By Pati Page
There is a mystery in suffering—a hidden truth that is only unveiled when the wounds of affliction find their purpose in a sovereign God. How do we, as God’s children, come to understand that the bitter herbs of today’s trials can become the sweet fragrances of tomorrow’s blessings?
There is a lesson in the myrrh tree whose purpose and service cannot be discovered until its thorny bark is wounded. From its wounds bleed the gummy sap, which in time hardens to resin beads. Not until these precious beads of affliction are crushed will they produce the healing oils and sweetened fragrance that fills and penetrates the stale air of this fallen world.
Sometimes suffering is the result of our own failings. Other times it’s just the result of living in a fallen, sinful world. Either way, suffering tests the character of our faith. It’s painful. But the one who declares his compassions new every morning allows suffering to bring about proven character.
Faith is tested and refined by the fires of trial. Without this understanding, faith can shatter into shards of bitterness and despair. Have you been there? Have you ever found yourself in a place where your faith weakened under the strain of sorrow? Do you wonder if the remnants of your faith can pierce through the seeping influences of bitterness and still act powerfully to lead others to the feet of their kinsman redeemer?
Naomi’s story speaks to the heart of every soul who stands in the wake of tragic times, questioning the purposes of God and wondering if anything good can come of their lives. Naomi teaches us that failure and sorrow are redeemable. God can work his eternal purposes amid our disasters in a way that eventually brings praise to our lips and glory to his name.
A Grieving Spirit Can Still Minister
It was a famine that sent Naomi and her husband seeking refuge in the land of Moab. Many have debated whether theirs was a wise or disobedient decision. The pressures of devastation like a famine can bear down on the soul and drive one to search in strange places for answers. For Naomi, the fruitful land that offered hope and promise yielded only sorrow and grief. In the foreign soil of Moab, Naomi buried her husband and sons.
I can’t imagine the depth of grief that Naomi endured. Oh, how the future must have looked so dim, so lonely. And yet, in the midst of unbearable pain, there emerged the tender love of a mother as she sought the needs of her daughters-in-law. Releasing them to return home to their families must have been hard. Seeking the welfare of another at the cost of our own is difficult, but Naomi knew she could not regain for them what they had lost: she could not provide them a home or family.
It is with the eyes of Christ that we look to the needs of others with love. A grieving spirit does not have to rob us of our compassion and concern for others. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a dream, an expectation, or a relationship, hope can still triumph because it does not rest on the things of this life but on the rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ. And because our hope is in Christ, the trials of this life can become the platform and means by which we minister to others in love.
Paul taught the Corinthians that the God of comfort who comforts us in our trials enables us to comfort others in theirs (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). My dear friend, are you experiencing a brokenhearted loss? Like the tiny resin beads of the myrrh tree, allow the crushing blow of sorrow to find its beauty in the sweet fragrance of Christ’s love. When we allow the oil of his love to flow in the midst of sorrow, others will see and take notice.
Our Trials Can Be Used by God
As children of God, we share in the sufferings of Christ. We stand together with many who have mounted the wings of God’s grace and strength to rise above our circumstances in glory to our God and King. While the Scriptures do not speak directly to the character of Naomi’s faith, we must consider that it was of significant depth. There is no doubt that love encompassed these three women in our story. But while one daughter-in-law departed for home, the other clung with the resolved commitment to embrace the faith of her mother-in-law. What could possibly cause a young Moabite widow to leave her home behind and pledge her allegiance not just to Naomi but to Naomi’s God? The patterns and practice of faith must have been woven into Naomi’s character long before the trials of these tragic deaths. It was Naomi’s faith on display, daily demonstrating the gracious love of a holy God that captured Ruth’s attention.
It is important to remember that Naomi was not the only one grieving. Ruth and Orpah had suffered great loss also. What Ruth observed in Naomi during those bitter days is what others need to see in us when we face difficult times. People need to see that our faith is real and saturated in the knowledge of a faithful God. Faith that trusts God in hardship is a powerful and compelling testimony. Perhaps the trial you are facing now may become the instrument God uses to draw another to himself.
God Can Redeem the Dark Seasons
Like the song of the dove that rises above the morning mist, the gentle breezes of God’s blessings soon came to Naomi. After returning to Bethlehem, the hardships of daily life sent Ruth to work in the fields as a gleaner where she would catch the eye of Boaz, her future kinsman redeemer and husband. And through Naomi’s wise counsel and guidance, the match was made according to the law. It was not long before Boaz and Ruth placed their firstborn son in the arms of Naomi. I can almost see the long-awaited smile that graced Naomi’s face as she held the infant, Obed. The face that had known more of anguish than joy, more tears rather than laughter, now expressed humble gratitude toward a mighty God who can walk his children through the darkest of seasons and into the light of abundant blessings.
The blessings of God come in different ways. For Naomi, it was the restoration of family, future, and security. Sometimes his blessings are tangible like these. But greater are the spiritual blessings that are found in Christ. Hidden in the physical blessing of the infant son, Obed, was a lineage. From Obed would come Jesse. From Jesse would come David. And from the line of David would come the greatest blessing of all, Jesus!
The true blessings of God that break on the horizon of desperate times are the love and commitment to turn our trials into victories. Not until the resin beads of the myrrh tree are crushed can the fragrant oil be harvested. I believe that the fragrant oil to be harvested in our lives is to be conformed to the image of Christ and to walk intimately with him in a deepening and growing faith: a faith fortified and strengthened through the refining trials of life that trusts in the sufficiency of God’s grace.
There was a moment in Naomi’s life when the weight of her afflictions exposed her tension and struggle with God. In an exchange with the people of Bethlehem she declared, “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). Who hasn’t, in a dark hour, contended with God in anguish over the trials of life? How grateful I am that Naomi did not allow the seed of bitterness to take root. Instead, her persevering faith opened the door to a ministry of love that led another to the God of her salvation. May Naomi’s example of triumphant faith amid trial be our encouragement.
Pati Page is a freelance writer in Bargersville, Indiana.