In the world that we live in today, it is so easy to get wrapped up and brought down by so many things. Whether it be something life-shattering like losing a loved one, or something unexpected like car issues or financial stress, life can suck the joy from the day. So if Scripture expects the follower of Jesus to live in a joyful manner, how do followers of Jesus stay joyful in the midst of life’s tribulations?
To begin with, I want to turn to a book in the Bible that is secretly about finding joy in the Christian life. On the surface, the book of Ruth seems to be a grand love story between Ruth and Boaz. And it most certainly does contain that concept and lesson! But once we look at a little closer, I think it is really about the journeys of the three named characters in the book (Ruth, Boaz and Naomi) and how they found joy in the midst of their circumstances. So what then can a book that looks to be about love teach us about joy?
Right from the start, Naomi seems to have everything a home: a husband and two sons. But then, because of a famine, the home and city that she loved, were temporarily left behind (Ruth 1:1-2 ESV). Then life happened and tragedy stuck: Naomi’s husband died (1:3). Sure her sons married, giving her daughters-in-law, but she lost her companion. Not only that, but ten years after the wedding, with what seems to be no children to pass on the family lineage, Naomi’s sons also died (1:4-5). This then left Naomi without a husband, without children and grandchildren.
In the Ancient Near Eastern culture, this might have been a death sentence, or a life of begging ahead for Naomi. And yet one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, stayed with her mother-in-law with no hope of a future in sight. Ruth’s declaration is the joyful bright light in the midst of life’s darkness for Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (1:16-17).
Joy in the Christian life comes to those who follow after Christ no matter the future that is ahead of, no matter the past events or circumstances, and no matter the grief the trials cause in the present.
Yet in the midst of Ruth’s turning to find joy by following after the Lord, Naomi takes a turn for the bitter end. Upon arriving to her home town, instead of leaning on her former neighbors, Naomi no longer wants to be called Naomi, but Mara. Here is where the secret theme of joy in this book is shown. The name Naomi means pleasant. The name Mara means bitter (1:20). Naomi’s bitterness at the loss of her family has descended her into blaming the Lord for the loss of her family (1:21). Not only that, but she doesn’t even make note of the time of year that it is with it being barley harvest (1:22b). And yet, Ruth sees it not only as an opportunity to eat, but a chance for a future (2:2a). And that is when Ruth’s joy grows when she meets Boaz.
For joy in the Christian life is eager to see what the Lord will do next.
When Boaz meets Ruth and vice versa, they are both in awe of each other’s loyalty and respect each other. Boaz glowingly praises Ruth for her newfound faith and her loyalty to her mother-in-law, even being so far from her native home (2:11-12). Ruth is overjoyed to have found someone that treats her well and respects her (2:13). When Ruth arrives home that day with more than gleaners could ever dream to glean in a day, Naomi, who no longer wanted to be named pleasant but bitter, is speechless with awe (2:19a). It is then when joy breaks through for Naomi. At the sight and sound of the Lord providing a future for Naomi and Ruth, she exclaims, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead” (2:20a).
For joy in the Christian life is when a believer sees through the grief, anxiety and sadness of life, to their Lord and Savior, who has been there the whole time with arms stretched wide.
From there, the love story unfolds between Boaz and Ruth. Yet even in this love story joy emanates from the narrative. Naomi is overjoyed by the fact that Boaz is a relative and that Ruth has a possible future husband in Boaz (3:1-4). Once the proposal is made by Ruth to Boaz, describing Boaz as a protector, Boaz is brought to joy’s door since it seems that he wasn’t sure that he would get married (3:9b-11). Naomi, even upon hearing that there was a closer relative to her than Boaz, did not hesitate to trust that the Lord would make sure that Boaz married Ruth (3:18). This then leads to the greatest lesson about joy in the Christian life:
In order for believers to feel joy, they must first be redeemed.
For when you and I sin, we are then separated from the Lord. And only the Lord can buy us back. For to redeem someone is to pay to buy them back. For Boaz, he had to buy Naomi’s estate monetarily to complete the joy journey for the three of Ruth, Boaz and Naomi. For us, the Lord buys us back through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus. This should give us the ultimate reason to be joyous in the Christian life.
In April of 2018, towards the end of my time in seminary to become a pastor, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I typically give a good, smiling face, but fear and worry can become a real issue for me and saps my joy. When I started seeing a Biblical counselor, one of the very first things we did was walk through the book of Ruth. The reason why was because he viewed that book to be about joy. So this article and the concept it covers is not only personal to me, but extremely vital to how I think and act. We as believers can find joy in this crazy life, but it takes a lot of patience and trust in the Lord.
First, joy in the Christian life comes to those who follow after Christ no matter the future that is ahead of, no matter the past events or circumstances, and no matter the grief the trials cause in the present.
Second, having joy in the Christian life is being eager to see what the Lord will do next.
Third, joy in the Christian life is when a believer sees through the grief, anxiety and sadness of life, to their Lord and Savior, who has been there the whole time with arms stretched wide.
Finally, we as believers experience joy in the Christian life because we serve a God who has redeemed us through the blood and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.