I chose to share with these ladies the story of Naomi in the Bible, as Naomi struggled with what so many do - bitterness toward God because of disappointments she had faced in her life. The story opens with Naomi having lost her husband and her two sons to death. In that culture, to be left without a husband or sons to provide for the family left a woman in dire straits. Not only that, Naomi had two daughters-in-law in the same situation, left with no foreseeable means to provide for themselves.
Naomi expressed her resentment toward God very openly, saying in Ruth 1:13b..."No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord's hand has gone out against me! The Hebrew word for hand means "all the power of the Lord" and was used in earlier contexts such as when the Lord parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to cross over out of slavery in Egypt.
By saying these things, Naomi revealed what was in her heart - that she felt God had completely abandoned her. Even worse, she believed He was actively working against her. Naomi hit what Dr. James Dobson termed "the betrayal barrier" in his book, When God Doesn't Make Sense. Dobson estimated that at one point or another in our lives, 100% of people will hit the betrayal barrier, but most will not recover and believe the truth of God's infinite love for them. They may not lose their faith entirely, but they go through their lives feeling bitter. They also will live with a deep sense that God really is not for them and maybe doesn't even love them.
Yet, as we look at Scripture, we see there are 25 passages specifically referring to God's goodness. These passages manifest His goodness in various ways, most usually referring to His love, often to His material blessings, to salvation, and many other times to His preserving care and protection of His people. There are almost 600 others using the Hebrew word for good, many of which relate to God. If the truth of God's goodness is so clear, why do we struggle to believe it?
Our solution lies in renewing our minds with the truth. And sometimes the truth is hard for us to bear. At times, God is bringing trials into our lives as a measure of discipline, and we mistake his discipline for abandonment of us. Just as a good parent would not fail to correct his or her child when they needed it, even more so, God will not fail to correct us when we need it. Such was Naomi's experience.
The nation of Israel had been experiencing famine when Naomi and her husband left Israel to move to Moab. Famine in the Old Testament was a sign that the nation itself was under God's judgment. God had warned the Israelites not to leave the land of Israel or to intermarry with those outside of Israel, as the peoples of those other nations would turn the hearts of the Israelites away from God.
However, Elimelech (Naomi's husband who had died) and Naomi had chosen as a family to disregard God's instructions by leaving the land of Israel. They also had allowed their two sons to intermarry with non-Israelite women, another violation of God's instructions. Their wives had remained barren for 10 years, another sign of a lack of God's blessing on their lives. God was bringing difficulties into the lives of His children (Elimelech, Naomi and their sons) to get their attention and to urge them to return to Him.
In the midst of God's discipline (disguised as trials in our lives), we can fail to remember His goodness to us in our heartache. Naomi exhibited this quality in the midst of her loss as well. She had suffered tremendous loss, yet she failed to search her conscience to see if any of her actions were not pleasing to God. She also failed to remember God's goodness to her in the midst of her heartache and her unmet expectations of Him. Naomi, like many of us, obviously had expectations of God and what He would do for her. When God failed to meet her expectations, she became angry and bitter toward Him.
We have talked before about how what is in our hearts is reflected in our words. Naomi's words reflected a bitter and angry heart toward God. However, her bitterness was the result of mistakes and wrong choices she had made along the way. Rather than recognizing her faults and her family's rebellion toward God, and then choosing to confess and repent, Naomi instead chose to
blame God for all that had gone wrong in her life.
Keys to Victory along the Journey
How do we avoid falling into the same trap that Naomi did? What are our keys to victory along the journey? There are three, which if chosen consistently, will lead us to a victorious experience along our path.
- Know God and Trust His Word as Truth
As we grow to know God in a deeper way, we will have discernment to see His goodness in our lives, even if that goodness shows up as trials to test our faith or even discipline if we are moving into places of violating God's leading. I have begun a discipline lately that I have not done since childhood - that of Scripture memorization. One of my favorites this week is Nahum 1:7. "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him." As we study the Word to learn God's character, we will know Him more deeply, recognize His actions in our lives more quickly, and choose to respond to Him.
- Renew our Minds
Scripture tells us that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." This tells us the powerful impact of our thought life. If we are focusing on things that are not true, or not right, or not worthy of our time, we will struggle and not live the victorious life that God has for us. Phil. 4:8 gives us wonderful guidelines regarding the things on which we should allow our minds to dwell... "finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anyting is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." Naomi had allowed her thought life to get out of control with bitterness, anger and negativity.
This is quite a filter for our thought life, isn't it? Next time you have a thought that doesn't fit into any of those categories, go to step 3.
Confess to God Our Wrongdoing and Seek Forgiveness
There is a wonderful solution for healing bitterness and freeing our minds and hearts to see God's goodness and work in our lives. In 1 John 1:9, God promises us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Joy and Strength has been a wonderful devotional and a source of inspiration and comfort to me for nearly 20 years. Although this passage was written to Cyrus, a king who did not know God, there is a principle there for us, too.
Isaiah 45:3 - I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
If I believe in God, in a Being who made me, and fashioned me, and knows my wants and capacities and necessities, because He gave them to me, and who is perfectly good and loving, righteous, and perfectly wise and powerful, - whatever my circumstances inward or outward may be, however thick the darkness which encompasses me, I yet can trust, yea, be assured, that all will be well, that He can draw light out of darkness, and make crooked things straight. (Thomas Erskine)
And the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28 is always with us - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. If we follow these steps, we will begin to see in a greater way the daily goodness of God reflected in our lives - and for that we can celebrate!!
May we all clearly reflect the heart of God and of Christ as we trust in and celebrate the goodness of God in our lives.
If you would like to hear this talk on audio CD or perhaps purchase a copy for a friend, please contact Suzanne at email@example.com. The audio copies will be available via the shop very soon.
April Coaching Special
With enrollment this month in either the Women's Garden Club or the Pastors' Forum, you’ll receive a complimentary 30-minute personal or church coaching consult. Just contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to serve you.
Please let me know what issues you would like to hear about in the next newsletter. I'll do my best to address your concerns! I look forward to speaking with you all next month.
Many prayers and blessings to you all,
Relationship Tips is a monthly e-zine written and published by Suzanne Martinez, founder of SFM Consulting & Associates, LLC. Our purpose is to help leaders develop healthy leadership cultures and healthy relationships - cultures that promote growth and maximize personal and organizational performance.
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