“God loves you and people have a wonderful plan for your life!” This is what a good friend of mine would say when people made suggestions to the pastor or other people. It was a rephrasing of one of the Four Spiritual Laws by the late Bill Bright of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) and has a ring of truth to it.
My friend and I, along with countless other pastors, have heard well-intentioned suggestions from people in the church many, many times. It goes something like this, “Pastor, I think you should…” or “Pastor, the Lord told me to tell you…” You get the idea.
We all have thoughts about what others should or should not do, or how we might do something better or differently. Even if we don’t verbalize these thoughts out loud to others, we still have them. It’s human nature to do this.
This is the byproduct of our self-centered nature. It’s our attempt at helping God or even acting like Him in other people’s lives. It’s something we inherited from our ancestors Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-11).
Our plans or God’s way?
In chapter three of Ruth, the story takes an important turn. It zeroes in on one relationship within one day.
Although God has His plan and His way for bringing Boaz and Ruth together, Naomi sees the need to step in to help. She spots a way to secure a better future for herself and her daughter-in-law.
Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I try to look for a home that would be good for you?” (Ruth 3:1 GW).
When we view things from Naomi’s point of view, as best we can, we get an idea of why she sets this plan in motion for Ruth to encounter Boaz in a closer way.
Here’s a glimpse into what probably motivated Naomi:
- Bethlehem is Naomi’s home town, not Ruth’s
- Naomi feels responsible for Ruth the Moabitess whom she brought to Bethlehem
- Naomi understands the customs and traditions of her people in a way Ruth does not
- Naomi sees an opportunity to help Boaz and Ruth come together in marriage
- Naomi understands the role of a kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:25) and how it benefits her
- Naomi knows Ruth will submit to her and whatever advances Boaz makes toward Ruth
This is putting the best construction on things as far as Naomi’s motives. But the reality is this—Naomi is trying to manipulate a situation and the people involved (Ruth and Boaz) for her own purposes.
Naomi sees an opportunity and sets her plan in motion. Naomi explains the timing of her plan and describes how Ruth should make herself available to Boaz. Naomi also instructs Ruth how to look and smell her best for the occasion. Naomi adds her final advice to let Boaz take the lead when the time comes.
This is manipulation, nothing less.
When we try to do similar things in the lives of others, we’re being manipulative. In a sense, we see ourselves—like Naomi—helping God in some way. But when we do such things, we interfere with God and His ways.
Some things to consider
Manipulation takes place in many instances in life. Sometimes it’s easier to see how others try to or succeed in manipulating us. This can take place at home within our families or at work with people we know well or not at all.
The harder thing is to see our own efforts at manipulating others, especially when it seems to be necessary from our viewpoint. It’s often hard to discern our own motives.
Was Naomi just trying to help move things along with the relationship between Boaz and Ruth? Yes!
Do you think Naomi expected Boaz to take advantage of Ruth in this situation to force something to happen between the two of them? I’ll let you decide, but it should be obvious.
What isn’t obvious, or perhaps expected, is how both Ruth and Boaz handled themselves in this manipulated situation. We’ll see this in the next episode of our stories of redemption in the Book of Ruth.
Are there ways you have or are currently trying to help God in some way by manipulating a situation and the people involved?
When we try to do similar things in the lives of others as we see Naomi do, we’re being manipulative. When we do such things, we interfere with God and His ways. As has been said before, we don’t need to be the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives.
When you find yourself trying to suggest how others ought to be or what they ought to do, stop and repent. Ask the Lord to help you see how you might be doing this with others, and ask Him for the grace to let go and for His forgiveness.