But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? 12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”
But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.”
A very successful pastor of the last century got a letter in the mail from a woman who was having a ‘Naomi’ type day. The letter read… “Please tell me how to gain confidence in tomorrow and to be able to face the future with calmness. I realize that there isn’t much I can do about the past; I know I can work with the present but when I think of the future, I feel helpless and afraid.” When I read this woman’s comments, I neither laughed nor brushed it aside. I think this woman hit the nail on the head and my assumption would be that she had the courage to articulate what a lot of us are feeling but afraid to express.
Naomi is your classic pessimist. The name Naomi means ‘pleasant’ but the years had left Naomi anything but pleasant. She told the ladies in Bethlehem, “Don’t call me Naomi [pleasant] again, I have changed my name to Mara [bitter] because the Almighty has made my life bitter. What we see here is a classic example of hopelessness and despair. Naomi had given up; she had thrown in the towel. She basically says to her daughter in-laws: “I am bad luck. My life is jinxed. Let’s face it, I am a loser and I have no future and you will not have one either if you tag along with me.” Naomi had no confidence in the future. She wanted to withdraw from life, to be alone. Despair will always drive us to seclusion. Thank God, Ruth intervened. She was a God send, a blessing from above. You and I know the rest of the story and we know how Yahweh gave an Naomi a hope and a future when it did not appear to be possible. We must keep in mind that nothing is impossible with God. Naomi was convinced, she had no doubt, her life was over and she had no future. But Naomi was wrong. Her feelings betrayed her.
THE FIRST STEP
The first step to recovering your hope is to realize that God has a master plan and that in the end, all things are going to work for your good and His glory. King David said, “Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Note: David did not say, “Although I live in the valley of the shadow of death.” I like Winston Churchill who once said, “If you going through hell, keep going.” The devil will do everything in his power to undermine our confidence in God’s goodness. If we get to doubting God’s goodness and benevolence, we are going to give way to despair and the world will become a cruel place where we feel helpless and afraid. Naomi believed in God. She had not lost her faith in Him but she blamed Him for the misfortune that she had experienced. She did not question His existence, she was questioning His goodness, especially as it related to herself.
Life is composed of both joy and sorrow, success and failure, victory and defeat. Remember the words of Job, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” We live in a sin cursed fallen world where bad things happen to good people; sometimes to innocent people. Naomi was dwelling on the past and on her misfortune and grief. She refused to turn her back on the past and move on.
There is a Greek legend about a woman who came to the River Styx to be carried across to the next life. Charon, the man who ran the ferry, reminded her that she could drink of the waters of Lethe, and thus forget the life she was leaving. Eagerly she said, “I will drink and forget my sorrow.” But said he, “You will also forget your joys.” But said she, “I will forget all my failures.” Yes, said he, “And you will forget all your victories.” Yes, said she, but “I will forget how I have been hated.” “Tis true madam, but you will also forget how much you have been loved.” The story ends with the woman deciding that retaining her memory is a greater blessing than losing it all together. We all have some bad memories but do we really want to lose them or should we seek to learn from them. When you look back over your life, you will see that you learned the most during the most difficult times.
What happens to a child that is pampered and protected? They become spoiled and they are not ready for the real world. We learn from hardship and suffering. Adversity creates the heat that tempers our character. Corrie Tin Boon could have never been the Corrie we knew had she not suffered. So, number one, we have to reach that point where we agree with the great Apostle who said, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
HOPE IS ESSENTIAL
We cannot live without hope: we could exist possibly but not live. Naomi was returning to Bethlehem to die. She had lost all hope happiness on this earth. I am convinced she was going home to live out the rest of her miserable days. We all need hope. Victkor Frankl was a German born Jew. He was a PhD. in medicine and psychiatry. The Nazi’s separated he and his wife putting them into two different death camps. He never heard from her again but he survived two camps himself. As he saw men die on a daily basis, he observed that only the strong and hopeful survived: he noted that once a man gave up, he was as good as dead.
Frankl was right: man must have hope to survive and the is especially true when things get difficult. Everyone needs something to look forward to: everyone! I talked to a friend the other night who has a hunting trip planned for Canada and his eyes light up when he talks about it. He has something to look forward to. Our secretaries here at the church have one thing in common: they love vacations and especially trips to the beach. I endure the heat of Summer because I know that Fall is coming. I also look forward to THANKSGIVING and CHRISTMAS. We all need things to look forward to.
HANG ON TO HOPE AND KEEP PRAYING
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
We started this sermon series by using Dr. Charles Allen’s book, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE THROUGH PRAYER as our guide. I must confess a major weakness in my prayer life and life in general–I have a huge lack of faith. I know what you are thinking: how can a preacher be lacking in faith? Hey, I asked myself that same question. My natural tendency is to be like Naomi. I have had a lot of friends die with cancer and the ones that hurt me most were those that were younger, some as young as my children. I admit, I’ve seen some miracles but I have seen cancer win the battle more times than not. It wears on you. I prayed for all of these people and on a couple of occasions, I firmly believed that God was going to heal but I was disappointed time after time.
Perhaps my ignorance is the problem: God is doing something that I don’t have the intellect to understand. I may be like the kid who prayed for God to help him pass a test. The kid prayed, committed it to the LORD and then failed the test. He concluded that it did no good to pray, so he stopped praying and went to studying. As a result, his grades got better, much better. It took him a few years to figure it out but finally he realized: God allowed him fail to teach him the value of study. The boy grew up to be a successful man but he understood that he would not have prospered in college or in his business had he not learned to study. God answered his prayer by not answering his prayer.
My friends were believers so they are with Jesus. If they are with Him, they are better off than being here, right! We do not give up hope. We rather rejoice in hope and keep on praying. If we stop praying, we are no different from the men in the concentration camps who stopped hoping. Dr. Allen gives us four confidence builders when it comes to praying with hope–
- God has already blessed us with the intellect, the abilities, the means and the resources to do many of the things that we are asking Him to do for us. We are like the kid who did not want to study–we want God to supernaturally help us pass the test without us putting forth any effort. So we have to ask ourselves the question: What am I not doing that I could be doing to be a part of the answer to my prayer?
- God is working at a higher level. We don’t have enough sense for His sense to make sense. Isaiah 55:8-9 comes to mind…“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Job was a good man, better than any living today in my opinion. Job had an argument with God and he was totally convinced that he was right and God was wrong but then Job saw God…“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.” [Job 42:5-6, NKJV] Once Job saw God, he dropped his argument and confessed that he had argued without full knowledge. God knows what He is doing: the problem is that we don’t know what He is doing.
- God has many prayer to answer other than yours or mine. What if my prayer request puts a hardship on someone else? A preacher was sitting in an airport hoping to get a seat on a plane that was already filled. He began praying earnestly for God to open up a seat then the LORD spoke to him, “Who would you like me to remove so that you can have a seat?” A lot of our praying is selfish and it does not need to be answered. Matter of fact, I am alarmed at how much of my praying is selfish. I love to hear my son pray because he begins his prayers with a litany of praise and it is edifying to hear him pray. I find myself wading right in asking for this or that: it is because I have a selfish nature and I want things and often times want them now. God is God, he is not our cosmic butler. There are times when He is going to make us wait to show who is who.
- We can never really pray with any kind of effectuality confidence until we have a surrendered will. Until we are willing to prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thy will be done,” we are going to ineffective in prayer. I close with the words of Paul…Rejoice in confident hope–Be patient– and keep on praying.