Scripture: 1 Kings 17:8-16
Times had been hard for the poverty-stricken who was trying to survive with her young son. Her husband had been gone for some time. For a woman in ancient Zarephath it was nearly impossible to get ahead financially, but she was doing all she could to make ends meet. She was growing enough food for her and her son to make it from day to day. She’d even stored a little food when the crops were good so that they would have a reserve for the off season. This meager existence of living off the land, with little possessions or income, was life for her and for her son. Day by day it was the same thing. I’m sure she wished her situation was different, that her husband had lived longer. A man could get ahead in the ancient Middle East, but a woman? That wasn’t going to happen. So she did the best she could. It was a hard life, it was a demanding life, but she and her son were making it. Then the drought hit. She had seen times when the dew and rain had been lighter than others, but never had it been this dry. Any crops that had been growing were now withered, and the soil was as hard as stone. It showed no signs of ending. Even though she had a bit of food in pantry, now it was all nearly gone. There was simply no water, and with no water there are no crops, and with no crops there is no food. She had no money. One day she went to gather some sticks. She needed the sticks to build a fire to cook one final meal for her and her son. The food was at its end, she only had a small amount of water, there was nothing else to do but prepare to die. While gathering sticks she met a man who asked her for a bit of water. He also asked for a little bread. Even though she was a Gentile, she feared the God of Israel, and recognized this man as his prophet. She said to him, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
Elijah responded to her,
“Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”
What do you think she was feeling? What do you believe she was thinking? Was she going to do what he told her to do? You’ll see as the message unfolds. There are some important lessons to be learned from this heartbreaking situation.
First, when your resources are few, God knows your problem. God knew all about this widow and her son. Even though she may have felt like she was an outcast from God because she was a Gentile and was struggling with poverty, God loved her. He cared for her and for her son. His heart was moved by their plight. So He began setting things in motion through his prophet Elijah that her situation might change for the better. When you are hurting today, when you are struggling in one way or another, God is not unconcerned about what you’re experiencing. He knows the situation better than you know it yourself. He is already working a plan to help you and to provide for you in his way and in his time. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
So when your health just doesn’t seem to improve and your energy level is low,
When you have too much month at the end of the money to make ends meet,
When you just can’t seem to find enough time to do everything in life that needs to be done,
When all those things are happening, God is aware. He knows.
Listen to these words written by a young believer named Jeremy Camp
All the bitter weary ways
Endless striving day by day
You barely have the strength to pray
In the valley low
How hard your fight has been
How deep the pain within
Wounds that no one else has seen
Hurts too much to show
All the doubt you’re standing in between
And all the weight that brings you to your knees
He, He knows
Every hurt and every sting
He has walked the suffering
He knows, He knows
Let your burdens come undone
Lift your eyes up to the One
Every time that you feel forsaken
Every time that you feel alone
He is near to the broken hearted
When your resources are few, God knows your problem.
Then, when your resources are few, honor His principle. God is aware of this widow’s plight. He’s fully aware that she is preparing one last meal for her and her son. Through the prophet Elijah he says to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and prepare that meal. But first…”
God is saying, “I understand your hardship and your pain. I know, I feel them.” “But first, give a portion of what little you have to me.”
“Then afterwards, do what you will with the rest.”
There is a principle here. It runs throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It is the principle of giving the first fruits away from yourself to God.
There are many, many verses that pertain to giving to God, these verses are just a few of the ones that mention the first fruits.
Exodus 34:36 says,
“The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God….”
Proverbs 3:9-10 says,
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
James 1:18 says,
“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
There is a principle throughout Scripture that you give to God first. Giving to God first, and giving to God a tithe, go hand-in-hand. Regardless of your circumstances, give to God first. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:1-3,
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,…”
Regardless of what their own needs were, these churches in Macedonia gave first. Their giving was a high priority for them. When her resources were low, Elijah said to the widow, “But first…..give”
When your resources are low today, God is saying, but first, give to me.
In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, if the little boy had kept the fish and loaves for himself, because he needed food for himself, no one else would have eaten. When he gave first however, he ate, and everyone else did as well. One of the most common mistakes you can make in your personal finances as a Christian is not to give to God first. One of the most common mistakes a church can make in its finances is not to give beyond itself and to missions. Giving to missions is the church’s way of giving to God the first fruits. The church as a whole sets a precedent that the members of the congregation tend to follow. As this starving, poverty stricken widow was told to give away a portion of what little she had, it made absolutely no sense from a human standpoint. She could have said, “God, I’m starving and have just enough food for me and my son to have one final meal. And you want me first to give part of it away to someone I don’t even know?” There is no indication in this passage she understood why she was giving, she just gave first because the word of God had come to her to do so. When your resources are few, honor His principle. Give first.
Then, when your resources are few, experience His provision. Verses 14-16 say,
“For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’ ” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”
When the widow gave first, God provided. He didn’t necessarily give her everything she may have desired. There is no description here of this woman or her son having a life of luxury. They still lived in a meager house, and most likely wore very humble clothes. There is no get-rich-quick scheme here. She had however, what she really needed. I’m convinced her needs would not have been met if she had not given first. So if you’re burning the candle at both ends because you have so many things to do, and you’re simply exhausted all the time, trying giving first of your energy beyond yourself, to God. See what happens. If there just aren’t hours in the day, if all the things you’re committed to doing just can’t be done in a 7 day week, trying giving some time beyond yourself to God. Invest some time in doing something for God that you normally wouldn’t do, that has nothing to do with the routine that’s become important to you, and see what God will do. If there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills so you can make ends meet, try giving to God first. “Preacher, it doesn’t make any sense.” I know it doesn’t make any sense. It’s God’s way however, and his ways aren’t always the same as my way or your way. When your resources are few, experience His provision.
Many years after this story of the widow and Elijah, the people of Israel were struggling with the principle of giving first to God. Listen to what God says to them in Malachi 3:7-12,
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
So when your resources run low, will you trust in a God who cares for you and your situation? Will you live by his principle of giving first? Will you then experience the provision that only he can give? The choice is yours.