For a year now I’ve been working, and the salary from this, together with various other sources of income usually ensures we survive from month to month. But for 6 years I didn’t have a full time job, while I studied first for a masters and then for a PhD. When I started the PhD we had enough money for two years, but no idea how three was going to work. Somehow it did, sometimes by grants for the studies, sometimes by one off donations from friends or family (often we knew that this meant someone else had been generous to them, and we were enjoying the cascading effects of generosity), and sometimes from completely anonymous people. I vividly remember the time when, after spending £90 on an unexpected car bill, an envelope containing a similar sum appeared in our letterbox. Sometimes people would say to me: “you must have lots of faith” or talk about how we were “living by faith”. I know what they mean, but I doubt it is true. If we lived my faith we’d be a pretty hopeless state. Whenever our bank balance slides low my faith slides with it. My worry levels shoot up. I struggle to see how God will do it this time. I don’t think we lived by my faith. We lived and we live by God’s faithfulness.
It is this faithfulness that is the heart of the bible story I read to number 2 tonight. I’ve loved it ever since I translated it in Hebrew class in my second year at Regent and it vividly hit me: the God I am writing about is the God who lives today. I know this God – and this God knows me. Here is the story – from 1 Kings 17:
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “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.” 13 And Elijah said 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. 14 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.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 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.
There are a couple of things about this story that stick out. Firstly, it is a change for Elijah – he has been by a brook, fed by ravens, but that has dried up. So now God sends him to a widow outside Israel, to a widow who lives close to enemy territory, close to where Jezebel comes from. God has commanded a widow to feed Elijah, but for the widow Elijah’s request is not easy. She is preparing the last meal for her, and her son, and after that, she says “we will die”.
Then Elijah speaks: “Do not fear” – the widow has spoken out of fear of death and out of her despair – she knows no other possibility. But Elijah knows. Her flour and oil supplies will not run out until the Lord sends rain on the earth. Until the economy gets moving again her supplies will provide all she needs. But first she must obey the word of the Lord and feed Elijah. If she holds on to the fear she will die. If she trusts the word of God through Elijah she will live.
I remember that speaking vividly to me. God provides – but one step at a time. Our part is to listen to his word and do what he says. We can trust that God will provide all we need – even if it looks like we’ve just spent the last oil we have. We don’t just have Elijah’s word for it. We have Jesus’ word for it. Seek first his kingdom – and everything else will be added to you. The word of the Lord can be trusted. God is faithful to his word and his promise.
Life is still hard, and things happen that don’t make sense – read the next story in 1 Kings. But God remains faithful and the word he speaks remains true. Where do your jars look empty? Where is it that you cannot believe God will supply what you need? It may not be money. It might be hopes and dreams for a relationship, or a career that fulfils. But whatever the thing is that right now will cost you all your fears and hopes for the future can be poured out, and given to his service. He can be trusted.
The next step may not be what you want. It may not be your dream life or career. But it will be a step taken with a God who is good and a God who is faithful. A God who is true. A God who is kind. A God who loves you more than you can dream. A God whose design for you is that you live out the life you were designed to live by your creator – a life that will at times be hard and full of tears – and yet a life that, in the long run, will be the best for us and for this broken hurting world. Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians holds true:
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.