It’s been one of those mornings in Bible study—a time of reflection that promotes more questions than answers. A day when I (again) wrote these words in the margin of my current Bible study guide, “Do I really believe this?” Whenever this happens, my contemplation takes a turn, sometimes toward clarity, sometimes toward confusion. On this particular morning, there’s confusion—a long wrestling of thought, Word, and practical living that doesn’t compute fully with the author’s considerations. Accordingly, I won’t “go there,” at least not with you, friends. Instead, I’ll take my questions to God and continue to flesh out my beliefs with him, with his Word, and with an open heart. Sometimes it’s just better to let our questions simmer before him rather than fanning them into flame before mankind. Why?
Well, sometimes we’re not as forgiving as God is. In fact, never are we as forgiving as God is. He’s more open-minded with our earnest probing and deliberate searches for answers. We, on the other hand, are more comfortable with ours judgments, making assumptions, drawing conclusions, and rendering a verdict when someone bravely risks doing the heart work attached to his/her faith and doing so out loud. And so today, I tuck away my questions, and I focus on a scripture that has surfaced for me from this same study and from God’s Word that doesn’t warrant my question mark but only my highlighter and my “Amen.” Hear now from God’s Word:
“So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough” (Ruth 2:17-18).
So what in the wide world of faith and function do these verses have in common with the questions stirring in my spirit this morning?
Everything, because in these two verses, God gives me . . . gives you a “how-to” for dealing with the hard wrestlings that sometime surface for us as we move forward in our faith and understanding. Ruth . . .
- gleaned the harvest;
- threshed the harvest;
- carried the harvest;
- ate the harvest;
- shared the harvest
Good theology, good understanding begins in the wheat fields, where bread has already been planted by the Sower, watered by the Sower, and grown by the Sower. Truth cannot be created. Truth already is; accordingly, our souls’ understanding cannot, should not be built from scratch. We must start with good seed planted in rich soil—a harvest ready for gleaning. Good understanding begins with God and his Word. Get there first, and you’re in a good place of education and eternal growth. Glean truth from what’s already been grown; you won’t come up empty-handed. God’s already handed you his abundance.
Secondly, good understanding grows during the threshing process—a time when the wheat is spread out so that the edible grain can be loosened from the inedible chaff. A time of cutting through the chaff to get to the palatable. “Without the grain’s release from its hardened casing, the ripened seeds are reduced in their usefulness” (Peace for the Journey, 2010, pg. 113). Good understanding doesn’t come home to roost in our hearts unless there’s been a hearty threshing applied along the way. It’s not always easy to relinquish the harvest to the pounding; rarely is it comfortable, but if we’re after God’s truth—if we really want to know that we know that we know deep down in the marrow of our souls—then we must surrender our questions and our confusion to the winnowing process.
Notice Ruth’s next obedience. She carried the harvest back to town. When questions surface in our hearts regarding our faith and our theology, not only must we glean and thresh the harvest, but also we must carry the harvest with us . . . for a season. Let the work that’s being done in you, linger with you for awhile. Don’t short step this process or make false assumptions about your knowledge. Good understanding must be mulled over, contemplated, and developed over time. The saints of old spent a lifetime cultivating godly understanding. They didn’t have all the answers on the front side of their faith; the answers arrived for them along the way and as they went, one step at a time. You don’t have all the answers regarding God and his Word. Thinking that you do is a good indicator that there’s more work to be done.
Next, Ruth ate the harvest. After gleaning it, threshing it, and carrying it, the harvest was finally ready for consumption. I don’t know much about the digestion process, but I do know that once something goes in my mouth, it goes down . . . deep down and becomes (in essence) part of my inward being. Are you hearing what I’m saying (rather what I’m typing—rather quickly and furiously I might add, not furiously bad, but furiously good)? Before anything, any truth, any knowledge becomes part of our inward beings, let’s be sure we give it thorough consideration before we consume it. To blindly eat the harvest in front of us is to open up our souls to disaster, to waste, to fraudulent food that does more harm than good.
Finally, Ruth shared the harvest. After she had eaten her fill, she generously shared the harvest with Naomi. Initially, we might think Ruth would have first given the harvest to her mother-in-law; after all, Ruth’s generosity is clearly on display at every turn. But I want to lead you along for a moment with a thought that just occurred to me. Just as the ancient custom of the king’s cupbearer tasting the wine before passing it on to his master, could it be the same principle at work here—Ruth eating her fill, making sure it was good for consumption before passing it along to Naomi? Could it be the same for us in regards to spiritual understanding? That after we’ve gleaned, threshed, carried, and eaten the harvest, we might finally come to some realizations about God’s truth in regards to our wrestlings and questions? In other words, if it goes down smoothly for us, if the harvest is good for us, then, perhaps it might be good for others, might be ready for the sharing? Sometimes, eating the harvest is the only way to know if it’s safe for public consumption. Better to pass truth along after it’s been tested.
And so today, on a day when I wrestle through some questions, I’ll do so with Ruth’s example in mind. I’ll glean from God’s fields, thresh the wheat, carry the edible around with me for awhile, eat it while monitoring my digestion, and then, maybe I’ll share it with you. Maybe I won’t. It’s too early to tell.
Oh that we all might take Ruth’s lead and step back from the mirror long enough to submit our thoughts, questions, and theology to the harvesting process so that we might arrive at the place of fully believing in the faith that we are so willing to boldly profess!
For what it’s worth, it’s what I’m thinking about today. What are you thinking about? As always . . .
Peace for the journey,