The Provision of God2018 09p1

During my travels this month, I have been very aware of the changing seasons as field upon field, with swathes of golden grain ripening to perfection, become bleached by the sun’s rays and ready for harvest. The quiet diligence and toil of farmers to harvest the abundant grain and bale the dusty yellow straw for winter has been evident in the numerous tractors and trailers around my hometown, trawling grain and dusty bales across county borders.

So my thoughts have turned to the harvest story of Ruth in the Old Testament; a story that is grounded in the sadness and struggles of everyday lives...a glimpse into the journey of an ordinary migrant family through the eyes of one person who experienced hunger through famine, the grief of losing husband and sons through early death; resettlement and return; yet throughout was supported and befriended by her foreign daughter in law. Throughout, this short powerful story is threaded through with evidence of Immanuel; God-with-us through all things, his provision for us conquering all.

The Blessings of God

2018 09p2Blessings are often taken for granted in the western world. We, who often seek for more when we do not need it, fail to see the extraordinary blessings hidden in the everyday of our lives. Health, family, friendship, the gift of enough food; home, the wonder of the natural world. We are blessed indeed. Naomi's story in the book of Ruth tells of many of these things being taken from her and her feelings of emptiness that consequently prevail. Yet throughout her grief and pain she is supported and befriended by those around her- God's blessings portrayed through the actions of others.

This harvest time, perhaps we can stop to humbly count our blessings and if we are bereft like Naomi for people or things lost to us, then maybe we can see the blessing of others supporting us through the dark times - and look to God, as Naomi did, for the future of more joyful blessings.

Loyalty to God

Naomi and Ruth were united through their joint experiences of hard times and great sorrow, yet the two things that kept them going, was their unswerving loyalty to God and each other.

Ruth tells Naomi, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you live I will live. Your people will be my people and your God my God" Ruth 1:6

Often, it's tempting to take an easy route for convenience and short-term fixes. Ruth could so easily have left Naomi to return to her own family. Instead, through her support and devotion of Naomi and her unswerving faith in God, she sets the stage for God to use her in his long-term picture, immortalised through the family lineage of Jesus.

I wonder how faithful to God I am in the face of adversity? How loyal to those close to me I would be in times of extreme trial? Is there something that I am looking for a quick fix for, when God may have something else in mind that requires me to recognise a faithful God in charge of a much bigger picture? Can I trust God to do all this?

Honest to God

Being faithful to God does not exempt us from sorrow or trial, but neither are we expected to bury our grief and sadness. God knows all our needs and promises to wipe away our tears, because he cares for us as his children.

Naomi is not afraid to be honest with God. She tells others how she really feels, "I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty " (Ruth 1:21) She faces her feelings and in doing so, others are able to help care for her and support her.

Often, we hide away our deepest feelings, yet we are made to be in community to support each other through sorrow and share in each other's joys. Perhaps when someone close to you asks, "How are you?" we can offer honest answers that allow others to befriend and support. Equally, may we too be a listening ear and a supportive companion: God’s envoys in our encounters with one another.

Praying God’s blessing

Throughout this book of the Bible, I am struck by the natural inclusion of God in everyday speech, where all people pray God’s blessing into each other's lives and situations. This is not restricted to some but includes all: master to workers, workers to masters, women and the entire community. God seems so much part of the life of these people.

“The Lord be with you…” “The Lord bless you harvesters” (Ruth 2: 4)

“The Lord bless the one who helped you” (Ruth 2:19)

“The Lord bless you…” (Ruth 3:10)

It seems so natural, so heartfelt; so much a part of their whole attitude towards life, that they attribute blessings and wellbeing to God, through ordinary daily encounters. Few people in my life do this and the one who stands out for me, is a Big Issue seller. He blesses people who pass by, calling "God bless you. Have a wonderful day." This action is not limited to the people who buy from him but includes all. As I consider this, I am deeply humbled.2018 09p3

I wonder if this harvest, we can learn from this- and begin to pray God’s blessing into the lives and situations of those we encounter each day?

Embodying the Kindness of God

I am easily undone by kindness. Do you not find that when you think you have just about managed to hold yourself together in the wake of deep sadness or difficulty or whatever it might be, that the smallest gesture of kindness can floor you, unearthing the tears from within that you have sought to bury deeply under constant activity? Or else, inspired or humbled by the kind actions of another, we are moved too to be kind. This is God in action through his people on earth.

Though a stranger in Bethlehem, Ruth's kindness goes before her (Ruth 2:11), inspiring others to kindness, and ultimately gaining her the love of a man who was to become her future husband.

I wonder…who we may have received kindness from that has brought us to tears or inspired us to an act of kindness? Give thanks for them and the wonderful power of a simple act of kindness.


The Empowering of God

Throughout the Bible and beyond, God enables his people to fulfil their unique role in the world and in the furthering of his Kingdom.

"The Lord enabled Ruth to become pregnant. " Ruth 4:13
This was part of her role; what she was created to do-to give birth to Obed, who became the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David. This seemingly ordinary thing ensured that Ruth became immortalised as one of only five women mentioned in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus.

I wonder how God enables you? What unique role does God empower you to play in God's Kingdom? Whatever it may be, I pray that you will meet God in his provision for you, experience God with you through sorrow and joy; that you will be blessed by God and able to bless others through your words and life... and that you may experience the power of kindness, staying faithful to Him and trusting him for the bigger picture.

Praise God

It is easy to call to God for help when times are bleak and there is no other option open to us, but when things are going well we sometimes think we are self- reliant and forget to give thanks. At the end of the book of Ruth, God’s people do not forget to give praise where it is due " Praise the Lord who has provided...: Ruth 4:14

So, this Harvest, can we proclaim praise as well as prayers to our God, Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider?

Textile Reflections

2018 09p4The background depicts the map upon which Naomi and Ruth travel; their painful paths shown through a double stitched route threaded through with gold that represents God with them throughout their journeys. The right-hand side is darker, for this was the land where each woman lost their husband, and the vertical stitching here represents tears of grief.
Conversely, the left-hand side holds swathes of barley and wheat, showing the two harvests with which God provided practically for them both. The yellow contours and curved threads across the picture, show how unseen, God weaves good from all that we encounter throughout our lives to create a whole much bigger picture.

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