Listening to God, Priming the Pump

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  (1 Kings 17:8-16)


You know that advice you get on an airplane, “First put on your own oxygen mask, then assist your children with putting on their masks”?  Sometimes that is the right thing to do.  Take care of your own needs; then you will be ready to help others.  But that is not always the way to go.  That is not what Elijah said to the widow of Zarephath.  He didn’t say, “Feed yourself and your son.  Then feed me.”  No.  He said, in effect, “Make some cakes.  But first feed me.  Then make some cakes for you and your son.  Then watch and see what the Lord does to provide for all of us.”

The widow listened to Elijah, and it unfolded as Elijah predicted.  Elijah received his guidance by listening to God.  The widow also received guidance from God.  Hers just came to her through Elijah.

I think there are two little lessons for us in this story.

The first is that God is offering guidance to us all the time.  The issue is not whether God wants to guide us.  The issues are:  1) Are we listening for God’s word to us?  2) When we hear God’s guidance, our we willing to act on what we hear?  Sometimes we are not willing.  “Oh.  That can’t be what God wants me to do!”  Or, “I didn’t really hear God say that, did I?”

The second lesson might be called “priming the pump of generosity.”  Are we willing to acknowledge that God is calling us to be people who share from what we have - from our sufficiency, or even from our abundance?  Sometimes it seems to take a hurricane or a flood or a fire or an earthquake or an act of terrorism to make us acknowledge the needs of our fellow humans.  Why?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps that level of disaster makes us realize, “That could have been me.”  Perhaps we don’t see the needs that are all around us in “everyday” life.  Perhaps we need some big thing - it was a drought during the time of Elijah - to wake us up, so that we realize, “Hey!  These are not competing interests.  We’re all in this together.”

Many times God is calling us to get outside of ourselves and prime the pump with our giving.  Perhaps your giving prompts me to give, or vice versa.  And before you know it, a huge crowd of people are fed on what appeared to be only five loaves of bread and two fish.  (Mark 6:30-44) But someone or a couple of someones - perhaps even a boy (John 6:9) - got the whole giving phenomenon started.

Are we willing to be like the widow of Zarephath? Are we willing to be like the boy?  Are we willing to act on the God-nudges that we hear, and give to others first - even if it seems sort of crazy to do so?

Following the messages that we get from God is not always logical.  But our faithfulness just might save someone else’s life... and our own.