Encouragement to Approach God

img_4338Psalm 55:22

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved (ESV).

All people everywhere have some sort of affliction, concern, or pressure bearing on them. These burdens weigh us down and cause us to seek relief. We all know the feeling, though the form of our burdens and their severity vary from person to person. It is a rare person indeed who does not feel that his or her burdens are harder or more painful to bear than those of other people. Imagine a group of people discussing their concerns, and you can almost see everyone waving their arms and crying out, “Listen to me! Look at my problems!” As our self-focus increases, our attention to the Second Great Command diminishes. Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). It is far too easy to complain, “I need to be loved most! Let me talk! Help me!” We need to face the reality that though we out to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2 NIV), our own trials, limited natures, and weaknesses combine to leave many suffering under their burdens.

The Lord steps into this situation with an invitation that provides hope.

Today, let’s identify our burdens. What is your burden, or probably more accurately, what are some of your major burdens? It is easy to hear people answer in the following ways.

  • My burden is my anxiety about some coming event, a change I know is coming. These are sources of many burdens, such as job or even career changes, an impending move to another community, or having one’s closest friends about to move away. Our anxiety can be about making the best choice or filling the empty spots in our lives after the change occurs.
  • My burden comes from the slander and malice of others. Many times, this burden arises in the workplace, where some people suppose that the way to the top is to walk upon the heads of others. There are others that seem to gain some special delight in making others suffer, and their attacks can come in subtle but painful ways. Gossip might be the weapon of choice, or they simply do petty things that can make life miserable. We know that our Lord faced such aggravations in his earthly ministry, and we ought not to be surprised when we have to endure the same.
  • My burden is outward troubles, like disappointment in plans and financial losses that lead to more embarrassing pressures. Christ’s people want to honor their commitments to make timely payments, but who hasn’t wondered how they are going to pay that stack of bills on their desk? Jesus warned us against imitating the concerns of worldly people. We should often meditate on Matthew 6:25-34.
  • My burden is grief. Part of life involves morning over the loss of parents, spouse, siblings, children, and friends. Not all face all of these because of their own early demise, but we might endure bereavement even in our early years. The burden might come from the missing place at the holiday table, or when you think of how you always called someone on Sunday evenings, and they are no longer able to answer your call. Sorrow fills the room and crowds out joy. This is a burden.
  • My burden is my disease or disability. These might be physical or emotional. Most of us can accept when we can no longer do a particular activity, like play full-court basketball. We console ourselves with thoughts that it is our turn to watch. But think of those whose normal activity is cut short by an accident or the onset of an illness. Their days can be filled with loneliness and sadness, to say nothing of pain and frustration.
  • My age causes my labor and sorrow. I can’t bend down to get items in the grocery store, and I can’t open the lids of jars when I do get them. Buying groceries, carrying them into my home or apartment, and putting them away leaves me exhausted. Everything seems to take twice as long to do it as it used to. And when it’s done, I must rest twice as long before I can do anything. And I ache. I have pains in places that I didn’t think it was possible to have pains.
  • My burden is my struggle with sin. Temptation is swirling around me, and I don’t seem to make progress. How long will God tolerate my spiritual failures? Is his friendship strong enough to care about somebody like me?
  • My burden is lack of hope. If I could know that the Lord will receive me and give me much more than I can ask or imagine, I might feel unburdened. But I daily wrestle with nagging doubts about my election, calling, salvation, and acceptance in God’s family. I fear that my course might end in eternal misery.

You might have another kind of burden that I have not listed. Regardless of your burden, our text is good news! The eternal, unchangeable, sovereign God invites us all to cast our burdens on him. Lay hold of that invitation now, and cast your burdens on him! In our next study on this verse, we will look at the Lord’s promise.

Grace and peace, David

A New Home

IMG_0902Ruth 1:22

Sharon and I have moved much in our lives. We stayed in our previous two homes for fifteen and twenty years respectively. When we moved last December, it was a big event for us, one that included downsizing (and hopefully rightsizing) our possessions. Though getting rid of a lot of stuff was tiresome, we looked at the process with joy, since we were moving to a new home. (No, that’s not a picture of our present apartment building. But the view would be great!) We were on our way to a new place with new people to meet and new experiences to share. Though the move was over six months ago, our apartment still feels new to us, and we thank God our Father constantly for what he has given us. In saying this, we realize that some people find moving stressful and unpleasant. Naomi had decided to return to Israel, and her move brought stress to her.

However, someone else besides Naomi came home in this passage (1:22). Her name was Ruth. This verse has a difficult structure, but the word “return” is used of both Naomi and Ruth. So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest (NASV).

In Naomi’s previous words, we heard her say nothing about her daughter-in-law. Naomi had complained in the singular. However, hadn’t Ruth lost her husband, too? Wasn’t Ruth also childless? Wasn’t Ruth also facing a grim future? If Naomi had been brought back empty, then what can be said about Ruth, who was now empty in a foreign land?

Suffering can produce a self-centered outlook. Others are forgotten. What matters are my pain and my anguish and my troubles and my loneliness and my heartache! Yes, Naomi was suffering, and we reach out to others in our grief. But surely she should not have overlooked Ruth, but spoke in the plural, and talked about how Ruth needed friends and help!

However, the Holy Spirit who inspired the writer of this portion of Scripture has not forgotten Ruth! He points out that Ruth the Moabitess had returned. How can this be called a return, since Ruth had not left Bethlehem in the first place? The Spirit of God wants us to know that Ruth has returned to the living God.

By calling her a Moabitess, the Holy Spirit wants us to sense the wonder of her conversion. In this Old Testament book, he reminds of God’s greater purpose. God had said that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:3), and he had invited the nations to rejoice with his people in the great song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:43). So then, in the Torah, the old covenant law had excluded the nations from the people, while God also revealed his purpose to include them among his people. It was very unclear to people under the law how those two truths could agree, if they even thought about them. It was a mystery whose solution could only be found in Christ (Ephesians 3:1-13). Ruth stands as one of the firstfruits of that worldwide vision. As God gave more revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures, he would affirm the purpose that would be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. So then, Ruth the Moabitess returned to God and his people! Naomi had not returned empty, because Ruth the Moabitess went home with her! To sum up the story to this point, “when God is at work, bitter hopelessness can be the beginning of some surprising good” (Hubbard).

How can you know that God is at work for your good (Romans 8:28)? You can only know it when you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and righteousness with God. Only then can you know the love of God from which nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you.

Grace and peace, David