Last week Bryan and I participated in a "Hungry for Change" eating experience in which we ate rice, beans, and oatmeal for 5 days in order to identify with what much of the poor of the world eats (or doesn't eat) every day. In doing that, I began to think about how God wants us to respond when times are tough, and I thought about the widow in 1 Kings 17. Below are some thoughts that I think apply to us whether no matter what kind of tough times we face. God asks us to give, to be generous, to not "pull in" and look out for number one, but to open ourselves to the needs of others.
But what does that look like in real life? How does it apply in all kinds of tough times? I think the story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings 17:7-24 can shed some valuable light.
In 1 Kings 17 (NIV), Elijah tells King Ahab that there will be no dew or rain for the next few years, except by Elijah’s word. The lack of rain causes a drought, which causes a famine. Hard times, indeed.
When Elijah’s brook dries up, God sends him to Zarephath, a town on the Mediterranean, outside of Israelite territory. There, he meets a widow, the poorest of all society, and asks her for water and bread.
She responds, "I don't have any bread-- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-- and die." (v. 12) She has nothing saved up, so how can she be expected to give to Elijah? Surely God would want her to take care of her child first.
Yet, Elijah says to her, “Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” (v. 13) He asks her to serve first, before she takes care of herself and her son. He asks her to believe that God’s word is true not only in good times, but especially in bad ones
And the widow, despite her circumstances, despite the fact that she’s a Gentile and he’s a Jew, chooses to serve. The Bible tells us, “She went away and did as Elijah had told her.” (v. 15) She chooses to not worry about tomorrow but obey for today, before she sees God’s provision. Only after she obeys do we discover that, “there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.” (v. 15)
Like the widow, God also asks us to serve first, even in hard times. So, what might this look like for us?
First, like the widow and Elijah, instead of pulling back, we can seek to invest more deeply in relationships. In our personal lives, we can invite more people over to share meals, share times of entertainment, and give our time more freely to help others in our areas of expertise. Can you help solve someone’s computer problems? Can you help clean their house? Can you advise them with financial issues? How can you use your particular skills to serve others?
In tough times, God calls us not draw back into ourselves, but to give more, care more, and invest more in relationships with those around us. He calls us not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to love our neighbors as ourselves, to put others first. Only then will we have the opportunity for our oil to be replenished by God Himself.