I have a love-hate relationship with The Hunger Games. Made famous in the books and then the films starring Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games is a story that unfolds in Panem, a land once called America, and follows a 16-year-old girl, Katniss Everdeen.
Panem is divided into Districts and each year, as punishment for a failed rebellion by one of the districts, the ruling Capitol holds the Hunger Games where two 'tributes' randomly selected from each district must fight until the last tribute left alive is crowned the winner.
Primm, Katniss's younger sister, is chosen as tribute but to save her Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is then lead away by the Capitol's flamboyant Effie Trinkett who utters the immortal words 'And may the odds be ever in your favour.'
These words have become part of an entire generation's vocabulary. But whether you're a Hunger Games fan or not it raises questions about luck, playing the odds and whether for us, as Christians, the odds are more in our favour – and if so, is it possible to stack the odds in our favour?
As society we're always trying to stack the odds in our favour. We stay healthy to prevent heart disease, we save our money for retirement, we lock our cars and teach our kids to look before they cross the road, and not stick forks in electric sockets. All to stack the odds of living long and healthy lives in our favour as well as happy, fulfilled lives.
Yes, it's sensible, but as Christians we believe we aren't just playing a game orchestrated and manipulated by an evil Capitol. As Christians we believe our God is a providential God, a God who loves and cares for us, is involved in our lives and is willing to intervene in our lives – so much so He sent His son to die for us. He's a God who's interested in our days and knows the number of hairs on our head.
So perhaps the key question is, does God's providence make a difference? Because we can feel like we don't have a say in a lot of what happens in our life. We can work hard and stay healthy but still cancer strikes, we lose our job, or never bump into our soul mate or depression hits. We do all we can to stack the odds in our favour and still stuff happens (or doesn't). Where is God's Providence? Does it even make a difference or is it all down to luck? And more importantly, can we stack the odd of God's providence to be in our favour?
I dived into these very questions when I spoke on Ruth 2 at CityChurch Charlotte where my husband is lead pastor, and I discovered two key things at the core of this chapter.
Firstly, and unsurprisingly, we see that God's providence is already at work behind the scenes before Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. And secondly, and more surprising to me, that Ruth's actions made a difference in how that providence played out.
What I discovered is that we see God's providence when our actions meet with his will.
Since God's will is unchanging – always being good, pleasing, and perfect (Rom 2:12) – the only thing we can impact is how we act. What we see is in Ruth 2 is that how we act does impact God's providence being worked out in our lives.
This is great news! As we choose to act with God's will or against it, we are simultaneously choosing to stack the odds for or against God's providence playing out.
The good news is that we see it's more about Ruth's heart and the mindset behind her actions than the specific actions she took, which means we too can live in a way that our actions meet with God's will. I use the simple mnemonic W.I.T.H to help us remember how Ruth acted so we can do the same.
Whether life's a bed of roses or a pile of manure we are constantly faced with a choice. Are we willing to live God's way? The trouble is, it's far easier to do so when life is happy and we are healthy and wealthy. It's not so easy when we are hungry, homeless, and desperate or even just struggling to keep our heads above water in our crazy often painful, overscheduled lives.
Ruth and Naomi must have arrived in Bethlehem tired, exhausted, hungry and desperate. We're not told if they had somewhere to stay or if their clothes were in tatters but we are told that Ruth chose to find a field to glean.
Despite her situation Ruth chose to find food God's way. She could have begged, stolen food, or even sold her body, but rather she stayed within God's law that provided for just this situation. Ruth knew the law stipulated farmers were required to allow gleaners to pick up barley behind the harvesters but not only did she wisely chose to glean instead of beg or steal but by choosing to do so in a field where she found favour, she was protected from harm in the fields of unscrupulous farmers.
It may seem like the obvious and sensible thing to do; to go God's way not ours when we've come to the end of ourselves. But I'll admit, I find it really hard. I've jumped at quick, easy fixes far outside God's will for me when I'm in a desperate situation or life is painful.
Acting with wisdom isn't about going for the quickest, easiest, nearest, option in front of us. It's choosing God's way over our way, no matter the circumstances.
Ruth acted to align her actions with God's will, first by being wise then by taking the initiative and moving forward. If our actions are to meet with God's will we must take the initiative and move.God's will is unchanging so our actions must take us towards it and Ruth did this in offering to go and glean (Ruth 2:2).
The journey from Moab to Bethlehem was an exhausting 10-day walk and Ruth was already carrying the grief of losing her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law, as well as the family she left behind.I'dforgiven her for wanting to take a few days off, or simply wait for Naomi, who was from Bethlehem, to tell her what to do next. But Ruth does neither. She takes the initiative and acts.
When I think about God's providence and wanting to see it in my life I admit I'm prone to expecting it to land in my lap or come to me miraculously. But God always wants us to step towards him, and come and follow Him. Faith is an active, moving, forward motion and in faith we must move towards God and His will. As the old saying goes, God can't steer a parked car.
As we step forward in wisdom it's also important to trust. We must trust God and what's unseen more than we trust ourselves and what is seen.
We first see Ruth's trust in God in chapter 1 when she leaves Moab to go with Naomi and her God, but we also see it again in chapter 2 in more subtle ways. Firstly, as she gleans in faith God will provide the food for them and then as she rested in the heat of the day.
When we trust God we can leave what we know; the safe and familiar scene of what's in front of us. We set off into unknown, seemingly scary territory. For Ruth that familiar thing in front of her was first her family in Moab, then her hunger and finally, the grain lying around her that she could have been collecting while she rested.
We all have our 'family in Moab' – something that feels safe and familiar, known and comfortable, that we need to leave to follow God. I have a real family in England that we've left behind and I can always see and feel the cost of leaving home. Each day I need to trust that God's will here in the USA is good and perfect, trusting what I can't always see.
Whatever our 'family in Moab' is – financial security, dating guys we know aren't men of integrity and faith, a good job that pays the bills, or the constant stimulation of social media stealing our time with him, can we trust God and what is unseen more than we trust ourselves and what we see in front of us?
We stack the odds of God's providence in our favor when we act in a way that our actions meet with his will as we act with wisdom, initiative, and trust.
H: HUMILITY BEFORE GOD AND OTHERS
We talk about the entitled youth of today but I believe as Christians we can be just as guilty, turning our faith into a faith of entitlement. Why? Because I've seen it in my own life.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I heard myself think things like, 'Why is this happening? What haven't I done for you? What did I do wrong?' I felt entitled to God's providence, his full life and healing and when I didn't see it, I got snarky.
But that's not how God works. Our faith is not transactional and God can't be on his throne if we are on it expecting him to deliver everything we pray for.
If we want to stack the odds of God's providence in our favour we must get off the throne, put God back on and humble ourselves before him. This is exactly what Ruth did.
For Ruth it must have seemed God had been silent through so much pain, loss and separation we'd forgive her for feeling wronged and cheated, but she didn't. She humbled herself and found refuge in God (verse 12), honouring him by admitting her need for him. I'm sure finding refuge under God's wing through these hard times gave her the freedom and desire to humbly follow and care for Naomi.
Can we humble ourselves before God, confess our unworthiness and admit our need for him?
God's providence isn't something to be earned or a right we inherit when we're born again. Rather it's the humble meeting of our actions with his will.
What this shows us is yes, we can stack the odds of God's providence in our favour when our actions meet WITH his will . Let me ask you, what can you do today to make that happen in your life?
Niki Hardy is a pastor's wife, cancer 'thriver' and teller of really bad jokes. She writes and speaks about grabbing hold of the full life God has for us, no matter what gets thrown our way. Download her FREE AUDIO How to Handle Anything Life Throws at You