Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 119:1-16, and I’ve been struck deeply by the psalmist’s passionate desire to walk out the Word of the Lord, to live his life in line with the revealed will and purposes of God. He writes about delighting in the Word of God (v. 14), a delight that drives him to internalize the Word (v. 16). He writes about keeping the Lord’s testimonies (v. 2) and keeping them diligently (v. 4), and he commits himself to steadfastness in them (v. 5). He writes about guarding one’s life with the Word of God (v. 9) and storing up the Word in one’s heart so that one does not sin against God (v. 11). He commits himself to declaring the Word of God (v. 13) – all of it – and meditating on the Law of the Lord (v. 15), fixing his attention on it (v. 15), such that he doesn’t forget it (v. 16). Instead, he is intent on learning it (v. 7), not so much committing it to memory, although that’s part of it, or even growing in simple understanding of it, although that too is part of it, but more so learning it in such a way that it changes him and his way of life, that it transforms his bent, broken, sin-distorted, self-serving heart into an upright heart that praises the Lord. Like a committed musician who practices so much that playing literally becomes second nature, the psalmist wants to learn the Word of God and the ways of God so that they come to shape all the ins and outs of his inner life and his outer life to the glory of God.
As we come to the end of our short stint in the book of Ruth, I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, praying Psalm 119:1-16 for MountainView Church. I don’t want us to forget the story of God’s devoted, generous, redeeming, resurrecting, sovereign love for Naomi. More than that, I don’t want us to forget the God of the story, the God who brought feast out of famine, love out of loss, life out of death, and all the things he’s taught us about himself along the way, great big truths that are designed to take root in our hearts and our minds and transform the way that we live our lives. After all, we are called to be not just hearers of the Word but doers also (James 1:22-25), doers who delight deeply in the Word of Lord and treasure it as much as monetary wealth (Ps. 119:14), doers who desire deeply to diligently keep, walk in, fix our eyes upon, and remember the Word of the Lord.
Oh, that it would be our desire and our delight and our diligent commitment, as a church family, not to leave the book of Ruth behind and to move on to other things, even good things like the Christmas season, without pausing, pausing first to reflect on the key things the Lord showed us and taught us and then pausing to ask the Holy Spirit to take those things and to begin to weave them into the very fabric of our minds, our hearts, and our lives, in order that God’s Word might do its repairing, restoring work in us.
If you need some guidance, I suggest you deliberately set aside a few minutes at some point during the next few days to reflect and pray. Begin by simply asking the Lord to bring to mind 2-3 key takeaways from the book of Ruth (look back over your notes if you need to), and then import those takeaways into Psalm 119:1-16. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you learn those 2-3 things, to incorporate the story of Ruth into your story, and ask him to use those 2-3 things to reorient your heart toward him and your life toward faithfulness to him. And be sure, even as you commit yourself to being steadfast in keeping his Word and you determine not to forget all that you’ve learned from Ruth, that you remember that you cannot do any of it without him. If you and I are going to seek after him, it is he who must keep us from wandering from his Word and his ways (Psalm 119:10). If we’re going to keep his Word, then we must be convinced that we will need his presence and his power, and we must know what it would mean for our good intentions if he were ever to leave us to our own devices (Psalm 119:8). Oh, how we need to abide in our Savior if we’re going to produce fruit! Oh, how we need to confess our need of him if the book of Ruth is ever going to take root in us and be reflected in our everyday lives.
If you need further guidance, a bit of prompting so to speak, let me remind you of some of the big takeaways from the book of Ruth. There are several that stand out to me, and the Lord may well have shown you others. If so, I look forward to hearing from you. Let me highlight a few:
- The book of Ruth teaches us that the love of God is the kind of devoted, generous, loyal, steadfast, never-giving up, always and forever love that pursues you, changes you, and redeems you – just like it did Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz – for his glory (and purposes), for your good, and for the good of others.
- The book of Ruth teaches us that God is not only at work when his work is powerful, evident, and clearly traceable, when he shows up on the scene in unmistakable miraculous power and glory. No, God is always at work. Hear that again. God is always at work, often behind the scenes, often accomplishing his purposes through human agents and seemingly random happenings, and often in ways that make little sense at the time and only make sense in hindsight.
- The book of Ruth teaches us that God is a tender, gentle restorer of the broken. His patient and purposeful love for Naomi should overwhelm us with awe and wonder. That the God who made all things, who keeps worlds and galaxies spinning by the word of his power, would set his affection and his eye upon a broken and bitter old widow who had lost all hope in him, and that he would work through Ruth and Boaz to restore her faith, her hope, her life, and her joy, should give us hope that God can mend any broken heart and put any life back together again.
- The story of Ruth hints at greater good news to come. Naomi’s figurative death and resurrection are designed to give us hope. Her story is the story and shape of the Bible, the shape of the gospel, the shape of discipleship. It is intended to form us into gospel people who understand that suffering precedes glory, that the cross precedes the crown, that death precedes resurrection. Neither Ruth nor Naomi could’ve experienced all that God had for them had they not experienced the suffering of the first chapter or the “what’s next” questions that lay between chapters 2 and 3. God has designed suffering in your story and my story to draw us closer to him, to prepare you and I to more deeply enjoy the glory of eternity, to strengthen our faith, and to shape us into the likeness of his Son.
- The book of Ruth shows us so vividly what the heart of Jesus, our Redeemer, looks like. Through the devoted love of Ruth, we see his devotion to his bride. Through the generous love of Boaz, we see his incredible generosity. When it comes to giving, he cannot be beat. He has given us himself and all else besides! And through Boaz, we also see the cost of our Savior’s love coupled with his courageous determination to win for himself his beloved bride. Oh, what a Savior, and oh, how worship of our worship and our love.
- Along those same lines, the book of Ruth also shows us what love looks like in action, the kind of human love that has been radically transformed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, we see through the story’s characters what it looks like to exhibit Christlike love, and we are challenged by the Christlike example of Ruth and Boaz to repent of our own lovelessness and to ask the Holy Spirit to help us learn to love, even as Jesus perfectly loves us.
- Finally, the book of Ruth gives us a picture of godly manhood and godly womanhood in action. Boaz is called a worthy man for a whole host of reasons. He is wise, compassionate, protective, generous, kind, a man of integrity, a man of biblically-informed conscience, a man of his word, and a man of deep affection that translates into self-sacrifical action. Ruth is called a worthy woman, again, for a whole host of reasons. She is devoted, hardworking, humble, courageous, strong, loyal, selfless, and decisive. May the Lord see fit to root these character qualities into our hearts such that they bear Christ-honoring fruit in our lives.
In a culture where we are inundated with information to the point of almost constant overload, I realize that it’s all too easy to be done with something once it’s in the past, and I don’t expect you to spend the rest of your life in the book of Ruth. God has so much more to teach us, and I’m as eager as anyone to dive into those things. What I do hope and pray is that you’ll hear the not so fast admonition and the encouragement in my words to slow down, to linger in the four chapters of Ruth for just a few more minutes, to pause and reflect and pray the Lord would work it and weave it into your life, such that it becomes an integral part of the fabric of the Christlike person God is weaving you into as you encounter him in his Word.
Know that I’m praying today that the Lord does exactly that for you, for me, and for us, as a church.