Be Filled

I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” Ruth 1:21 (NIV)

In the past when I read this verse in the story of Ruth, I viewed it as a quick way to summarize the past and present of Naomi’s story in order to set up the heart message of the book of Ruth.

Remember, Naomi had a husband and two great sons when she left Judah for Moab in search of relief from a famine. Naomi also appeared to be prospering in Moab as she gained two daughters-in- law.

However, it is revealed rather early in the story that all the men in Naomi’s life died and her only choice for survival was to return back to her original land of Judah.

Ruth 1:21 speaks to us in Naomi’s own words which reflect her very heart.

In her mind, filled meant her family and bright future she had when she set out for Moab.

Empty reflected her state when she sulked back into Judah with all of her dreams and hope gone.

Perhaps a foundational truth of the story of Ruth is found right here, at the very beginning of the story.

I (Naomi) “went away full”.

The Lord “has brought me back empty.”

Naomi includes only herself in the first half of her declaration to her friends as the term “I” clearly can only mean her.

Her use of the term leaves no room for God.

How often are we also guilty of being very fond of the word “I”?

It seems “I” tends to come into play when life is flowing in a way that pleases us. The more good that comes into our lives somehow convinces us that we are at the center of it all.

I” am making good decisions.

I” am working hard and deserve to reap the benefits.

I” am religious, so God must bless me.

It is interesting that when Naomi believes her life has taken a turn for the worse, she reveals God’s role in it.

God has brought me back empty.”

In the course of a single sentence, Naomi reveals the type of relationship she has with the living God.

Good circumstances in life (full) = Me.

Bad circumstances in life (empty) = God.

Naomi’s view might have been different if she could have embraced the concepts of “filled” and “empty” from God’s perspective.

Starting very early in His plan of redemption, God gives us a glimpse of what He means by filled.

Exodus 31:3 describes how God “filled” men “with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills” to build the wilderness tabernacle so He could dwell with His people.

After the death of Moses, Deuteronomy 34:9 tells us how “Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom” in preparation for his role as the new leader of the Israelite nation.

1 Kings speaks to the impartation (filling) of wisdom and understanding God gave men in order to build Solomon’s temple.

Through these examples, we can see that God does intend for us to make good decisions, to work hard and to follow His precepts, but it is in the filling of His Spirit that lays the foundation for all of this to take place.

It is this filling of His Spirit that our decisions, actions and prayers lead us to follow His will in our life so our efforts have eternal value.

Psalm 16:11 sums this up quite well, “You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasure at your right hand.”

Naomi did leave Judah “filled” with her family and the dreams of her future intact, but what she did not recognize is that God had “filled” her future in a way she never could have imagined.

In her mind, she returned to Judah after the brutal turn of events in Moab believing God had made her life bitter and empty.

1 Peter 1:18 reminds us of “the empty way of life handed down to [us] from [our] ancestors” was redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.

The story of Ruth and Naomi shows us God’s desire to fill our empty circumstances with new life and hope.

Through the redeeming work Jesus did on the cross, we are free to invite the fullness of God into any area of our life.

Jesus’ sacrifice fills our empty with the hope of eternal life.

I have experienced times when I can now see that God’s “empty” was best for me because it allowed room for me to be filled with His presence above everything else.

God did bring Naomi back empty, but it was done because God was preparing to bless her in ways she could never imagine.

Perhaps God has brought you to empty to allow for a filling of His Spirit in ways you cannot imagine!

Romans 15:13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

My Part

I spent the last few months reading, studying and meditating on the Biblical story of Jonah.

For some reason, it seems the main point people usually take away from this classic tale is the fact that a guy (Jonah) survived in the belly of a whale for three days.

Of course, that is not the main point God was trying to convey at all. But I can understand how a man getting swallowed by a big fish (it really was a big fish and not a whale) is high drama for humans to fixate on.

I have always been taught that the true point to this story is the importance of obedience to God.

The Book of Jonah is a great example that if God tells you to do something, you need to just do it the first time you are asked.

Obviously, that is great lesson to take to heart.

But during my time of studying this book once again, God laid a new truth on my heart that I never embraced before.

If we set the story up, we find Jonah being told by God to bring His Word to the city of Nineveh.

Jonah 1:1-2 tells us, “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come before Me.’”

As the story goes, Jonah disregarded God’s instruction and ran in the opposite direction of the sinful city. Apparently, Jonah believed the city was so wicked that there was no way they would listen to what he was instructed to tell them.

I believe Jonah was not only afraid of the judgment he thought God would bring down on the city, but he was also afraid of what the people would think of him as he brought them the truth from God.

Here is the revelation that God wanted me to see.

Jonah’s fear was fueled by the fact that he did not take into account the work that God had already done in the hearts of the people of Nineveh.

Jonah literally saw Nineveh’s wickedness and allowed that visual to trump the supernatural work of God.

The truth is that God had already prepared the hearts of the Ninevites to receive His Word.

God just needed Jonah to deliver His message into newly receptive hearts.

God did not ask Jonah to prepare the people for the message, or to work in a way that would soften their hearts to the message.

All Jonah had to do was deliver the message from God.

Eventually, Jonah did obey the Lord.

“On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’” 5 The Ninevites believed God.” (Jonah 3:4-5)

The Ninevites believed God.

On the surface it appears they believed Jonah, but remember he was just the messenger. The Bible tells us they believed God because He was the one who prepared hearts for belief.

Jonah’s trouble started when he believed the people did not have the mind or heart to receive his appointed message.

Jonah did not take into account that he was in partnership with God.

God did the part (preparing hearts to receive) that Jonah did not see.

Jonah determined the success or failure of his mission based on how he interpreted the situation instead of what God instructed him to do.

I think sometimes I hear what God wants me to do, but I seem to make the role I am to play bigger or smaller than it is intended to be.

I usually understand the instruction given to me on a practical level, but I just cannot see it working out unless I tweak it in some way.

Maybe add a little.

Maybe take a little away.

I am going to this new revelation from the story of Jonah to heart.

When God speaks into my heart, I am simply going to obey.

But I am not just going to obey because we are commanded to (and it always works out better when we do).

My obedience will also come from a place of understanding that God wants to partner with me and delights in my help.

God chooses me to play a vital part, but I also must remember that God also has a valuable part that I might not be able to comprehend.

I am determined not to alter the mission God gives me because I think He missed something.

Working alongside someone you love, both parties doing their ordained part, is what brings joy to the entire process.

Remember the revival in Nineveh that took place when Jonah finally did the part God instructed him to do at the very beginning.

Drama tends to happen when we fall out of sync with God’s voice and thus His intentions.

Hear His voice, obey His specific instructions and enjoy working in partnership with the One you love.