If you would ask me to write out a list of people I knew who were experiencing some type of famine, I could quickly respond with names, dates and incidents. I know individuals who are starving in their family relationships and others who are experiencing a shortage of emotional strength. Famine has struck the health of some and the finances of others. I even know a great host of people who are suffering a famine in their spirit. Famines are common to all of us. They are also important. Though we may think that a famine is a disaster; God sees a famine as an opportunity for His people to discover the sufficiency of His grace.
The book of Ruth is the story of a young woman who had such an experience. In four short chapters we see how her proper outlook on life helped her to turn her famine into a feast. Let me suggest two very important initial steps Ruth took during her time of famine.
1) Ruth Chose to Follow God into the Future, Instead of Remaining in the Past
“But Ruth replied, ‘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. 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 you and me.’” (Ruth 1:16-17)
The first chapter of Ruth reveals a number of tragedies. In just a few verses, three men die and their widows are left facing the future all alone. Two of the women tried to return to the past, while one woman looked to the future. There’s one thing certain about the past – you can’t go back to it. When Jesus called His disciples He always called them to the future. “Follow Me.” Though Naomi tried to encourage Ruth to go back to the past, Ruth knew that God’s best for her was in the future. The Apostle Paul had a similar outlook on life. “I am focusing all my energy on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) Regardless of whether the past was good or bad, we can’t return to it. We can cherish our good memories and thank God for them, but in order to continue to experience God, we must follow Him into the future.
2) Ruth Chose to Look for Opportunities, Instead of Focusing on the Obstacles
Someone has said that the seven last words of a dying church are: “We’ve never done it that way before.” There are some people who believe that their spiritual gift is ‘pessimism.’ Ruth however was an optimist.
“And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.’ Naomi said to her, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.’” (Ruth 2:2)
Rather than bemoaning her problems, Ruth chose to go out and seek the blessing. Rather than starving at the table of self-pity, Ruth chose to glean in the fields of grace.
There are a variety of ways that we can react to times of famine. We can be like Elimelech who tried to run. We can move to a new town, get a new job, find a new mate, change the atmosphere and hope that everything will be different. Or, we can be like his wife Naomi who became bitter and blamed everything on God. Yet, neither running nor rebelling resolves a famine. The best reaction to a famine is to draw close to God and to seek His strength.