Craig Groeschel - When God Doesn't Make Sense
Well, if you've ever felt like your world is falling apart and the pressure is just too much to bear and you wonder, God, where are you? If you've ever felt like that, you're going to relate to the story that we're gonna read today. Are you ready to hear God's Word today? If you're ready, say I'm ready. Go ahead and type that in the chat. If you're watching online, just type it in the chat, I'm ready. We're gonna start in Ruth today in the Old Testament. Ruth chapter one, and we're gonna see a very powerful story of a person whose world fell apart and she slipped into bitterness. And we're gonna watch as God turns her bitterness and her brokenness into a very powerful story of redemption, which is my prayer for what God will do for you today if you feel like your world is falling apart.
Ruth chapter one verse one says this. "In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country Moab. Now Elimelek, Naomi's husband, died and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah," who later on got her own TV network called owned OWN, O-W-N. "One named Orpah and the other Ruth", after they lived there about 10 years, "both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband".
Let's pause there and we'll come back to the text. Just to make sure you understand the context, this was during the era when Israel didn't have a king. And during this time, the judges ruled and the people lived for about 350 years under complete chaos. Reviewing what we read in the text, we know that Elimelek and Naomi were married and they had two sons and this massive famine came on in their homeland in Bethlehem. So they had no food to feed their boys. They didn't know what to do. And we don't know the details. We don't know whether it was the husband's idea and they only went along with it. We don't know if they agreed, but they made a very bad decision to leave the place where God had called them and to move into enemy territory.
And we're gonna see this decision ended up costing them in more ways than you can imagine. Our text told us that Naomi's life fell apart. Her husband had died, and you might think like I did, well, at least she had her two sons. But around 10 years or so later, she loses not one son, but both sons. And she finds herself with very few options. She could either be a slave, she could sell her body as a prostitute or she could be a beggar in a foreign country just simply trying to survive. So, she tells her daughter-in-laws, hey, you go to your homeland, I'm gonna go back and look for a better life. And that's when Ruth, her daughter-in-law, says to her the very famous wedding verse, which has always been funny to me because this is a daughter-in-law saying it to her mom, and yet you say this to your lovey-dovey at weddings.
And she said, hey, "Wherever you go, I'll go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God". Completely broken and devastated with no hope in the human sense. Naomi goes back to her homeland. And Scripture says in verse 19. "So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, can this be Naomi"? Now, let me tell you this wasn't in a positive way like, "Can this be Naomi"? Oh girl, you're looking so good. You're looking so fine. It wasn't like that at all. It was more of like, "Can this really be Naomi"?
She looks horrible. She looks like her life has fallen apart. And Naomi says this. She says, "Don't call me Naomi". Naomi means pleasant or sweet. She says, "Don't call me pleasant or sweet". She said, "Call me Mara," which means miserable or bitter. "Call me bitter," she said, because the Lord Almighty, "God has made my life very bitter". And then she says, "I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty". This is a message for any of you who started out full, but came back empty. You find yourself confused or maybe even bitter at God. The title for today's message is When God Doesn't Make Sense. Online today and in all of our churches, would you join me in prayer?
Father, we ask that by the power of your Spirit and the truth of your word, that you would give us a deep clean, God, of any bitterness, confusion, or anger toward you. God, would you take our brokenness, our unanswered questions and even our pain. And God we ask that you would redeem them by the power of your son, Jesus. We pray this in His name. And everybody say. Amen. Amen, and amen.
You can even type that in the chat. If you're with us today online, type it in Amen wherever you are. I cannot describe to you how emotional that last verse is to me. It strikes in a way that's hard to describe. She says, "Call me Mara, I'm bitter". And then she says, "I went away full but I came back empty". I'm guessing that there may be a few of you that even can relate to this in your life. You might've dreamed of a life full of relational blessings and instead, you find yourself with relational brokenness. And you're wondering, where are you, God? How did we end up here?
Maybe you hoped and prayed for and dreamed about a life full of meaning and impact and ministry and yet you find yourself with a life full of pain and loss. And you wonder, where are you, God? I put my trust in you. I did what you were calling me to do. I tried really hard. I did my YouVersion reading plan for a whole week straight. I went to church, I was baptized, I tried to give offerings. I tried to be a good person, and this is what I got, God? Where are you? I trusted you. I believed in you. I tried to follow you. And I went out full, and I came back empty. I had dreams of something better. And yet here I am today feeling hopeless.
As we look at this story, it's interesting to me that there are two big ideas that come out in the story. And I wanna try to highlight those to you. The first one, if you're taking notes, you can write this down. We learned that the wrong direction always leads to the wrong destination, right? Anytime you're going in a wrong direction, you'll never get to the desired destination. And honestly, I don't like to say always and never very often, but in this case, this always is and always. For example, if my destination is toward you and I walked toward the screens, no matter how long I walk, I will never get to the desired destination if I'm always going in the wrong direction.
And the problem is for some of you right now is you wonder why, God, are you not coming through for me? Why am I not being fulfilled? Why do I feel so empty? Why is wife not going my way? God, why can't I sense your presence? God, why don't I know where you are? And the reason could be because your back is turned toward God. You never ever end up in the right place when you're heading in the wrong direction. And that's what Naomi was doing. Her trajectory was away from God, away from where she was called. She was to be blessed in Bethlehem and she went toward enemy territory in Moab. It's almost impossible to describe to you how wicked and evil the people of Moab were as they served their false God.
In fact, if you've ever been to a place... How many of you have a town that you don't really like? You're usually like, I don't wanna go there, okay. What do you think God called Moab? I'll tell you what He could have done. He could have said it's like the armpit of the Middle East. He didn't do that, right? He could have said it's a good pit stop or whatever but what God called Moab was one of the, it shows how he felt about it. He said this, he said in Psalm 60 verse eight. "Moab is my washbasin". In other words, if I've got dirty feet, I'm washing my feet in Moab. I despise Moab. And one of the reasons that it was so wicked is the Moabites worshiped the false God of Chemosh. And Chemosh is similar to Baal. Chemosh, the very name means destroyer. And one of the wicked rulings of Chemosh is that he demanded blood. And so there were many times human sacrifices as well as child and infant sacrifices to this false God of Chemosh.
So what did Naomi do? Naomi left where she was supposed to be, headed in the wrong direction toward enemy territory and discovered that the wrong direction always leads to the wrong destination. And I would ask you this today, is your life pointed toward the things of God? I want you to take a moment and think about it. Is the trajectory of your life pointed toward the things of God or toward the things of this world? Is your heart, does your mind drift toward the things that are eternal and God-honoring? And my guess is that there are some of you who might even say, well, at one time, that kind of is how it was. I mean, at one time I would wake up and God would be on my mind and I was seek Him early in the day and I would want my life to matter toward Him that day. And I would look for ways to be a blessing and I would listen for His voice and I would be directed by His spirit.
But perhaps somewhere along the way you just got a little bit distracted. Maybe it was a new job. Maybe it was a really cute boyfriend. I mean, we're talking cute, cute, cute, cute. Like how do I get him cute, okay. Maybe it was that you've been locked up for a year and you could finally get out of the house and go get nachos. Glory to God. And somewhere along the way, instead of heading toward the right destination, you got just a little bit distracted. Maybe COVID through you off your rhythm. Maybe you had intimacy with God and church and fellowship when you were serving and you were in a small group and you had spiritual momentum but the rhythms got messed up and suddenly you were just a little bit off.
Maybe you found yourself let down by God. You thought He was gonna do something and He didn't do something, and instead of pursuing Him, you got just a few degrees off. Maybe, without even knowing it, you just one day woke up and realized I've drifted a long way off target. The question I want you to think about is this, is your heart, is your life moving in the direction of God? Because the wrong direction always leads to the wrong destination. The second thing that we learned from this story is so important in it. That is this, number two, a distorted view of God always leads to a distorted view of life. Any time we don't see God as He is, we start to wrongly interpret what we see going on around us. And we see this in Naomi's case as well.
What does she do? Interestingly enough is she started blaming God when she had stayed in Moab for a decade. Think about this. She'd been away from her home, away from God's calling, out of God's will for 10 years. And because she was away from the things of God, it distorted how she saw God, which then discolored how she saw life. And that brought her to the conclusion that God made my life bitter. It's all God's fault. God let me down. God didn't do what He should have done. And that may be where some of you are right now. Without even knowing it, you've gotten off of the right trajectory. You're heading in the wrong direction. You've got a distorted view of God. You're wondering where He is and why did He let you down? And without even realizing it, you may wake up and recognize I'm a little bit bitter toward God. I don't know why you didn't. You could have, and you didn't. If you feel like that, man, I get it.
I remember the season of the deepest bitterness I had toward God was back in college. I'll show you some photos of my little sister, Lisa. The one in the middle was the Olan Mills shot. Some of you are old enough to remember Olan Mills. The ones on the outside must've been picture day at my home because we're wearing the same outfits, one inside, one outside. But Lisa is been just... We were born on the same day three years apart. We had the same birthday. And so she was like my gift from God when I was three years old. That's what my family always told me. And she's been that. We've been close all through our lives. And I discovered when I was in college, my family discovered that there was a man who had groomed and abused my sister as well as several other girls for years.
When she was in the sixth grade, she had a sixth grade teacher that I'm gonna him call Max. It's not his real name. But Max took advantage of her and others and did so for years. Well, as you can imagine, someone who was very close to my sister and loved her with all my heart, when I found out, I became unglued and I was completely consumed with bitterness and rage. And yes, I was bitter at Max and I wanted him to pay and I wanted to hurt him. I was mad at myself because I didn't see it. What's wrong with me? Most of all, though, I was mad at God. God, how could you allow that? Where were you? What kind of God allows a monster like that to take advantage of the innocent little girls. "Call me Mara". Call me bitter. God, because you didn't do what you could have done and I can't stand you for that. "I went out full, but I came back empty". God, why in the world would you allow this to happen?
Naomi felt this way. "Call me Mara". What's interesting is Naomi did, she made two very big mistakes. The first mistake is she left Bethlehem. She left the blessings of God and went into enemy territory. The second mistake she made is she blamed God. God, it's all your fault even though she stayed away for over a decade. But Naomi did get one thing right, and I love this about it. Her roots were still with God and she called God by a very specific name. What I discovered is that what you call God reflects how well you know Him.
I want you to think about this. The way you view God and how you address Him, what you call Him reflects how well you know Him. For example, if you just refer to God as like the big guy in the sky who's the man upstairs, I can guarantee you you don't know Him well. Because once you know Him and once you've experienced Him, and once you've been transformed by Him, and once you've tasted to see the goodness of God, and once you've been forgiven by God in ways that you would never ever understand, and once you see His sovereignty and His goodness working in all things, even the bad things to bring about good, suddenly you call Him things like Savior and Redeemer. And He's my rock and He's my shield. My God is my comforter. He is the everlasting Father. He is the Prince of peace. He's my righteousness. He's my friend. He's always with me. He never leaves me, He never forsake me.
Somebody here give a good God some praise. Tell him who He is. When you know God, you call Him by intimate names. And what she does is she reveals her pain in the middle of a little bit of faith. She says, "Call me Mara, because"... Now watch what she calls Him. "The Almighty, the Almighty has made my life very bitter". The Hebrew name for God that's translated as Almighty is El Shaddai. In fact, this is El Shaddai in the Hebrew. And this word means this. El Shaddai, it means God is always ample. No matter what I'm going through, God, His presence is adequate. God is always enough. A very literal translation would be this. That God is exactly what you need when you need Him. He is El Shaddai. He is ample, He is adequate, He is enough. He is always there. Whatever you need in this moment, God is exactly what you need at this moment, in this time, at this place. By His power, He is exactly what you need. He's El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El Shaddai.
What's so powerful is to watch the story unfold. Naomi is broken. She's confused. She doesn't know where God is. She tells her daughter-in-laws, "Go back home". And Ruth says, "No, I wanna stay with you". And Ruth waits patiently for God to bring her the right man. And you can read the very powerful story of how God brought her Boaz, who was a handsome man. He was a rich man, and he was a godly man. Ladies, on a side note, anytime you have a handsome man plus a rich man, plus a godly man, that equals a husband. Come on, somebody in this house, don't you settle for, just don't you settle for something else. You wait for your Boaz. And in Ruth chapter four, you watch as God blesses this very special relationship out of Naomi's brokenness through now her lineage by marriage.
We see this in verse 13 of Ruth chapter four. "So Boaz," the new man of God in Ruth's life, "took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi, Praise be to the Lord, who has this day not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better than seven sons, has given birth to him". What did Naomi do? I love this. Scripture says, "Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, Naomi has a son. And they named him Obed". Now watch this. "He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. They named him Obed," which means servant of God. And I want you to see, again, that "Obed was the father of Jesse and the father of David".
In fact, I wanna show you on the screen a very powerful generational story that's too long for us to read. But in over 1,000 year period, you see the lineage that God brought out of this story of brokenness. "Obed, the father of Jesse, Jesse, the father of King David, David, the father of Solomon," on and on, generation after generation. The power of God works in His providence and in His plan and in His goodness all the way down to Matthan, the father of Jacob. And then what do we see? And Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary, somebody help me, was the mother of? Jesus, who is called the Messiah. And out of the lineage and out of Naomi's brokenness, God brought about wholeness and healing through Jesus Christ.
It was out of the pain and out of the bitterness and out of the brokenness that the goodness and the faithfulness of El Shaddai, the God who is exactly what you need when you need Him, brought about a savior into the world. Through the brokenness, God brought healing. And this is exactly what God can do for you. This is a word for somebody today. In this moment in your pain, in your brokenness, in your bitterness, our God is bringing you a word that will be exactly what you need. It's His love for you. It's His power for you. It's His goodness to give you hope in the middle of your pain.
And that's exactly what God did for my family in the middle of the deepest bitterness toward Max and toward myself and toward God. It was in my brokenness that I found forgiveness in Christ. That Jesus forgave me for abusive things that I did and for hateful things that I did. And when I came to faith in Christ, one by one my family started awakening back into the roots of spiritual faith. And we recognized that it was time for us to do what Jesus had done for us. It was time for us to, by faith, do the last thing we wanted to do. And that was forgive the man who had abused my sister and others. And so we prayed and we worked toward it. And our prayers at first were like, God, do something to him, anything, your choice. Have your will, have your way.
But our prayers softened over time. God help us forgive him and help him to know you. And Max had a muscular dystrophy and was dying, which at first I thought was a very fair sentence to him. And as he was on hospice, our family wrote him a letter and told him about the grace of Jesus that we had experienced and offered the man who deserved nothing but damnation, offered him the same grace that we had experienced. We found out later on from his hospice nurse that the note had not only ministered to him but had ministered to her. And she started calling on the name of Jesus. And according to her, she thinks that he did as well. And the power of all this story is what happens to a girl that's been abused and hurt. The good news is that years later, this is her family. Married to a very godly man that's close-like Boaz, incredible children, and my sister, Lisa out of her brokenness now feels called by God to help other women heal from the same type of abuse.
God took the brokenness and brought about redemption. What I wanna do today is I wanna talk to someone who went out full and came back empty. I wanna talk to someone who's holding bitterness toward God and wondering where God is and why God didn't and why God hasn't done what you thought He would do. I wanna talk to someone today who may be disappointed because you didn't get the job or because you can't conceive or because you're still not married and you thought you would be by this time, or because you are married and your marriage is still struggling today. I wanna talk to someone who's confused because you're still battling an addiction or fighting against depression. I wanna talk to somebody today who's confused and doesn't know where God is and maybe you're holding a grudge. I wanna reminds you that you never ever get to the right place if you're walking in the wrong direction.
If you're walking away from God today, I would encourage you very, very simply to turn back to El Shaddai, to turn back to Him, to call on Him, to cry out to Him, to throw all the weight of your hurts upon Him, to trust Him again, to get to know Him intimately. Call him by El Shaddai, the God who is ample, the God who is adequate, the God who has everything you need in the very moment that you need Him. And if you find yourself hurting and broken, confused, feeling betrayed, maybe you're stuck in Moab when God wants to bless you in Bethlehem.
If you're heading in the wrong direction, turn back to God, let Him redeem your loss. Let Him redeem your heart. Let Him be everything you need when you need Him. Let Him take whatever it is that is testing you right now and redeem it and turn that test into your testimony where you declare the goodness of God. Let Him take the mess of your life and give you the power to declare a message of the redemption, the goodness, the power, the grace and the glory of God. Let Him take your misery like he did with my sister and somehow by His power, turn it into a ministry to help somebody else heal from brokenness and pain because, who is God? He is El Shaddai. He is exactly what you need when you need Him. If you're in pain, He is your comforter.
If you feel weak, He is your strength. If you feel sick right now, He is your healer. Our God is what you need. He is joy in the middle of your sorrow. He is your ever-present help in time of need. He's El Shaddai. He's exactly what you need when you need Him. So if you started out full and you find yourself empty, look at what direction you're facing because God may wanna bless you in Bethlehem, but you gotta get out of Moab. And one day, you'll wake up, and even in the middle of unanswered questions, and even in the middle of your pain, you'll recognize that when God is all that you have, God is still all that you need. He's enough. He's El Shaddai. He's here. He cares about you. He is ample. He is adequate. He is enough. Don't stay stuck in the bitterness of Moab when God wants to bless you in Bethlehem.
So Father, we asked today, by your grace, your power, your presence, and your love, would you bring redemption, God, where there is brokenness, and healing God where there is hurt.
And all of our churches and those of you online, as you're praying, I'm just curious. How many of you right now may have an unmet expectation, a disappointment, and you find yourself with some unanswered questions? You need God's redemption. You need His healing. You need holiness. Would you just lift up your hands right now? You can type that in the chat, I need God's help. I need God's help. Just type it in the chat right now as we have so many people today. I just wanna pray for you.
God, I know that just like Naomi, just like my sister, just like so many people, sometimes all we can see is our pain. God, in the middle of our pain, help us to see you as El Shaddai, the God who is still with us and is exactly what we need. God, in this moment, help us to know you intimately, to trust you. And in the very same way you brought about Boaz, you brought about Obed, and through generation, after generation, after generation, you redeemed the story of brokenness by bringing the Messiah, the son of God, Jesus, God, would you bring redemption through our brokenness? Would you bring healing, God, to our pain. Father, I ask that whatever someone is facing right now, that in this moment, by your power, you would be what they need. God, you would be El Shaddai, exactly what we need, God, when we need you.
As you keep praying today, there are some of you you're gonna get to know God in a way that you've never known Him before. And after serving Him for years and years, I think I've discovered that sometimes God may even allow you to get to a place in your life where you almost feel like you're so low that there's nowhere else to look but up, where you finally recognize you need Him. You need His help. You need His power. You need His grace. You need His forgiveness. For those of you right now that recognize for you God may be kind of more like the man upstairs. He's like the big guy in the sky. You don't know Him intimately.
What I want you to understand is that God wants to reveal Himself to you. He is a loving God who cares so much about you. He loves you so much that he became like you in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God in the flesh, perfect in every single way. And Jesus loved broken people, people like you and people like me. Jesus gave His life on a cross. The reason He did this is because He was the innocent one who died in our place as the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Some of you right now, you feel the weight of your sinfulness. You've hurt people, you've done some things you're ashamed of, you're embarrassed by. You wonder, how could I ever be good enough for God? Let me just clarify it. You can't and neither can I. We never can be good enough for God. And that's why God sent Jesus. Jesus was good enough. He was the perfect sacrifice.
I would encourage you today just to come to Jesus, just come to Him. Just come to him as you are. Come to Him with your hurts, your fears. Come to Him with your questions and your burden. Come to Him with your sin and say, Jesus, take it all. Forgive me, make me new. When you do, God will forgive all of your sins. He'll heal your brokenness. He'll make you brand new. Today at all of our churches and those of you watching online, you recognize you need His grace, you need His forgiveness, your prayer is simply this today. I'm leaving Moab, I'm going to Bethlehem. I'm turning around. I'm walking away from the bitterness, I'm walking away from the brokenness. I'm turning to Jesus. I'm giving my life to Him. I'm leaving my sin. I'm giving my life to Jesus.
Those today who say, yes, that's my prayer. I wanna know him. I need His forgiveness. I'm leaving the past, I'm trusting Jesus. Today, by faith, I give my life to Jesus. If that's your prayer, lift your hands high now all over the place today. As we've got people calling out to Jesus, those of you online, just type it in the chat, I'm giving my life to Jesus. I need someone here to give God some praise and tell Him thank you as we see lives being changed by the goodness of God, El Shaddai, exactly what you need when you need Him. And I would love it today If you're watching online or at a physical location, would you just pray aloud with those around you. Pray:
Heavenly Father, forgive all of my sins. Jesus saved me. Make me brand new. Fill me with your Spirit so I could know you and show your love. Make my mess into a message. Turn this test into a testimony. I will glorify you in all you do. Thank you for new life. I give you mine. In Jesus name, I pray.