“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
This is one of the most radical statements of loyalty history has ever seen. These are the words spoken by Ruth in a moment where she refused to leave her mother-in-law, Naomi. Instead of going back to a life that would provide safety and security for her, she chose to give up everything to go to a land that wasn’t her own. She chose to follow, with the risk of living in poverty and grief the rest of her life. This speaks of the incredible virtue and character of Ruth, and reminds us of what’s really important in life. It’s also a testimony of redemption, favor and fulfilled promises. It's a story to inspire you to express these same words to Jesus, a challenge to have the same reckless abandonment to Jesus, an invitation to develop a loyalty of heart, like Ruth had for Naomi.
A SIMPLE INVITATION
Jesus said that He did not do anything that He didn’t see His Father do first. There wasn’t a word from His mouth that He hadn’t heard the Father say first. In this, He modeled for us what following Him should look like. Yet so many of us are running around in circles, hustling to keep plates spinning and balls in the air, trying to serve God to the best of our ability.
A few months ago, God showed me why I was getting so tired. Sure, I have a very full schedule and I’m wearing many hats, but it was more than that. It was the type of exhaustion that makes you feel overwhelmed, alone and desperate for a moment to catch your breath. The kind where you are longing for a shoulder to lean on, because yours hurt from carrying the weight of the world.
Jesus came with all His kindness and stepped right in the middle of all of this. He asked me a quiet question. “Eline,” He said, “what does it look like to live more out of response? What would happen if every morning, you ask Me what invitation I have prepared for you that day. What if the only thing you have to do is respond to that invitation?”
To be honest, my initial reaction to this question was fear. Taking initiative gives me a sense of control, and losing control is incredibly scary. I realized that I had subconsciously adopted this motto for my life: “If you want something, you are the one who needs to make it happen. If you don’t go get it, no one else is going to do it for you.” There’s some truth to that, because God does love to empower His children to go after what’s on their heart. However, most of this life posture was based in past hurt and disappointment, and a fierce independence that was rooted in a deep loneliness - an independence that Jesus was now inviting Himself into. He was calling me to follow.
LIVING FROM RESPONSE
As I’m on this journey of living out of response, I want to learn to be more like Ruth. Every morning, I want to remind myself that I only have to respond to the invitation that God has already prepared. I don’t have to do anything that I don’t see the Father do or say anything I haven’t heard Him say. I will go where He goes. Not only is God not asking me to do anything more, but I actually cannot afford to do anything else, or anything more, or anything less than what He is doing. When He calls me to do X, Y and Z, He will give me the grace, resources, energy and wisdom to do just that. If I start doing A, B and C because I thought that was a better idea, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ll be running on fumes fairly quickly. Proverbs 3 confirms this; this is how the Message Translation puts it: "...trust God from the bottom of your heart, don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go.; He’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.”
This focus on following goes beyond mere obedience. It’s the heart of a daughter who grabs her Father’s hand and says, “I’m so glad to do this together with you, Dad!” It’s all about the relationship. The connection with His heart becomes a higher priority than the ways you can serve Him, because it is only through your closeness with Him that you know how to partner with Him. It’s relationship-driven instead of purpose-driven. It’s first seeing what God is doing and responding to that, instead of working really hard to accomplish something else on your own strength.
It’s this response that brings you to the wildest adventures with God. Your life truly starts when you truly give Him an all-in yes and tell Him that you will go where He goes, that you will have His heart for people, that you will follow Him anywhere. It’s not always a smooth ride, as Ruth’s story shows, as well. But I would rather navigate the challenges that arise while going after what He has called me to than receive any of the successes the world can offer.
THE FAVOR OF FAITHFULNESS
“Let steadfast love and faithfulness never leave you... then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”(Proverbs 3)
When you follow in His footsteps, favor, redemption and legacy will follow. Ruth’s story is a beautiful picture of this. In our current culture, it’s hard to read about fields and picking up grain and fully grasp how far out of his way Boaz went for Ruth. Boaz heard of Ruth’s story and the honor that she had shown her mother-in-law. He made sure she was protected and provided for and he shared his abundance with her. The favor that Boaz gave Ruth, an outsider, a foreigner, a widower with nothing left, was truly above and beyond. Favor follows faithfulness. When you have made faithful choices, like the loyalty Ruth showed Naomi, God will highlight you in the right time and shower His favor upon you.
Ruth’s reputation went before her and made a way for her. It’s said of her that “all of the people of the town know that she is a virtuous woman.” There’s a difference between living for the praises of men, and having a good reputation. If you make decisions based upon what other people may think of you, you will eventually start to compromise on core values and character, because some things that God will ask of you will not be popular or socially acceptable. Like Ruth, you live a life of integrity, which means that you do the right thing even when no one is watching. This type of integrity, character and loyalty brought Ruth great favor. But she was not afraid to follow and obey once again, even when Naomi asked her to make a bold move that could very well destroy her reputation. This shows that Ruth was a true woman of character and loyalty. Her reputation simply followed her, as she followed Naomi.
RISK AND REDEMPTION
Ruth listened to Naomi and made a bold move by laying herself at Boaz’ feet while he slept. There’s a boldness that comes when you are too preoccupied with listening to the Voice you’re following to care about what others may think or what may happen when things don’t work out. When you live out of response, your main concern is to know what God is doing and how He is inviting you to partner with Him. The outcome is up to Him. When you live to follow, you don’t need to see the whole path ahead. You just lock eyes with the Guide, and take it one step at the time. This heart-posture births extraordinary courage to take risks.
Ruth’s boldness resulted in redemption beyond her wildest expectations. She became the wife of a good, successful, and noble man and bore a son with him. A woman who had left her country, her family, her culture, her security and traded it for zero guarantees of a hopeful future - a woman who chose to be a foreigner in a strange land, a woman who had experienced terrible loss and had to grieve the death of her husband, a woman who experienced a poverty so deep, she needed to scoop up the crumbs of other people’s abundance to survive - this is the woman that found something better than a “happily ever after” in a fairytale. She found redemption in her story. She found her heart’s desires on the other side of her loyalty and obedience.
Her story ends with a phrase that may be my favorite verse of the whole book of Ruth. “And they called [Ruth’s son] Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Ruth’s redemption and reward didn’t just bring forth a happy end to her own life’s story. She turned out to be the grandmother of King David. Her legacy shaped history for generations, and her loyalty brought about a king that was called a “man after God’s heart” and was an ancestor to Jesus.
Do you dare to have faith that God can not only redeem your story, but can also release your legacy? What will your (spiritual) children and your children’s children walk in because of your acts of obedience, loyalty, and faithfulness? What breakthrough will be normal for them because you fought for it? Do you dare to believe that God will go above and beyond in your life, and then that your ceiling will be the floor of the generations after you?
Ruth chose to follow, trust, and obey. Her loyalty and boldness makes her stand out as one of the most inspiring women in history. You have the same invitation. Your yes is more powerful than you know. When you dare to fully commit to follow Him wherever He may take you, the grand adventure can begin. The redemption, favor and fulfilled heart’s desires that will find you along the way are far beyond what you could ever come up with on your own.