Return to your God, observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually….Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord….Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us. (Hosea 12:6; Psalm 27:14; 123:2)
When I explain Elisabeth Elliot’s idea, “Do The Next Thing,” I sometimes use Naomi’s example in the Old Testament Book of Ruth. You may like Do the Next Thing: Elisabeth Elliot and Christ-like Qualities in Abigail (Part 1) and (Part 2).
Naomi was Jewish and lived about 1300 BC. She and her family lived in Bethlehem, Israel, during a time of famine. So they moved to the nearby country of Moab. They traveled 60 miles East, over rough terrain, probably on foot. The Book of Ruth is set in the days of the Judges, when everyone did as they saw fit, whatever they felt like doing.1 Love for the Lord and neighbors was very low.
While in Moab, Naomi suffered the losses of multiple loved ones. Her husband and two adult sons all died within a short time. Some writers contend that this was God’s discipline on the family for leaving Israel, but Scripture does not state that. Either way, imagine how Naomi felt. Single heartbreaks are bad enough, while multiple calamities can put us under an avalanche of sorrow. It’s called cumulative grief. Naomi said, “Don’t call me Naomi (meaning pleasant). Call me Mara (meaning bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I was full, but the Lord has made me empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”2 Job said similar things in Job Chapter 3 after he suffered multiple disasters: bankruptcy, deaths of all his children, and severe physical suffering. In this life, God’s people are not spared from these things and sometimes we feel hopeless, despairing, overwhelmed, and emotionally devastated. In Naomi’s time, a widow with no husband or adult sons to provide for her would be desperate and the future would have been very bleak.
Complaining to God, Not Other People
God wants us to bring all our sorrows to Him in prayer. Psalm 142 begins, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint to Him; I tell Him my trouble.” William Brown asserts that forty-two of the Psalms are laments, either individual or communal.3 The Psalms complain to God honestly about our sadness, anger, fear, longing, loneliness, regret, repentance, disappointment, depression, and confusion. The Lord wants us to do that. The cause of our sorrow can be external trouble or internal turmoil.4 The Psalms are breathed out by God the Holy Spirit for us to use in our prayers. I think that is how Naomi handled her hardships. She was a godly woman, but not a super woman, only a sinner saved by God’s grace. She trusted the Lord and did good, the best she knew how. Naomi did not abandon the Lord even though her grief was overwhelming. She hung on to God in faith and prayer, knowing that His right hand upheld her.5
Naomi’s Advice: Sit Still
When Naomi heard that the Lord had come to aid His people once again by providing food in Israel, she and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, returned there on foot. Both women trusted and obeyed the Lord step by step, day by day, and they experienced His blessing in due time. Naomi advised: Sit still, my daughter, wait on the Lord until we see how He will provide for us.6 This is not a call to passivity, but to active, faithful waiting on God. Like a busy server in a restaurant, waiting on tables. Then the Lord, in His goodness, love, and grace, rebuilt their lives bit by bit. By the end of the Book of Ruth, Naomi is made an ancestor of King David and of King Jesus the Savior of the world who came to earth 1300 years later.7
God gave Naomi new life, new joy and peace, recovery, refreshment, and renewal. The Lord used her simple acts of faith in Him to bring about Christ’s coming for the salvation and blessing of billions of people, all around the planet, right up to the present day.
Elisabeth Elliot’s Example: Do The Next Thing
Elisabeth learned this poem as a child from her mother and put it into practice later on. She and her husband Jim were serving on the mission field in Ecuador when he was martyred, leaving her alone with an infant daughter. Elisabeth was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. She had to perform many jobs alone to carry on the work. By God’s stretching grace, she learned to do things that she was never trained or prepared to do. It was a great help to her to simply do the next thing, step by step, day by day, and leave the results in Christ’s hands.8
The Apostle Paul’s Exhortation
Paul writes, “In the name of the Lord Jesus, we command you to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”9 Some in the Thessalonian church thought that since Christ may return any moment, they should lay back and relax, neglect their responsibilities, quit work, and just wait for the Lord passively. In their idleness they stumbled into sin. They mooched off of others, neglected to help those less fortunate, and became busybodies. They claimed to be more spiritual, but they were less Christ-like. Paul, as Christ’s messenger, tells them and us to get back to work and be faithful with the duties the Lord has given to us. Because Christ is coming, we want to be living out our faith in our everyday tasks, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him.10 We are to be busy about God’s work because the devil finds things for idle hands to do.
In the Book of Ruth, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz were all busy serving God and each other, taking orders from the Lord, and blessing each other. If their story were not put in the Bible, nobody would have known. But God knew and put it here for our endurance, encouragement, and hope.11 Elisabeth Elliot found great joy in serving Christ and other people in little ways that no one else noticed, except the Lord.
Since we came from God and are going back to God, no job is beneath us. Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”12 That’s a great way to wait on the Lord!
To be continued.
Notes (various translations): 1 Judges 17:6; 21:25. 2 Ruth 1:20. 3 The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, William P. Brown (2014) 4 God Wants You to Complain by Jon Bloom. 5 Psalm 63:8. 6 Ruth 3:18. 7 Ruth 4:13-22; Matt 1:5-6. 8 The Shaping of a Christian Family. 9 2 Thess 3:6. 10 1 John 2:28. 11 Rom 15:4. 12 John 13:14.