I say it every night to my son, “May God bless you and keep you.” Sometimes it is just as a reflex, a good habit to fall into so that my boy will have those words of God deeply etched into his soul. Sometimes I can barely hold back the emotion as I feel all of it for him – May God keep you safe. May you know Jesus and what the heart of life really is.
I pull the duvet up to him, tuck him in, stroke his head. I want him to be covered over in love and safety. But I can’t protect him. I can’t watch over him. I am unbearably dependent on God to look after my son and hold him through the whiplashes of life.
All of this I feel when I pray. It is simultaneously an act of pulling him towards my heart and a holding him out into the hands of God.
Among the many ways I parent for him, this seems among the least significant. Feeding him helps him to grow – you can see it, measure it on charts and scales. Talking to him enhances his vocabulary – we hear it expand daily. We can record it, write it down. But prayer? He will not remember these prayers, there are no photos. There are just repeated words that daily float in the air.
And then I remember the book of Ruth and the prayers therein, those little evidences of a spiritual world that creep through into the everyday.
We had left Ruth waiting to see whether Boaz would marry her or whether the one who had ‘first refusal’ to be her kinsman-redeemer would do it instead. The scene is in daytime, the whole village milling around to witness the business agreement. The closer relative is keen to get Elimelech’s land – but then he refuses when he realises that Ruth is part of the deal. It’s not so attractive a business proposition if he has to take on the dead man’s widow. We exhale in relief, and Boaz marries Ruth. He doesn’t need the money, he doesn’t need the land, but he wants to obey God, honour his family, and protect and love this woman who has shown such kindness to Naomi.
Boaz shows Ruth kindness.
But it all started with a prayer uttered by Naomi while she was still in Moab:
“May the Lord show you kindness…May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (Ruth 1:8-9)
God answered Naomi’s prayer: He showed Ruth kindness; she found rest in Boaz’s home.
When you start to look, there are prayers everywhere in Ruth:
- “May The Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (1:17)
It sounds like hyperbole from Ruth, but she called on the name of the Lord to be her witness. She took Him seriously, and she did not part from Naomi.
- “The Lord be with you!” Boaz calls to his workers, and “The Lord bless you!”(2:4) they reply as part of their daily greeting – and He was, and He did.
- Boaz prays over Ruth,
“May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (2:12)
Boaz finds himself to be the answer to that prayer, covering Ruth with his protective garment of marriage, giving her refuge in his house and family.
- “Blessed be the man who took notice of you…The Lord bless him!”(2:19)
Naomi prays over Boaz, and he is blessed with a loving wife and baby boy, even in his old age.
- “The Lord bless you, my daughter”(3:10) prays Boaz in gratitude over Ruth, even as she asks him to marry her.
At the wedding, the whole town is involved and prayers erupt into a cacophony of blessing, falling like confetti over the newly-married couple.
For Ruth they pray that she will be like the heroines of the family she has just entered into – Rachel, Leah, Tamar. They pray that God will be faithful to her as He was to them:
- “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah…May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.”(4:11-12)
And the final prayer of the book is a blessing for Naomi:
- “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!” (4:14-15)
And God answered those prayers. Ruth and Boaz did become famous in Bethlehem: they were the great-grandparents of the great King David and ancestors of the greater King to come.
We don’t notice the prayers as we read the story, but when we search for them, they are everywhere, stitched into the rhythm of their everyday life and language.
The book is called Ruth, but it starts and ends with Naomi. Naomi is the secret heroine, the undeserving sinner who is confused and bitter, who schemes and manipulates – and whom God blesses anyway. Naomi ends her days pleasantly; no longer called Mara, the bitter one.
It starts with the loss of sons, and ends with the women shouting, ‘Naomi has a son!’ It starts with a famine and ends with an abundance of grain. It starts with bitterness, and ends with blessing. And throughout it all there are the prayers, these simple requests from people who trusted in a generous God.
And as I stroke my boy’s fair hair, still damp from his bath, I recall again the abundance of the grace of God, His undeserved love, the holy hands that pour blessing into my lap when I least expect it. I remember, I remember that God answers prayers. I want to offer up words of supplication, however puny; I want to have a life stitched together by prayer.
I pray these words for my son, I pray them for me, I pray them for you:
May you be like your godly forebears. May you be part of something bigger than your life.
May you be like Ruth, the courageous one, who loves abundantly and clings to God.
May you be like Boaz, a person of integrity, obeying God’s law even in the secret places.
May you be like Naomi, loved despite your failings and hurts; overwhelmed by God’s unexpected blessing.
May you know God the provider, who feeds his people.
May you know Jesus, who loved you and redeemed you and took you to be his wife, even when you were a poor foreigner, helpless and dependent.
May you know the whisper of the Spirit as He directs your life in ways that you are barely aware of.
May you know God the trinity, who reverses all our expectations, who raises up the poor and vulnerable, whose ways are not our ways, and who gives us grace upon grace.
May the fingerprints of God be all over your life, may his authorship be evident in your story. Amen and amen.
Over to you:
- In what ways is your life stitched together by prayer?
- Have you ever seen the answer to many generations of prayer for the same thing?
Over these past few weeks I have been doing a series on the book of Ruth, to looking again at the story breathed out by God and letting it write me.
Do read the relevant passage and join in with your responses to (and questions of) the passage in the comments.
- Thurs 21 Feb – Ruth 1
- Thurs 7 Mar – Last-minute God – Ruth 1, part 2
- Thurs 14 Mar – Skivers, tax-avoiders and the generosity of God – Ruth 2
- Thurs 21 Mar – A few good men: Integrity and Ruth 3
- Thurs 28 Mar – Ruth 4 and overview
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