story is to connect the increasingly lawless times of the judges with the arrival of the Israel’s monarchy. Interestingly, scripture takes quite a bit of space to do that, using Judges, Ruth and the early part of 1 Samuel to make sure we know how awful society will get when God is not at the center. The account of Eli and his evil spawn is yet one more story that adds to this indictment.

Yet while that is the general theme, we can still extract some very important life applications from these accounts—including this one. One of those applications for me is the recognition that my highest call and chief mission in life is to honor Christ by being an effective father. Furthermore, the fruit of my mission will be seen in my kid’s and grandkid’s lives as they reach adulthood—it will be reflected in their own reverence for the Lord and the values of godliness they choose to live by. As they follow God of their own accord, that is the greatest tribute to what kind of dad I have been

Now that won’t happen just by virtue of being a parent to your children. It will be the result of intentional parenting and a determination to be the kind of mom or dad that honors God—especially the kind that honors God by insisting that your children give him the respect that is due.

Eli didn’t. He let his boys parent themselves until it was too late. The good news is, you can be different, especially if your children are still young. And if they are not, then start with where you are and exert the godliest influence you can. And with God’s help, your sincere efforts will have an effect.

The ultimate parental dereliction of duty is to allow the children to parent themselves. Your children need a dad and a mom who will give them definite direction in the way they should go. And the promise of scripture is that when they are old, they will not depart from it. That is quite a risky promise, but it is God’s, not mine.

Going Deeper With God: Have you ever shared your spiritual values with your children, or grandchildren? If you haven’t, look for an opportune time to tell them what you believe and why you believe it. Believe me, it will leave an impression.

Praise Your Way Through Pain

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Like Hannah, you and I must learn to worship until worship becomes our first and best response to not only the delightful, but to the devastating things in life.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 1:10-11

Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut. As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine” She replied, “Oh no, sir! I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

Nobody really understands the pain of desiring children but not being able to have any like the barren. Hannah was a childless woman in a culture where children meant everything—a woman’s worth and desirability to her husband, her bragging rights at family gatherings, the admiration of the other women at the market, her husband’s ammunition for one-upping the other guys hanging out at the city gates, as well as a whole host of other cultural notches on the belt that came with having kids. And there was one other benefit to having children that had an even more significant meaning to married couples in Israel: eternal life. You see, through posterity, the family DNA, the family name, the family’s unending future would be carried forth in perpetuity.

So in light of all that, Hannah’s grief over having no children is more than most of us could ever begin to understand—unless, of course, you have suffered the disappointment of barrenness yourself. Even her husband, Elkanah, didn’t get it:

Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons? (I Samuel 1:8, NLT)

Either he was a complete dolt and didn’t get it, or he was a complete dolt who also happened to be an insensitive brute. But Elkannah wasn’t alone in this matter: Even Hannah’s pastor didn’t fare too well in the Mr. Sensitive category. He accused her of being drunk as she silently poured out her heart to the Lord:

Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, Eli thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!” (I Samuel 1:13-14, NLT)

Hannah was alone in her grief, and even worse, she had no hopes that things would be any different in the future, destined to a life of barrenness. So what is a misunderstood, hopeless, devastated, childless woman to do? Well, here’s what Hannah did: she worshiped.

You will notice in the story that Hannah went before the Lord year after year—she didn’t give up. She poured out her heart, time and time again—trusting that God would one day hear her. She faithfully presented herself in sacrificial worship before the Lord not only with her husband, but also with his other wife and her mean-spirited rival, Penniah (I Samuel 1:7)—she pressed into God. As difficult as her situation was, Hannah worshiped the One who had her life, including all its details, big and small, in his good hands. And finally, in timing understood only by God, he granted her request and she bore Samuel, who grew up to be the greatest of Israel’s prophets.

Hannah worshiped! That’s what you and I must learn to do, too, until worship becomes our first and best response to not only the delightful, but to the devastating things in life. If you are a childless woman whose pain and disappointment is understood only by God—worship him. He is your only hope and the One who knows his plans for your life—plans that are always good, even when you don’t particularly like them. And if you are suffering other kinds of barrenness—in your relationships, your finances, your career, your ministry, or even your walk with the One you are worshiping—offer him your worship. He knows your way, and he knows his plans for you. Jeremiah 29:10-14, one of the great promises for those who are in the midst of pain, promises,

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

As tough as it may be to offer your worship to the Lord when things aren’t going your way, it’s the best and only thing that will set your heart right. Brennan Manning writes in his great little book, Ruthless Trust,

To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in darkness.

Hannah worshiped the Lord. May that be true of you, too!

Going Deeper With God: Today, whether you are in a delightful place, or wrestling with disappointment—even if you are in a pace of devastation—offer God your heart in worship. The saints of old would tell you that is the very best therapy.

God’s Ways

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David. And Jesus was the descendent of David…and Ruth. Ruth was a widowed, poor, gentile refugee, and an unlikely choice to be in a genealogical line up that would lead to Jesus the Messiah. But God’s ways are above our ways, and 100 percent of the time he is at work, perfecting his plan along with everything that concerns us—even though we can’t see it.

Going Deep // Focus: Ruth 4:13-15, 21-22

So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife…the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” … Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David.

Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David. And Jesus was the descendent of David…and Ruth.

Ruth was a foreigner in Israel—a refugee really. She was of no account, a young Moabite widow who decided to throw in with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi, who was returning hat in hand to her own people in Israel. Naomi, and thus Ruth, had nothing. They would have to depend on the compassion of distant relatives for their survival. They were homeless, indigent, stuck in a cycle of bad news, and without much hope for the future. They had no offspring to even carry on their name.

Yet they were really good people; women of virtue. More than that, they were women who, unknown to them at the time, were a significant piece to God’s grand scheme to shape the future of the human race. They didn’t see what we now see. Even while God worked things out for them in the long run, they still died having no clue how significant their lives were.

One never knows what God is up to, but he is always up to something. He knows what he is doing; his ways are beyond ours. And they are perfect. What we can’t see at the time is that God is at work, perfecting his plan along with everything that concerns us (Psalm 138:8). We rarely see it in real time, if ever, but we can trust him, because he has proven himself trustworthy 100 percent of the time.

Strange how God works, isn’t it? What looks like a meaningless story at the time to us, or a hopeless story, God uses for his eternal purposes. What looks like B and C list actors in the plot, God’s long-term strategy turns them into major players in his plan for the ages. That is the story of scripture: the scheming Tamar, the harlot Rahab, the Gentile Ruth—all unlikely choices to be in a genealogical line up that would lead to Jesus the Messiah.

And that will be your story, too—as well as mine. We will go to our graves without really knowing how God used our everyday faithfulness to accomplish eternal things. Someday we will; eternity will tell the story of God’s ways in our lives, but for now we can only offer obedience and trust, leaving the results up to the Great Director.

In my humanness, I wish I knew the end of my story from the beginning—and had creative input in how it was going to turn out. But that would actually limit the brilliance of the part I will play because God’s ways are infinitely greater, more creative and brilliant than my mind could ever conceive.

God is writing my story, and yours, too, even as we speak. And believe me, my friend, it is going to be a doozy! Better yet, believe what the Bible says about it!

For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him! (Isaiah 64:4)

Going Deeper With God: Thank God in advance for the great story he is writing about you!

Living Virtuously

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Virtuous—it is defined as moral excellence. It is to have values that are pure and then to live out those values with integrity in the way you think, in how you behave and in the way you interact with others around you. Being virtuous is who God has created us to be and it is the way he has designed us to live. Imagine if everyone in your family, school, business, church or community lived virtuously. You would experience a little bit of heaven on earth—if not a lot.

Going Deep // Focus: Ruth 3:8-11

Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” Boaz exclaimed, “The Lord bless you, my daughter! You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.”

Virtuous—it is defined as moral excellence. It is to have values that are pure and then to live out those values with integrity in the way you think, in how you behave and in the way you interact with others around you. Being virtuous is who God has created us to be and it is the way he has designed us to live. Imagine if everyone in your family, school, business, church or community lived virtuously. You would experience a little bit of heaven on earth—if not a lot.

Unfortunately, virtuous living doesn’t characterize much of our culture these days. Virtue is not in vogue. We see that in the sensual, selfish and shortsighted living of so many people, and the outcome of that approach to life is predictably painful. Our world is messed up. And the reason is similar to the reason society got so ugly in the book of Judges: people forgot God, chose to live without any controlling moral authority and did what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

Now remember, the story of Ruth took place in that same time period. Ruth was a product of the time of the Judges. So this story of love, kindness and redemption is even more spectacular given those dark conditions. And one of the reasons why Ruth is such a bright light is because she was so fundamentally virtuous. Again, notice Boaz’ response to Ruth’s efforts to honor her dead husband’s honor:

The Lord bless you, my daughter. This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.

Ruth was no gold digger. That becomes plainly evident as you read the whole story. She is fundamentally righteous, loyal and sacrificial. And everyone knows it. Her private faith has become a public testimony. And because of that, Boaz noticed, and was so touched by her godly, giving character that he was willing to take on a duty that would not necessarily make it easy on him. At the end of the day, Boaz married Ruth and her husband’s family lineage was redeemed. Moreover, God noticed, and because of her virtuous character, God carried on his family lineage through this non-Israelite woman. Yes, Ruth became the progenitor of King David and ultimately, the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is such a great story, yet it is far more. It is a story that calls you and me to live in the same virtuous way against the backdrop of a culture that is no better, perhaps even worse, than the culture which existed in the time of the Judges. What if you and I offered a Ruth-like life in the ruthless generation of which we are a part?

Think of it: we could be the main character in an incredible chapter of the God-story of redemption that is being written in anticipation of the final return of the Son of David, Jesus Christ. You never know, so keep offering up the bright light of a virtuous life in this darkened world.

Going Deeper With God: Ask God for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit today to enable you to live a virtuous life—a morally excellence character.

The Refugee Opportunity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As Christians, we have a much higher calling to current issues, and it is not national, it is eternal. It is to view all of life through the lens of scripture and to filter all that we think, feel, say and do—or don’t—through the values of God’s kingdom. Case in point: what do you do with refugees that have flooded your city? Of course, there is a rightful political and legal response, but the kingdom response that you and your spiritual community embrace must always be redemptive.

Going Deep // Focus: Ruth 2:10

Ruth fell at the feet of Boaz and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

Keep in mind that as you read scripture, there is always the historical context that you should seek to understand and the primary theological meaning that you should seek to apply. Beyond that, we can find profound and practical secondary applications within most, if not all, Bible passagens. The book of Ruth is primarily a historical story that connects the time of the Judges to the arrival of the Davidic dynasty, and ultimately shows us the lineage of the Son of David, Jesus the Messiah. It is also a moving account of Boaz, who fulfills the Mosaic law of the kinsman-redeemer by marrying his deceased relative’s widow, Ruth. Boaz is an Old Testament type of Christ. Beyond that, this is a beautiful account of love, loyalty, friendship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi and between Ruth and her prince charming, Boaz.

Yet there is still another practical application that is so relevant to our national discussion these days: what to do with refugees from the under-resourced world who are flooding western Europe and North America. Like so many refugees today, Ruth was a Moabite who fled to Israel in order to survive unfortunate conditions in her homeland. Unfortunately, our national response to refugees fleeing their homeland to ours is not so much a discussion these days as politics have taken over, sides have been chosen, and opinions have been set in concrete. We no longer discuss the plight of the refugee, we scream at the other side. And all the while the refugee suffers the indignity of being forced from their home.

Of course, nations have laws that should be made and enforced. If they don’t, what good is government? And of course, as citizens of a free country, we should engage in political debate and feel free to express our opinion—hopefully with respect, in an informed way and with an openness to hear opposing views. We need good laws to keep us safe and prosperous. If the rule of law goes by the wayside, so shall our nation.

Having said that, as Christians, we have a much higher and more eternal calling and it is not national, it is kingdom. It is to view all of life through the lens of scripture and to filter your all that we think, feel, say and do—or don’t—through the values of God’s kingdom. Case in point: what do you do with refugees that have flooded your city? Again, there is a rightful political and legal response, but what is the kingdom response that you and your spiritual community should embrace?

For me, and I think there is a very clear answer as we read and apply the story of Ruth and Boaz. Simply, we should act with compassion and kindness toward them. That is what Boaz did for Ruth. How so? Notice several ways that he responded redemptively with this refugee named Ruth:

  1. Boaz, at a base level, was aware and willing to engage. Ruth 2:5 says, “Then Boaz asked his foreman, ‘Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” He didn’t turn a blind eye to this destitute foreigner; he didn’t bury his head in the sand or pretend it was the Israeli government’s job to take care of her. He was morally curious.
  2. Boaz protected her. In Ruth 2:9, Boaz said to Ruth, “I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” When people come from a foreign culture to our land, they are at their most vulnerable; they are likely to face unscrupulous people who would take advantage of them; they are likely to experience angry, hateful people who would say and do things to them that are unkind and discouraging.
  3. Boaz encouraged her. In Ruth 2:12, Boaz offered these uplifting words to Ruth: “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” If you have traveled to a foreign country, you know how vulnerable and helpless you feel, knowing neither language nor customs. Having a national speaking encouragingly in an authentically kind way is a life-giving gift to you. And it doesn’t cost the nation a cent!
  4. Boaz personally engaged in her plight. He did more than speak kindly and inclusively, he gave of himself and his resources: “At mealtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14)
  5. Boaz went the extra mile. Boaz didn’t just do his duty; he went above and beyond the minimum to generously offer the maximum. Ruth 2:15-16 tells us, “When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

Truly Boaz was a foreshadowing of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He expressed incarnational involvement, offered unmerited favored, showered undeserved kindness, gave unrequired inclusiveness and expressed open-handed generosity. The point is, that is what God has done for you in Jesus. But the point also is that what God has done for you should now be what you do for others, especially the most vulnerable among you.

May you be an agent of redemptive lift in the refugee debate!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have an immigrant in your neighborhood. Show up at their doorstep with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Invite them over for a barbecue. Get engaged—that is what God did for you.

Industrial Strength Friendship

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

An essential strength of a prevailing friendship—the essential strength, I would argue—is that it is a relationship where the greatest common denominator is your mutual faith in God. Ruth’s famous covenant with Naomi expresses that well: “Your God will be my God.” You see, faith concerns ultimate and eternal matters, so any friendship will be strongest when it has this ultimate concern at the core of its existence. Make sure godly, faithful people are in your inner circle.

Going Deep // Focus: Ruth 1:16-17

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”.

A popular genre of literature when I was in high school and college was the short story. I’m not too sure if it is used much in this day when 500 page novels dominate the market. But one of my favorite short stories was written by Stephen King—yes, he of horror story fame. But King wrote a non-horror short story called, The Body. It was later made into a movie with a new title, Stand By Me—a memorable story about a group of four or five twelve-year old boys, and their outstanding friendship. The story revolved around their shared experiences, loyalty to one another, mutual protection from outside threats and the growth of their friendship through adversity.

That’s the book of Ruth! It is one of the greatest short stories in the history of literature, and perhaps the greatest story ever about what I would call, industrial-strength friendship. When Benjamin Franklin was U. S. Ambassador to France, he occasionally attended the Infidels Club—a group that spent most of its time searching for and reading literary masterpieces. On one occasion Franklin read the book of Ruth to the club, but changed the names in it so it would not be recognized as a book of the Bible. When he finished, their praise was unanimous. They said it was one of the most beautiful short stories they’d ever heard, and demanded that he tell where he had run across such a remarkable literary masterpiece. It was his great delight to tell them that it was from the Bible, which they regarded with scorn, and in which they felt there was nothing good.

The book of Ruth is certainly a literary masterpiece. It is a cameo story of love, devotion and redemption set in the bleak context of the days of the Judges. Relationally, this story shows how its three main characters, Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, all from different backgrounds, social levels and ages blend their lives together to give us an relational example that is sorely needed today in an age that worships individualism and is characterized by self-centeredness, intolerance and exclusivity. From Ruth’s story I would say are three essential strengths of a prevailing friendship:

First, it is a relationship where the greatest common denominator is faith in God. Notice the phrase in those verses: “Your God will be my God.” Faith concerns ultimate and eternal matters, and any friendship will be strongest when it has this ultimate concern at the core of its existence.

Second, it is a relationship built on sacrifice. Notice the words, “Your people will be my people.” In other words, I will give up what I want to take on your concerns. I will put your interests ahead of my own. What can I do to make you better. I’ll give up in order to give to you. Not “I” but “you” makes for a far better “we”.

And third, it is a relationship that exhibits unbreakable mutual commitment. Did you catch the words, “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates us.” What a powerful and covenantal bond. When a relationship is based on a non-negotiable like that, it will not be a fair weather friendship.

Faith, sacrifice and mutual commitment. May the Lord give us friends, and make us a friend like that!

Do you need a friend like that? Then ask God for one. I hear his answers prayers, so give it a shot!

Do you already have a friend like that? Maybe you need to tell God how grateful you are for them…and then specifically express how grateful you are to that friend.

But perhaps the most important question is: Do you need to be a friend like that? Someone once asked this profound question: “If you were another person, would you like to be a friend of yours?” Which of the three qualities we’ve looked at in Ruth’s story do you need to cultivate? What do you need to do to become a better friend?

According to the little magazine, Bits and Pieces, a British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following: “One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.” “One who understands our silence. A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.” “A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.”

But the winning definition simply read: “A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” I like that, don’t you? That’s what I want to be.

Going Deeper With God: Lift a thanksgiving offer to the Lord for the friends he has given you. Then write those friends notes of gratitude and encouragement.