The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

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The Cave of Depression

Text: Psalm 142:1-7, 1 John 5:1-5

“When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” —Psalm 142:3

At 15-years old, I found myself in a cave of utter depression. The feelings of helplessness and purposelessness caused me to lose all hope, as I inevitably became a prisoner of impulse. I came to a place where I didn’t want to live any longer. A desperate suicide attempt left me in a Baltimore intensive care unit for many days. I survived, undoubtedly, only by the mercy of God—and even though I found a new hope in Christ a year later while locked up in a juvenile center, the depression didn’t go away over night. I battled with it for many years.

Many who wrestle with depression often feel alone in their struggle. I certainly did. More than three decades later, I’ve often thought of what I would say if I were to write a letter to that suicidal 15-year old self. What might I say? Would it be received? Could I convince that hurting and despairing kid that there truly is a “living hope” and that overcoming stories are REAL? (1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 5:4-5)

I can’t say for sure, but one thing I do know: if it were not for the grace of God, I would’ve never lived to see so many redemption stories in my life—including marrying an amazing woman and fathering three children who flood my heart with pride and joy every day. We have heard countless testimonies of readers who have found healing and renewed hope from my book, 13 Foot Coffins, as well as stories of young people who have overcome unimaginable despair through the ministry of Breakaway Outreach.

One of the aspects of the Bible that has always comforted me is the fact that it is filled not only with the overcoming narrative, but also with the transparency of the struggle.

Joseph was unjustly imprisoned before becoming second in command over Egypt. He appeared to be forgotten for a season. Moses was in an obscure desert place for forty years before leading Israel out of slavery. Rahab was stuck in a dignity-robbing prostitution ring before finding her redemptive place in Christ’s genealogy. Jeremiah had a lonely pit. Daniel was surrounded by flesh-eating lions. Esther dealt with the trauma of being orphaned before she became a saving queen. Even Jesus had his wilderness to overcome.

In Psalm 142, David is in a cave. A narcissistic madman is hunting his life. Like the spiritual enemy of every child of God, this dignity-thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy. David is lonely—“there is none who takes notice of me… no one cares for my soul” (v.4). He feels cornered and powerless. His spirit faints. He is separated from every form of dependence, until all that is left is God himself. He is broken down in order to be built up. The cave is not the end for David, it’s just part of the process—a few years later he will be dancing immodestly and unembarrassingly in the streets of Jerusalem, celebrating all that God has done to redeem this story and establish his kingdom. (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

David’s vulnerability in the cave reminds us that the struggle is real, but that’s what makes his dancing so special. He doesn’t dance that way if you take the cave out of the story. God must’ve seemed idle to David while he was in the cave. The silence alone was vexing. But the story didn’t end there. Neither does yours!

[bctt tweet=”David’s vulnerability in the cave reminds us that the struggle is real, but that’s what makes his dancing so special. He doesn’t dance that way if you take the cave out of the story.” username=”jimmylarche”]

A celebration is coming, my friend. A victory is looming. It is inevitable! The struggle is real, but so is the overcoming life. Through Christ’s redemption, we will all one day be able to sing, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11)

PRAYER

God, help us to be reminded that you have never—ever—left any of your children in the cave. You’ve never abandoned your own. Remind us that our dance is surely coming—and it will be glorious and shameless in your presence. For you will deal bountifully with your children. This I believe, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How would you describe some of the cave experiences in your life?
  2. What would you say is the main theme of David’s prayer? (Psalm 142)
  3. How did David feel about his own ability to save himself? (v.6)
  4. How did David promise to respond to God’s deliverance? (v.7)
  5. In what specific areas of your life could you depend on the Lord more?

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