Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Asking the Wrong Questions

Leslie Basham: Do you ever ask yourself why you’re in the situation you’re in? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: That person, that situation at work, that situation at church that seems so painful, and you can’t figure out, "What did I do to deserve this?" Maybe nothing. You don’t really have to know the answer to that question.

The question that you do know the answer to is that God has a purpose and a plan that is bigger than you.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 3.

If you were planning to drive from Dallas to Houston, it wouldn’t do any good to look at a map of California. You need accurate information based on your destination.

Well, the same thing could apply to your spiritual journey. Are you trusting in the most accurate information for where you’re going? Nancy challenges us to ask the right questions and to look to the right place for the answers.

It’s part of the series, Ruth: The Transforming Power of Redeeming Love.

Nancy: One of the things I love about the heart and the ways of God is that no sooner do we fail, step out of His will, then God is always working to create circumstances to bring us back to Himself.

Wasn’t that true in the Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve’s sin didn’t take God by surprise. It didn’t catch Him off-guard. He didn’t sit up in heaven and say, “Oh no. My plan is messed up. What am I going to do now?”

God already had, from before the foundation of the earth, a plan in place to redeem man from his failures, to restore man back to a place of obedience and relationship with God.

We’ve been studying the book of Ruth, chapter one. We saw in the first two verses that Elimalech took his family in a time of famine, took his wife and two sons away from Bethlehem and went into the far country of Moab. Thinking things would be better there, he didn’t realize that he was leading his family into a place where they would face even greater hardships and problems and struggles.

So we come to verse three today, and we read that Elimalech, Naomi’s husband, died. Now, here she is in a foreign land where her husband has led her.

We said last week that we don’t know whether she was a part of making that decision or if she just followed him out of obedience, but regardless, God is still King. God was still on His throne.

She was now there in Moab. She was left with her two sons. She’s left as a widow. The two sons, verse four, “married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years,” now keep in mind when they first went to Moab that they intended to stay there just for a little while.

But as sin often does, it had taken them into a place where they end apart in a foreign country in Moab, out of the will of God for all these years, now for a decade.

“And after they had lived there about ten years,” this widowed woman with her two sons and her two daughters-in-law, verse five, “both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”

Now the story is told kind of matter of factly there. You see that this was a situation where Naomi is really left destitute and lonely and in a desperately difficult and painful situation.

Now, I believe that in this case, these circumstances were evidence of God’s hand in that family’s life trying to restore them from Moab where they had run, to bring them back to the place where they belonged, Bethlehem, in Judah.

Let me be quick to say that not every painful circumstance in our lives is the result of sin. Some will try and tell you that, in the loss of a mate, some here have experienced that, in the loss of a parent, the loss of a child, that this is because you sinned against God.

That’s what Job’s friends tried to tell him. The fact is that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t the result of our sin. Death is always the result of sin in some sense because we live in a sinful world, but sometimes it is the direct consequence of our wrong choices.

Sometimes we’ve been living a life of obedience and still walk through these difficult times. The wonderful thing about the ways of God is that there is still a God who is in control and is fulfilling His purposes and has purposes for your life, regardless of how you got into that situation.

Now, in this case, the family had left the will of God, I believe, had run from the famine and had gone to Moab. God immediately began creating circumstances to bring them back.

These circumstances, as painful as they were, were an expression of God’s love, of God’s commitment to this family.

You say, “That seems like a strange way to show love, kind of a strange way to show your commitment.” But God knew exactly what it would take to get this family back home.

And God knows in your life exactly what it will take to mold you and sanctify you and conform your life to the image of Christ. Sometimes the circumstances are a result of your sin. Sometimes they’re just the result of living in a fallen world where disease and death take their toll.

Regardless, God is working and expressing His love. The temptation in those times is to see those circumstances as coming from the hand of an angry God, rather than seeing the love and the mercy of God in creating these circumstances in our lives.

We’re going to see that there were two things that brought Naomi back to Bethlehem. The first one we’re going to look at today, the second one tomorrow.

The first one was God’s hand of discipline. Naomi had to come to see, as we do, that the circumstances she was facing were not for punishment, but rather for training, for teaching. That’s the purpose of discipline.

When we’re in times of adversity and pressure and problems, the important question is not so much, “Why is this happening to me?” as, “What is God wanting to teach me through this circumstance?”

Often what He wants to teach us is in relation to some area where we’ve gone astray and need to be restored. We need our heart to be brought back home. We may have been blind to our need or blind to our failure, and God wants to open our eyes to teach us.

Now, in this case, Elimalech’s death was not enough to bring Naomi back home. She continued to stay in Moab. Maybe she thought, “I’m so alone. I can’t make that trip back.”

Maybe she thought, “I’ve made friends here. I think I’ll just stay here.” We don’t know what she thought, but we do know that God knew exactly what it would take to get her back to their home country.

Now, Naomi stayed in Moab long enough that her sons took wives from among the Moabite women. It was not expressly forbidden by God for Jews to marry Moabites. They were forbidden to marry Canaanites.

God had not said you can’t marry Moabites, but God had cautioned His people, “If you marry outside your faith, you’re likely to be taken captive by idolatry and pagan religions.”

So this was definitely a foolish choice on the part of those young men. Let me just say, by the way, mothers, that when you take your children to live in the world’s system, when you allow things into your home, when you take your family into worldly ways of thinking and living and practicing, don’t be surprised when your children grow up to be attracted to the world.

These sons were apparently comfortable enough in Moab that they decided to settle there and have wives. Moms, this is something you need to teach your daughters and your sons—the foolishness of marrying outside your faith, how many have shipwrecked their own faith because of marrying a young man or a young woman who doesn’t have a heart for God.

In this case, the sons lost their lives, but even that, I want you to see, is an act of God’s mercy. What was God about? He was trying to get Naomi and her family back home, back to a place of obedience, and not just for their sakes.

You see, God had a bigger plan, a bigger purpose that had to do with redemption. It had to do with a Messiah. It had to do with a family line of holiness and purity that God was wanting to create that would bring salvation to the world.

God has purposes that are bigger than my comfort and my convenience and my well-being.

When Naomi’s sons died, she was left in a situation where she had no heir for her husband’s name. The family line was stopped. It would not go on any longer.

There was no way those names would be continued. There was no way their inheritance would be guaranteed. These were two things that were very important in Jewish culture: the family name and the family inheritance—the family lands.

Now she had lost it all. Someone has said that a good summary of this part of this story is that sin will take you further than you want to go; it will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to pay.

Sin will take you further than you want to go, it will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to pay.

So in Naomi’s life, we see that she experienced grief, she experienced loss. We see that choices have consequences. Sometimes it’s our choices that bring those consequences.

Sometimes we’re having to suffer the consequences of someone else’s wrong choices. But regardless, God has purposes in those consequences.

God’s goal is to restore. His goal is to build a family line, a godly legacy, a godly heritage. Naomi thought she lost it all, and it appeared that she had.

I wonder if you have ever found yourself in a position at one point or another in your life where it looked like through your own failures or through the failures of some member of your family that there was no more chance for you to have a godly family line.

You thought, “We just can’t be a godly family.” It looked like all hope was gone in Naomi’s case. But this is the story of how God takes a destroyed, ungodly family line with wrong choices, lots of failures, and redeems it so that it becomes a family line leading to Christ.

There’s that kind of hope for your family. And that means you’ve got to be willing to embrace the circumstances that God uses to restore you. They may be painful. They may bring tears.

They may involve even at times, something as severe as death. But remember that it’s always an expression of the love of God, that those circumstances in our lives are actually expressions of His mercy, that they’re intended for our instruction.

That doesn’t mean that it’s God’s fault when choices are made. We live in a sinful world and consequences come into this world that have ordained sin. But it does mean that when we do sin and when other people sin that God ordains circumstances— circumstances and situations of life, when things just seem so out of control, when we’re suffering hardship.

I think of a young woman I know who lost her dad at the age of eight. When she was a teenager, she had a brother who was killed. As a college student, the night before she was to go home for Christmas break, a man broke into her apartment, and she was assaulted—just a terrible, horrible experience.

It seemed like there was just one thing after another in the life of this young woman. Well, it’s been about a dozen years since that last episode, and now if you could meet this young woman, you would say, as difficult and painful as the circumstances were that came into her life—none of which did she have any control over—but now you look at this woman and you say, “Here’s a young woman who knows God.”

She has been taught in the ways of God. There is a freedom and a fragrance there that has come about in part as a result of some of the pain and circumstances she has walked through in her life.

God uses affliction for the purpose of discipline and chastening. Hebrews 12 talks about that. The writer to the Hebrews is talking to believers who are going through persecution, going through some difficult times as believers for their faith.

He’s writing to encourage them, and part of what he says is, “Remember Jesus. In your suffering, remember Jesus. Don’t forget there’s one who has suffered more.” In fact, he says in this passage, “You have not yet shed blood. You have not suffered to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:3–4, paraphrased).

So keep your eyes on Jesus. But then he talks about some things that give us some perspective about this matter of God’s hand of discipline.

The writer of Hebrews says in verse 5, chapter 12, “You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.” Now, there are times of life (Naomi is in one of them where we have just left her in Ruth chapter one), where we need a word of encouragement.

Some of you in this room today need a word of encouragement about what’s going on in your life, in your family, in your situation. The writer here says, “You’ve forgotten something that you need to be reminded of.”

Here’s the encouragement. The he quotes from the Old Testament, and he says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5–6).

The writer here is saying that discipline is an expression of God’s love. You’ve probably said it to your children, “I’m doing this because I love you.” This is not easy for me, and discipline is not easy to take.

It’s not easy to mete out, but you as a mother know that (and Proverbs tells you if you don’t know), if you love your children, you will discipline them.

The Scripture is saying here in Hebrews 12 that we have a loving Father who disciplines His children, and that discipline is an expression of His love. It says He disciplines everyone that He accepts as a son.

When you skip down to verse 8, it says, “Everyone undergoes discipline,” every child of God. In fact, the fact that you do experience affliction and chastening and discipline is one evidence that you are a child of God.

If you never experience discipline in your life, you better ask yourself, “Am I even a Christian?” Because the Scripture says that everyone that God claims as His child, He disciplines.

You don’t discipline your neighbor’s children. You discipline your own children, and God disciplines His children. If we’re one of His children, we will experience that discipline.

Now, this passage goes on to talk to us about how we should respond in those times of discipline. He says in verse 7, “Endure hardship as discipline.” It doesn’t say here what is the cause for the hardship.

It doesn’t say the hardship was the result of your sin or it was a result of somebody else’s sin. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter. He says, “It’s hardship. And endure it! Take it. Don’t run from it. Don’t resent it. Don’t resist it, but endure it.”

Endurance suggests that there’s a long haul involved here. It suggests that there’s a race that’s not a sprint. It’s cross country. He tells us another way to respond.

He says in verse 9—let me read, beginning in verse 7—“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live” (Hebrews 12:7–9)!

“What is the response,” he’s saying? Not only endure it, but respect God for it and submit to Him if you want to get life through that discipline. Submit. This is what you’re telling your children when you’re disciplining them.

Submit to the instruction. Submit to the discipline. Submit your will. When you discipline your children, if it’s effective discipline, you’re going to put it in place until you know that their will has been broken.

And God puts discipline into our lives until He knows that our will has been broken, that there’s no more resistance, but that we are soft and pliable and tender in His hands.

It goes on to say in verse 10, “Our fathers,” our physical fathers, “disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

He’s talking here about God’s goal, God’s object. It’s important to keep that in mind when you’re going through the discipline, that there’s a purpose to this. What is God’s goal?

It’s for our good! This is for our blessing. This is for our benefit. And the purpose is that we may share in His holiness. One translation says that we may be partakers of His holiness.

God is committed to making you and me like Jesus. And that involves a process, because we didn’t start out that way. There’s so much in my heart, so much in my attitude, so much in the way I deal with people, so much in the way I respond to life that is not like Christ.

So what does God do? He sends hardship. And that hardship can take many, many different forms. It can be the little things in life that just trip us up in the course of a day.

It can be big, monumental crises, but the goal is always that we would become partakers of God’s holiness, that we will become like Jesus.

Now, he goes on to say in verse 11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” If it’s not painful, it’s not discipline. We wouldn’t mind having God discipline us if it just didn’t hurt.

But the nature of discipline is that it’s painful. It does hurt. It’s not pleasant. No discipline is pleasant at the moment, but the Scripture says it produces something that is pleasant.

Something that makes it worth all the hardship. He says, “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Now, the suggestion there is that it doesn’t happen immediately. You don’t just put seeds in the ground and all of a sudden up pops a harvest. He says, “For a time, we have to go through this discipline and later on, it produces a harvest.”

You say, “How much time? How much later on?” I don’t know. You don’t know, but we know Somebody who does know. God knows, and He’s saying, “Hang on! Hang in there. Don’t get weary with this. Be encouraged, and know that in your life, there is being produced righteousness.”

There is the certainty that if you endure, if you submit to the discipline, there will be a harvest of righteousness if we’re willing to be trained by the discipline.

Now, the discipline doesn’t always have its desired end. If we resent, if we resist it, if we run from it, then we just get the discipline, but we don’t get the harvest of righteousness.

How much better to say, “Yes, Lord. I embrace this.” Maybe it was your fault; maybe it wasn’t your fault. Maybe somebody else got you in this trouble. Maybe it was circumstances that you couldn’t control, but still to have a teachable heart that says, “Lord, I want to come to know You and Your ways through this circumstance.”

“I submit myself to this exercise. I’m willing to be trained by it.” And then you have the promise that there will be a harvest of righteousness and peace. You’ll look back and you’ll say, “Thank You, Lord.”

“You knew some things I didn’t know. You had a good end in mind.” Are you undergoing some kind of discipline right now? I think we can all think back to times when we have, but I wonder if there’s someone going through some kind of discipline right now?

I know I am. Not related to sin, I don’t think, but an act of God’s love and expression of God’s love and mercy. There are aspects of God putting me into a new type of ministry that are challenging, that are painful.

The question is not, “Is it going to happen?” There is going to be hardship. The question is, “Will I endure? Will I submit my will to God? Will I embrace the hardship? Will I embrace His purposes, and will I let God teach me through the discipline?”

Will you let God teach you through the discipline, the hardship, the challenges? That person, that situation at work, that situation at church that seems so painful, and you can’t figure out, "What did I do to deserve this?" Maybe nothing. You don’t really have to know the answer to that question.

The question that you do know the answer to is that God has a purpose and a plan that is bigger than you. It’s bigger than what you can see. He is fulfilling it. He is going to accomplish His purposes.

And when you’ve been tried, you will come forth as gold. You will come forth as gold.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss giving hope for anybody with dark clouds over their day. It’s the kind of hope that fills the story of Ruth.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving me a far deeper understanding of this story than I had before hearing this series. The series is called Ruth: The Transforming Power of Redeeming Love, and if you feel the same way, I hope you’ll get a copy of this teaching for yourself.

When you order on CD, you’ll get longer versions of the teaching than we had time to air on the radio. This teaching is available on multiple audio CDs or as one MP3 CD. When you order, I hope you’ll get a copy of Nancy’s workbook on the book of Ruth.

You could walk through the study of this incredible love story during your quiet time every day. Order the CD and workbook by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

Also, would you consider an additional way to connect with the story of Ruth? Think about sharing this rich material with friends in a small group. When you order five or more workbooks, we’ll send you a DVD of Nancy’s teaching through Ruth at no charge.

This study will be a transformation in the lives of those who study with you. Again, find out more at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959. 

If you had a child who ran away, would you accept them back home? Hear about a parent who answered that question tomorrow. Now, here’s Nancy. Let’s pray.

Nancy: Father, I just want to stop and thank You for Your hand of discipline. I usually don’t love the discipline, but I love You more today because of that discipline. I know there are areas of my life that are more like You today because of Your discipline in my life.

And I would pray right now for one of my sisters in this room, or more, who are going through a time of affliction, discipline. Would You encourage their hearts? Would You strengthen them?

Help them to look beyond the discipline to the harvest of righteousness and peace that You’ve promised to those who are trained by the discipline. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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