Friday, July 23, 2010

Handfuls of Barley

“Boaz commanded his servants, saying, ‘…you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean..." (Ruth 2:15-16)

It wasn’t the most efficient way to harvest a field, nor the neatest, nor the most profitable. Yet it was the kindest way. It was the way Boaz chose, when he saw the lonely, hardworking foreign woman bent gleaning in his field.

I wonder what Ruth thought about as she worked? Surely the labor was tedious, and as her back ached and her eyes stung with streams of sweat, she must have thought that her pile of barley was growing very slowly. Then suddenly, among the stubble, not a single stem of barley, nor even two or three, but a whole handful! How gratefully she added it to her collection, and went on with renewed energy. Perhaps, as she continued to find, here and there, these handfuls of barley, she wondered where they came from. Was one of the reapers more careless than the others, too lazy to harvest thoroughly? Then, as she caught up with them, perhaps she saw one of the reapers, and then another, pull from their bursting sheaves a handful of barley and drop it on the ground. And she knew they were doing it for her.

But they would not dare to be kind on their own initiative, for Boaz was no insignificant farmer, and it wouldn’t be good for them to be caught doing a slovenly job. The only answer, then, was that he must be behind this kindness—and indeed she could believe it of him, for he had served her so generously at the noon meal, and provided so thoroughly for her while she worked in his fields. Now she looked for the bunches of barley, and smiled to herself when she gathered them, for they were silent witnesses that he was thinking of her.

I’ve never seen a barley field, but lately I’ve been noticing the handfuls of barley that lie here and there along my path.

The other day at work, I started humming, half unconscious that I was doing it. My patient said, “That’s beautiful. It must be something about Jesus.” I was startled for a moment, and stopped to indentify what I had been humming. It was one of my favorite hymns, the first verse of which runs, “Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know, gracious Spirit from above, Thou has taught me it is so. Oh this full and perfect peace, oh this transport all divine, in a love that cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.”

“Why, yes!” I said. “It is about Jesus! What made you think so?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just knew that it was.”

And I smiled, startled by the suddenness with which this handful of barley had fallen at my feet. Somebody was thinking of me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Beauty "Wasted"

I don’t know about you, but I wonder a lot about what the coming years hold for me. My own head is crammed with ideas; I can only imagine what the infinite God has in mind!

Yet I have to say, so far His ideas don’t seem to be quite as exciting as mine have been. A couple years ago, I could have told you several rather thrilling things that I hoped to be doing at age 24, but which in fact don’t resemble my present circumstances at all. It’s been easy to question the perfection of the Lord’s will, especially when it seems like other people my age are living out my dreams.

Yet I’m not complaining—not at all. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. You see, the other day I got to thinking about roses. No, not the kind that girls dream about, but rather the pesky multi-floral roses that line our fields on the farm. I was walking through the sweetly-scented evening air, and noticed the graceful sprays of roses that grew on the prickly bushes. Each blossom was so simple and yet so beautiful, and arranged so artistically on the branches, which arced so gracefully in the air.

And I thought, how is it that God puts beauty everywhere, even in the most unappreciated—even unobserved—places? A walk through the woods reveals pockets of ferns, illuminated by gently dappled sunlight. It’s quite possible that I will be the only human ever to observe those ferns before they die in the fall. They’re beautiful when they don’t have to be. Even the grass along the cowpath is stunningly beautiful when you stop to notice. Likewise the wisps of cloud in the sky, made to swirl gracefully for no reason at all but that God is the Maker.

In fact, it is hard to think of a single thing that God has made which is not beautiful in one sense or another. It’s not just that God perfectly designed everything for its intended function. That is true too, but He always blends art with science to make His works beautiful. He can afford to “waste” beauty where humans would consider it unnecessary.

I always want to laugh when I see a cell phone tower disguised as a tree. It’s a perfect illustration of the difference between the creations of God, and the inventions of humans. God builds in starry skies, grassy fields, and towering mountains. Man builds in concrete and rebar. God gives the world voice in bird songs, trickling waters, and the crash of ocean waves. The sounds of mankind are beeping alarms, traffic, and phones ringing. This is not to say that the inventions of humans are bad, nor that we cannot produce things of beauty (although the beauty we produce is strangely like an imitation of God’s handiwork). The point is merely that compared to God, our ideas don’t look so great.

That’s why, when I stop to think about it, I’m okay with letting God design my life. There’s always somebody to whisper that obeying God is a confining thing, ultimately leading to less fun and more work. But when I stop to think about it, that idea is positively ludicrous! He won’t forget to put a healthy dose of beauty and thrill into my life at the right times. In fact, when I stop to notice, my life already contains plenty of interludes of delight and just plain fun.

My observation of the lives of other people confirms the idea that God’s way is always best. When He brings about a marriage, it doesn’t just “work,” but is full of delight and thrill. When He plans out a career, it doesn’t just pay the bills, but contains opportunities that are meaningful for eternity. When He directs a life, it’s never average, but turns out to be more full, more significant, and more satisfying than anything we could have thought up. And He makes even the weeds to bear roses.