Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Widow of Zarephath and the Power of Littles

The Bible is full of stories of very ordinary people being used to do extraordinary things. One of these is the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17.  The Prophet Elijah asks her for 'a little water in a vessel, that I may drink'. This is remarkable because the country is in the middle of a drought.  Elijah has just been at the brook Cherith which has dried up.  Water was in short supply. Elijah then asks the widow 'to bring me a morsel of bread in your hand'. The widow would have every right to object and explain that she was at the absolute end of her resources, but she doesn't.  The little she has she goes to make for the prophet.  It turns out it is literally all she has and once she has made it she intends to die with her son.  What little the widow has she gives freely to sustain the work of the Lord.  Her sacrifice and service are total - she gives everything.  But her faithfulness is rewarded and God through Elijah multiplies what little she has. 

What can we learn from the widow of Zarephath?

Sometimes Jesus calls very ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  

Sometimes we feel we can do little or nothing in the service of God.  How could God use us?  But God often uses 'ordinary people'.  Think of Hagar, David, Gideon, Ruth, Mary and the disciples.  They weren't people of great talents, great resources or great power.  Yet God used them.  Sometimes God does raise up great people but generally he calls very ordinary people to carry out his purposes, and sometimes ordinary people can do amazing things. 

The Widow of Zarephaph sustained Elijah with the last of her food. Ruth stuck by her mother in law and became the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. Look at the geology in Matthew 1 and see how God uses some of the most unlikely people in the lineage of Jesus.  

This was always Dr Thomas Guthrie's view. When he planted St John's Parish Church in 1840 he organised his congregation so that everyone had a job to do and his great motto was 'something for everyone to do and everyone engaged on something'.  As Guthrie said: 'If the world is ever conquered for our Lord, it is not by ministers, nor by office-bearers, nor by the great, and noble and mighty, but by every member of Christ's body being a working member; doing his work; filling his own sphere; holding his own post; and saying to Jesus, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

A few weeks ago I walked in to a home where I met a woman in a challenging situation. She was about to have a baby and already had 3 sons under 7.  She had no money, little food and she was very short on hope. Her sons spoke little English.  Within a few days, the charity I work for, Safe Families for Children Scotland, had introduced volunteers who hosted her children while staff took her to hospital to have her baby.  When she returned home the local church was waiting with a bunch of flowers, some bags of food and for the next 4 weeks they organised a rota system to deliver a hot meal every night to the family. It was nothing short of Christian hospitality in action.  There was no fanfare or social media, just ordinary people showing extraordinary love.  

Abraham van Dijck - The Widow of Zarephath and Her Son
The Widow of Zarephath and her Son by Abraham van Dijck

God often calls people who have few resources to give what they have.

The widow of Zarephath was the last person most of us would have chosen to ask for assistance.  She was the poorest of the poor.  She had next to nothing.  Isn't it amazing how God often asks those of us who don't have much to give what we have?  Think of the widow in Mark 12 who put two copper coins in the offering.  God uses her as the great example of true Christianity as opposed to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who 'devour widows houses and for a pretence make long prayers.'  The woman who gave what little she had is given as a shining example of what faith looks like as opposed to the religious power brokers who had everything.

Maybe we think we don't have much, but God call us to give what little we have.  All of us have time, love, talents and most of us have a home and a car.  What if we used these things to God's glory?  What if we invited somebody who is lonely for lunch?  What if we visited somebody who is isolated?  What if we volunteered with Safe Families for Children and took a child overnight to give an exhausted family a break?  What if we hosted a fellowship in our home?  God isn't calling us to make excuses, he is calling us to give what little we have in His service.

Maybe you are frightened about giving away the little you have.  What did Elijah say to the widow? 'Do not fear'.  Elijah gave her a promise that though her own resources would soon be exhausted, God's resources are infinite.  God calls us to prioritise the needy.  In Bible terms this is the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the poor.  Why?  Well because this group have nothing to offer us in return. The evidence of God's undeserved grace in our lives is that we show grace to those who have nothing to give us in return.  This was the opposite of the Scribes and the Pharisees who made great show of their religious service. As C.H, Spurgeon says 'Compassion is a great gospel duty, and it must be hearty and practical. When we see a man in distress, we must not pass him by as the Priest and the Levite did, for thus we shall show that our religion is only skin deep, and has never affected our hearts. We must pity, go near and befriend.' 

God multiplies our offering when we give sacrificially

God can take our meagre talents and multiply them for His glory.  Think of the wee boy in John 6 when Jesus fed the 5000.  The disciples could only see the problem.  It would cost 8 months salary to feed everyone. But what about Jesus?  He was moved with compassion on the multitude. Jesus took two loaves and 5 barley loaves and fed thousands. Jesus multiplied an offering that was given in service and sacrifice.  He took the ordinary, multiplied it and made it extraordinary.

What if God could take our time, our home, our car and our love and use it to help a person or family in need?  What if Christians could act together to share the good news, love the poor and build the kingdom of God? This is what Chalmers and Guthrie believed and why they had such an impact on Scotland.  As Guthrie said: 'Separate the atoms that form a hammer, and in that state of minute division they would fall on a stone with no more effect than snowflakes.  Wield them into a solid mass, and swung around by the quarryman's brawny arm, they descend on the rock like a thunderbolt.' 

We have seen this so often in history.  When Christians work together they can have a huge impact on society.  The power of littles can come together and achieve so much more than we can on our own.  We must partner with others who are passionate for the gospel of Jesus, who stand on the authority of Scripture and who have a heart for the poor and marginalised.  As Guthrie says in 'The City its Sins and Sorrows': 'Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work.  Let us thus embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph in a coat of many colours.'  

The Widow of Zarephath shows us what can be done with very little.  God can, and does, use the ordinary and can multiply our scant resources for His glory.  We need to obey His call to love the poor and marginalised and give what little we can: 'Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.' Luke 12 v 32, 33.

Image result for the widow of zarephath
The Prophet Elijah with the widow of Zarephath and her Son by Abraham van Dijck