It's a matter of character.
Think about what God is most interested in in your life. Is it making things easy? Answering all your prayers? Giving you great gifts? Sometimes he does these things as a loving Father and, when he does, we are grateful. But more than our comfort, he is interested in our character. And character seldom changes without challenges.
By the end of chapter 1 of the book of Ruth, we see that she is faced with many challenges.
The first is her bitter mother-in-law. When they return to Bethlehem, Naomi greeted her old friends with this, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21) Naomi means pleasant and Mara means bitter. Naomi actually changed her name to match her mood!
If you have ever been around bitter or angry people, you realize what a trial that can be. It’s much easier to be around those who are happy! But Ruth knew that when she left Moab, and she seemed to be up to the challenge.
Ruth’s second problem was finding food. Fortunately, Naomi knew how things worked in Bethlehem, and she sent Ruth out to work as a gleaner. In Jewish law, God had decreed that harvesters had to leave some of the grain behind so those who were impoverished could come after them and pick up what was left, hoping at least to get enough to eat for that day. It must have been back-breaking work in the hot Middle East sun to glean enough to make a couple of loaves of bread. But Ruth was willing, and off to work she went.
Naomi sent her to glean in the fields of Boaz, who Naomi knew to be a distant relative. A young woman, lots of male harvesters – Ruth must have had at least some concern for her safety, But Boaz took notice of her and provide protection, water, and even extra grain.
It was not an easy life. But Ruth gave it her all day after day. When Boaz was kind to her, she asked him why. This is what he answered, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.” (Ruth 2:11)
She was young, she may even have been pretty, but what did Boaz give as his reason for helping her? It was her character – specifically all she had done for Naomi.
Character matters! People are watching; they judge us by how we work, what we say, and how we treat others. And Ruth was a woman of exemplary character. In fact, when Boaz talks about her to others, he calls her “a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11). The phrase in Hebrew is the same as is used in Proverbs 31, when it refers to a virtuous woman, woman of valor, or excellent woman (depending on the translation) and then goes on to describe what, in God’s eyes, is the ideal wife. Ruth is the only woman in scripture who is described in this way.
Joni Eareckson Tada, now 71 years old, was paralyzed as a result of a diving accident at age 19. She talked about her desire in the years right after the accident that God would work a miracle and heal her body. Then, as the prayer went unanswered, she realized this: “God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life, and strengthening my character.”
How committed are we to becoming the men and women God wants us to be? Are we sometimes angry, bitter, untrusting, arrogant, vindictive, unforgiving, selfish, prideful, or unloving? Or do we live in a constant state of anxiety or restlessness?
We first should realize we are powerless to make any meaningful change on our own. We need, instead, to ask God to replace our negative traits with those he wants us to have: Love, joy, compassion, peace, patience, gentleness, humility, goodness, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, honesty, and thankfulness.
Our part in this character development begins in our minds. The thoughts we allow to live within us will shape us. Let’s ask God to give us the grace to make wise thought choices, thinking more about eternity than this world, more about giving than receiving, more about moral purity than lust, more about others than ourselves. With our surrender to God and our focus on what is in our minds, we will put ourselves in a place where God can work and, by his grace, our character will change.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2