In his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life*, Pastor Rick Warren says, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”
In the number one bestselling book of all time, God says…if you are generous with the hungry, and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places – firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a watered garden, a gurgling stream that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again (Isaiah 58:9-12 MSG).
What Do We Need?
Facing poverty after the death of her husband, Naomi said, Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me (Ruth 1:20-21 MSG). Have you ever felt as if God has abandoned you? Has this feeling of abandonment left you, like Naomi, feeling so bitter that you didn’t even recognize yourself, and couldn’t bear to be called by your own name?
When Naomi felt that everything about her life had become bitter, her daughter-in-law, Ruth, gave her a pledge: Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us (Ruth 1:16 MSG)! Ruth gave Naomi the assurance that, no matter what happened, she wouldn’t leave her alone.
In the book that bears her name, when Queen Esther realized that to implement God’s plan to save her people she had to approach the king without an invitation, she was ready to call it quits: Everyone who works for the king here, and even the people out in the provinces, knows that there is a single fate for every man or woman who approaches the king without being invited: death (Esther 4:11a MSG). Esther knew she had a calling, but she wasn’t convinced she wanted to pay the price to fulfill it.
Her uncle Mordecai stepped in with words of encouragement and the Big Picture: If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else…Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this (Esther 4:14 MSG). Mordecai’s words gave Esther the courage she needed to accomplish her destiny.
When God’s angelic messenger visited teen-aged Mary to announce her immanent conception, he let her know that she had found favor with God, and that with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:30, 37). Her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, prophesied: …blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:45 ESV). Elizabeth reminded Mary that God keeps His promises.
These true stories, about real people, are illustrations of the covenant that God has made with whosoever believes in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Throughout scripture, God has given us His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. When we feel alone, He is still with us. When we are afraid of what the future holds, He assures us that He will not abandon us. When it seems that all the sweetness in our lives has become bitter, Jesus remembers our name, and He sustains us with honey from the Rock.
Naomi, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth and Mary were all women with a purpose. They suffered terrible loss, struggled with loneliness and barrenness, knew moments of intense fear, and endured humiliation.
But God is faithful.
He assures us that even in old age, [We] shall still bring forth fruit…[we] shall be fat and flourishing (Psalm 92:14 KJV), and that He will order His angels to protect us wherever we go (Psalm 91:11).
Like Naomi and Ruth, who were many-times-great grandmothers of Jesus; like Esther, who saved a nation and outwitted the enemy; like Elizabeth, who nurtured the voice crying in the wilderness; and like Mary, who carried a mighty promise, we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.
Rick Warren reminds us, “God uses problems to draw you closer to himself. The Bible says, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit [Ps 34:18].’ Your most profound and intimate experiences…will likely be in your darkest days – when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great – and you turn to God alone.”
He quotes quadriplegic, author and advocate Joni Earickson Tada, “’When life is rosy, we may slide by with knowing about Jesus…but only in suffering will we know Jesus.’ We learn things about God in suffering that we can’t learn in any other way.”
God does not allow our pain to go to waste. He is close to us when we are brokenhearted. He rescues us when we are crushed under the weight of grief and sorrow. He gives us beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. He gives us grace, and then, He asks us to share it.
…they went out and proclaimed the message everywhere. The Lord worked with them, confirming the word by the signs associated with them (Mark 16:20 CEB).
*Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life, What on Earth am I Here For?. Zondervan, Michigan, 2012.