There are two ladies in the Bible that have had a profound impact on my life.
For years I identified with the woman at the well in John 4. To this day, she is still one of my heroes. She had been divorced several times. She was living with her boyfriend. She was judged and condemned by the “perfect” women in the community. She went about her business, head down, just trying to make it through her day without running into one of them. Then she met Jesus. And He didn’t run into her by accident. He went way out of His way to find her at that well. He got there before she did. He waited on her. When she got there, He initiated the conversation. In John 4 you will find the longest recorded one-on-one conversation with Jesus and a human. And it was this broken woman he chose to have it with. She walked away an evangelist. She was full of life and full of joy and no longer walked around with her head down. She ran around town shouting the praises of Jesus, the Messiah. She made it her mission to spread the good news of the gospel.
That was me. My name is Jamie and I struggled with relationships. If I had seen a doctor, they would have probably diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I had an extreme fear of abandonment. Fear of abandonment, unchecked, is a self-fulfilling prophecy I might add. I would take things to the extreme. One minute I would cling to someone as if they were my lifeline and the next minute I would want to run away from them forever. I would shut down completely. I would put all my hope in people, mostly father figures, such as a boyfriend, a step-dad, or a boss. And when they would let me down, my whole world would crumble.
I had very little joy and most of what joy I did have came in the form of time spent with my beautiful children. They were wonderful, but they couldn’t satisfy the emptiness in my soul. God began to pursue me. He revealed to me that I was dying of thirst and the Man at the well was waiting for me. He saved me. He restored my soul and filled it with joy. I walked away an evangelist. I fell in love with God, with Jesus, with His Word, and with the family that I came to be a part of at my church.
The second lady I identified with was Ruth. She was a young widow in a foreign land, clinging to the only woman in her life that had ever shown her the love of the One True God. She was willing to give up everything she had ever known to follow her mother-in-law to another country because she wanted to know her God. She had seen the God of Israel sustain her mother-in-law through the loss of her husband and her two sons. I can’t even imagine.
Her mother-in-law begged her to go back to her family. But she would not. She said, “Your home will be my home. Your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die.” She was serious. Her mother-in-law accepted that she had to take responsibility for this young woman. She brought her back to her hometown. They set up house and moved on with life. She sent her out into the fields one day to collect grain so they wouldn’t starve to death.
In that field, Ruth met the man who would be the earthly manifestation of a savior. He took her under his wing and protected and provided for her all the days of her life. His name was Boaz. I identified with this because this was how I felt when God brought Eric (my husband) into my life. He was my Boaz and I knew it almost instantly. We have been together 6 years and we have had highs and lows but never once have I wondered if I had made a mistake. He IS my Boaz. I love my life with him.
But all of this brings me to the person in the Bible that I identify with in this current season of my life. I feel God calling me back out into a field. I hear Him calling me out into the field to walk with him. He wants me to meet with Him, to learn what kind of Redeemer He is. I already know Him as my Savior and Redeemer, so what could all this mean?
I think it means that there is a season beginning that I will need an even deeper relationship with my Redeemer. It’s the kind of relationship that comes through loss and pain.
Maggie talked about it. She was so vulnerable as she shared about the loss of her child. Through it, she is learning what LOVE really looks like. She now knows just how much love it took for God to send His only son to this earth to die so that we could have a relationship with Him. He truly loves us.
Vanessa talked about it. Her home has been plagued with sickness. Her young son is battling cancer. She confessed that many of her prayers in this season of her life have been desperate pleas for God to give her back the joy she had lost. She identified with King David who wrote songs of praise that sounded more like outbursts of anger because of feelings of abandonment. She walked us through Psalm 13 where David asked God: “Will you forget me forever?”. Yet in verse 5 we see that David decides to trust God no matter how he FEELS because he knows God is trustworthy. And this is how FAITH is built; it’s in the hard times.
Stephanie talked about it. She shared with you the journey of a young woman who struggled through the divorce of her parents, the abuse that came at the hands of her first husband, and then her own divorce. But what she learned through all of that was to place her HOPE in the God who is always faithful.
So who is this lady I am beginning to identify with in this season of my life? Her name is Naomi. She was the mother-in-law of Ruth. She didn’t want Ruth to follow her back to Israel. She begged Ruth to stay with her own family. She said I have nothing to offer you. Yet Ruth was relentless. She clung to Naomi. She said please don’t ask me to leave you. So Naomi agreed to take her in.
Naomi’s name means “My Joy”. It’s perfect because the virtue I have chosen to write about as we kick off this new year is JOY! (We love when names have special meanings, don’t we?). However, when Naomi arrived back in her hometown, she told the people not to call her that anymore. She said from now on call me Mara. Mara means “bitter sorrow.”
Noami, or should I say Mara, is the closest I could find to Job in the form of a female in the Bible. If you don’t know anything about Job, I would just sum it up by saying He suffered more loss and pain than any human we read about in the Bible. He lost all of his children, all of his wealth, and then he was plagued by a very painful and crippling disease. And to top it all off, all the people around him pretty much abandoned him emotionally. His devastated wife told him he should hate God for what they had endured. His friends accused him of sinning to bring on this unprecedented amount of punishment. Even God remained silent until the end. But….God didn’t remain silent forever.
God came to Job. He rescued him. He restored his soul. He knew God in a way he never had before. In Job 19:25-27, Job says, “I know my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I, not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Job said that the outcome of all the pain and suffering is a personal knowledge of who God really is. Not a God that someone teaches you about on Sunday. Not a God that I heard about in a worship song on the radio. Not the God my parents told me about. But a God that I have seen with my own eyes, felt in my own heart. When you have that experience, then you know what true JOY is.
Two weeks ago my son enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
It came out of the blue. No one in my family has ever been in the military. I had been fasting and intentionally praying for God to reveal his plan and purpose to my son. This wasn’t why it happened. I now know that God put it on my heart to fast and pray so that I would be prepared to trust Him. God didn’t run this plan by me. He didn’t get my approval. But I trust Him. My son is 19. I have never gone more than a week without talking to him. In 25 days he will ship to Parris Island and I will have no contact with him for 3 months. After that he will come home for 10 days. At the end of those 10 days he has promised to give his country the next 8 years of his life. Four of those years will be active duty. During those first four years there will be times that I will not know where he is. There will be times I will not know if he is safe, warm, or happy. I will completely have to trust that God does know and He loves my son more than I could ever love him.
So how do I feel? Sad. Proud. Scared. Devastated. And more than anything: JOY.
Joy because my God loved me enough to prepare me for that news. Joy because I am not sending him off unprepared. Joy that he is armed with John 3:16. Joy that he is obedient to the call God has placed on his life. Joy that my God will sustain me should anything happen. Joy because if the worst should happen, as it happened to Naomi, I will still have my God to sustain me.
God restored Job’s family, wealth, and health. Naomi was given a baby through Ruth and Boaz. That baby became the grandfather of King David. The very same King David that Vanessa wrote about. The very same lineage that King Jesus will eventually come through. We serve a God that gives JOY!
At Christmas we sing that Jesus came to bring peace. Yet I read in Matthew 10 and Luke 12 that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”.
He also said take up your cross. The cross is a symbol of pain, suffering, death, loss, persecution, punishment, and rejection. It also represents salvation, purpose and the completion of God’s plan. It doesn’t sound fun. It doesn’t sound like something I would choose. It certainly doesn’t sound like I can have joy in the midst of all of that.
I have cried a lot over the last couple of weeks as I have processed what my son is about to go through. And I have shared my testimony of how God prepared me for the news with several people. One of them asked me how I could be so sad since I told her that I knew this was God’s plan for him. Friends, you can be sad over God’s plan. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Jesus was sad in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So how could the Prince of Peace not come to bring peace? How could the man who said take up your cross intend to deliver joy. How could the God who said I will never leave you nor forsake you allow His own son to cry out from the cross “why have you forsaken me”?
The JOY, the peace, the love, the security and faithfulness are all in the secret place (Psalm 91). They are not found in external circumstances. They are found within. They are found deep in your soul in a place that the enemy can never get to. They are found in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. All of the outside can be at war and the inside can “be still and know that He is God.” This is how a man who has lost his entire family can pen the words “it is well with my soul.” It is a reassurance that this life is fleeting and that our hope is in heaven. This is how you can be named Naomi, feel like Mara, but somehow become Naomi again. This is how you can lose everything in this world and still sing with unspeakable Joy. This is how you can be different!
Ruth 4 says that Ruth gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi “Praise be to the God who this day has not left you without a redeemer….he will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. Oh the JOY of being a grandma (or Mimi if you’re young like me). Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. You cannot have it without the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit in us is what makes us different.
Let me pray over us.
Father fill us (me and the readers of this blog) with your Joy and Peace. Walk with us in 2019. Let us draw near to you in the hard times so we can testify of the joy that lies within us despite our circumstances. Let us do battle with Satan through worship and praise. Let us spend this year learning to sing and testify and meditate on the things that are pure and lovely. Let our hearts yearn for you the way Job’s did. Let us meet you out in a field. Let us walk with you. Let us talk to you. Let us do more listening. Let us study your Word so that when the hard times come (and they will come) we will choose Joy! Change us Lord! Don’t let us stay the same, whatever it takes. In the Name of Jesus, Amen!
Happy New Year!