Amidst the current threat of Covid-19, fear of loss, and physical distancing, so many of us are slapped by financial uncertainty. With shifts in labor needs, downward market trends, and suspended jobs, we might relate to Naomi’s raw feelings in the Old Testament story of Ruth. She was experiencing deep grief. Like Naomi, we may start to feel bitter and empty. How do we survive financially, spiritually, and emotionally in the face of a financial crisis?
God lovingly intends for us to do more than survive. The marvelous intentionality of God’s original design, along with our being created in his image, included the call to “be fruitful, increase . . . fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature…” (Gen 1:28-30) Such royal work and mission from God, often called the “cultural mandate,” included a down-to-earth, daily bread reminder. God is the one who supplies the plants, trees, and seeds for humans and animals as food
In their book From Dependence to Dignity, Brian Fikkert and Russell Mask highlight this important insight:
Note that while God made the world “perfect,” he left it “incomplete.” This means that while the world was created to be without defect, God called humans to interact with creation, to make possibilities into realities, and to be able to sustain ourselves via the fruits of stewardship. In summary, when our entire substance—mind, heart, actions, and body—is living in right relationship to God, self, others, and the rest of creation, we experience human flourishing. This is what humans are created to be. It is the good life for which we are longing.
Reality check. Our lives often feel very bad instead of good. We are in such a collective season right now. In the wake of the Fall (Gen 3), our lives are extra-complicated, broken, and all too often, we feel like we are far from flourishing. We feel the pain, serious distance, and the overall dark condition of our fallen existence. We do not experience those right relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Instead, we scrape and struggle to fulfill that original royal calling, to be fruitful leaders, flourishing with creative productivity. How can we flourish in ways that are emotionally responsible and growth-oriented? Amidst numerous rich theological insights supplied in Ruth’s story, I find one extra-encouraging.
Reminders of God’s Faithful Promises to Provide
As they returned, Naomi and Ruth had two totems to greet them. The town itself was a huge totem: Bethlehem. This Hebrew name means “house of bread.” Though they had experienced the severe season of famine, this little town’s name served as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness to sustain and supply for his people. In addition, the story reports that they arrived “as the barley harvest was beginning” (Ruth 1:22). The sheaves of barley were waving at them from the fields. The scenery all around them shouted the message, “God is faithful. He provides.” He delights to take us from empty to flourishing.
I have an intriguing totem—actually a set—sitting on the shelf behind my desk. They are a uniquely carved pair of elephants that I successfully bartered for and purchased from a precious Chinese merchant on a dusty backstreet in Hong Kong. I only paid a few dollars, but their real value is priceless.
The year was 1990. I was a college student with very little money, but I had sensed God wanted me to go global and learn some bigger mission principles. The trip’s cost would be fifteen hundred dollars, an astounding deal for such a trip today, but it was an enormous sum of money for a twenty-year-old in that era. Honestly, I took the risk, signed up for the trip, and I had no real clue from where the resources would emerge.
I’d like to say I was full of faith, but honestly, I was all over the map emotionally and at times very anxious. I prayed passionately and wondered. I paced my dorm room, calling on God to supply. My anxiety rose, but so did my prayers and my hopeful anticipation. I shared with people about my upcoming trip and asked for their help, steps that proved both humbling and formative. Marvelously, the Lord was faithful, supplying every penny of the fifteen hundred dollars.
The experience of that trip proved profoundly transformative. It supplied some of my earliest perspective shifts on God’s link between entrepreneurial businesses, new churches, and God’s expanding kingdom. Today, the carved elephants serve as totems, a constant reminder that God is big enough, and he faithfully provides. Years later, when I am feeling a current financial crisis or a challenge of any size—sometimes for fifteen hundred dollars again, or at times hundreds of thousands for some new missional endeavor—I look at the elephants. My elephant totems are a constant, tangible reminder of how good, strong, and faithful the Almighty is to supply.
What are Your Totems, Your Tangible Reminders?
Years later, this little village of Bethlehem would serve as the birthplace for a boy who would grow up to satisfy humanity’s deepest hunger and ultimately supply the greatest hope for flourishing. Forgiveness, new life, truly abundant life. We dare not miss the bigger redemptive story, such swoosh of grace. This place, the House of Bread, Bethlehem became the destination of seeking Wise Ones and run-to-find-the-babe Shepherds. Bethlehem was the birthplace of the One who called himself our bread of life, our ultimate redeemer, King Jesus.
Gaze anew on these totems, Bethlehem and a barley harvest. Look closely, and see King Jesus, the one ultimately capable of supplying our every need and leading us into true flourishing, even in a financial crisis (Phil 4:18-19).
Learn more about the story that gives meaning and purpose to all people in the booklet, All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.