Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath Sermon
This sermon about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath from 1 Kings 17:1-16 explores what to do when you feel you are running on empty. See how you can increase your faith that God will provide all you really need.
Running on Empty?
Let me ask, how do you handle it when you’re running on empty? There are times when we feel like we are running out of something and going on fumes. Maybe you’re about to run out of ideas to save your business, or you’re about to run out of ways to get through to your kid. You’re about to run out of patience, desire, passion, time. You’re about to run out. Instead of running out or burning out try turning your ears to the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. In the story, we find that we can have peace of mind when we trust that God will provide enough.
Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
Our story centers around Elijah the prophet, who was coming off a long episode in the wilderness a little water pool sustained him. When the pool ran dry it was time for new ventures. God called him to go to a city outside his own country, Zarephath, where he would encounter a woman who would feed him. By the time he arrives, he is parched and famished. At the city gates, he meets a widow gathering sticks for a cookfire. He asks the woman for water. The woman–who might have refused him for being a foreigner–says okay and turns to fetch him some water.
Then, Elijah adds, “Also, bring me a morsel of bread.”
She spins around, “Bread? I have no bread for you!” She’s triggered because she had so little. When you feel limited, you operate in fear and get triggered easily. I thought people sometimes were being selfish. Beneath what appeared as selfish behavior was really that they were scared. It’s easy to mistake scared for selfishness.
Essentially the woman asks Elijah, “Who do you think I am? I have a little meal and oil left, just enough to make one last supper and, then there is nothing. My son and I will die of starvation. I have no bread for you, Bub.”
God. . .Are you sure?
I wonder what that have must have been like for Elijah. God told him that the widow would feed him. But when he sees this woman’s emaciated frame, on the verge of death he must have thought twice.
You can almost hear his inward prayer, “God are you sure? Maybe I didn’t hear you correctly. Surely, you meant someone else.”
God reassured Elijah. “Tell her I will perform a miracle and the food would not run out; she will always have enough.”
This is where faith came in. Elijah had just been in with wilderness where he learned that God provides in unexpected ways. But now he had to have the faith to ask someone else to believe it. Can you imagine? I’d be tied up in knots. It’s hard enough for me to ask you to increase your faith or giving. It’s hard to talk about faith with people. Amplify that anxiety by a hundred-fold for Elijah, “What if God doesn’t come through? How could I live with myself if I took food from a dying woman and child? How can I deprive a child of the last morsel? God are you sure? Please don’t let me down.”
He gulps then obeys, telling the woman of God’s promise.
Now she has a choice. This foreign man worships an unfamiliar God and dares to believe that there will be a supernatural provision. He has the audacity to ask for food from a dying widow and child. She returns home and lights the evening fire.
Picture her cradling the jar of flower that contains the little bit that she has left to feed her and her small boy. Maybe she thinks if she uses it for herself and boy that’s it. There is no hope. But if she takes the lid off and uses a little of it to help this starving man then maybe a miracle will happen. I wonder how long she held that jar in her hand before she popped off the lid.
Lids represent limits
There are times in life when we are called upon to take the lid off. Lids represent the limits of what we think God can and cannot do. Lids can be the extent to which we trust God. Lids can be seals the keep us from letting our real selves come out.
Sometimes if we want to see God’s actions, and receive the blessings, you have to take the lid off and offer God what you have as little as it may be. Because you know what? God likes a little. When God wanted to change the world, a little baby was born in Bethlehem. David, the little shepherd boy that everyone looked who seemed too insignificant to lead but he became the mighty King of Israel. God is into a little. Jesus said the kingdom of God is like the tiniest of seeds–the mustard seed. It starts small and soon there are mustard bushes everywhere providing rest and safety for God’s creatures.
Take the Lid off a Little
I once heard a pastor once talk about the importance of taking the lid off a little. So I’m wondering, can you take the lid off a little bit this morning and give God your praise for bringing you safe thus far? Just a little praise with a smile on your face. How about an Amen? Or raise a hand over your heart. Give a little bit. Take the lid off and give a little time to a cause you believe in. Take the lid off and show a little bit of faith. Remember Jesus said it only takes a mustard seed. Give a little bit of faith that even though it may look bleak now, even though you feel like you are runnin’ on empty, runnin’ on dry, that you trust the Lord your God will not leave you high and dry. He is the one who took a little bit of bread and a few fish and fed 5,000.
What seems big is little from above
Here’s the thing about taking the lid off and entering into a spirit of praise and trust in God. It lifts you higher and you know from taking off in an airplane that the higher you go the smaller everything below appears. Some of you are standing next to some big ole’ problems this morning. But the higher you soar, the more in perspective those problems are going to seem. The more you offer your sincere praise the more you will trust that God will see you through.
Can you take the lid off a little this morning? A little time. A little of your talents. Even if it is praying regularly for our church and the people in it, work on a committee. I believe if we all take the lid off a little, and use our gifts as meager and insignificant as they may seem, we will see how that magnifies and snowballs. Our little church, not many in here. If we take off our lids a little contribute how we can. Invite people to come, participate in the ministries, I believe God will blow the lid off this whole thing and we will be more than we ever imagined. That’s the beauty of resilience.
Back to the Future
We may think all we have is a little. Our efforts are not significant. Have you ever watched a time-travel movie like Back to the Future? The premise is always that a small change in the past could have enormous repercussions in the future. If George Mcfly doesn’t meet his future wife there would be no Marty Mcfly. We buy the premise that a small thing in the past can have a huge impact on the future. Then why don’t we buy into that premise in our everyday life? A small thing you do now can make a huge difference down the road. Your small increase of faith, your small step in becoming more Christ-like in your daily walk, you’re speaking up for something important to you. Taking the chance to meet someone new. Now it’s not much but it makes a huge impact on the future.
The Trick of the Treat
The widow at Zarephath pours a small bit of meal out of the jar and fashions a little cake from it. She had been dreading this day for a long time. She had been rationing, using just a little every day. Just enough to survive and this would be the last of it. Some stranger wants her hospitality. She looks at her child. His belly is bloated, his arms and legs are sticks, and his eyes are jaundiced. He is looking at her as she prepares a meal for someone else.
Maybe she is thinking, “He is giving me some hope. Maybe his God will come through and save us. I have no options. If not, we are going to die anyway.”
The little boy’s tummy aches with hunger. The smell of the bread wafts through the house. But his mom takes the bread and disappears outside with it. She returns empty-handed. The smell of bread and fear hang in the air.
His mom went to the jar again and there was more in there. She began to mix up another batch. There couldn’t have been that much left, but there was. Her mouth drops open. Tears fill her eyes. This is it. But instead, the meal does not run out. The prophet was right. God was taking care of them. Day after day they ate and were satisfied.
It’s an amazing lesson about God’s care. God provides more than enough. This is the God of abundance. When Jesus turned water into wine there were about 180 gallons. When he fed the multitudes there were 12 baskets of leftovers. God somehow gets it done.
Faith and Risk
It’s also an amazing lesson about faith. This woman trusted in God, took a risk, and found she had all she needed. That’s the way it is with faith. You have to take risks to be faithful. You have to step out in faith to receive all that God wants to provide for your life. You will find you have what you really need, daily bread, a community of support, a God who loves. Are you ready to do that? Is there something that you feel tugging at your heart, something you sense God wants you to do, but it makes absolutely no sense? Maybe you need to be like this widow and believe in the promises of God for your life and take a step of faith.
Today the people of God are called to see the needs around us and respond with faithful generosity. God’s miraculous supply comes not from magic vessels, but from the miracle worked on our hearts that those who can afford to eat will give sacrificially, that those who can afford shelter will give from their hearts. The ministry is helping those that are lost and forgotten and downtrodden in our society. When we get miserly and hold back counting how little is in the jar, people do die of hunger. We don’t unlock the blessings, we are not faithful.
It would be my prayer that those who are going through a wilderness time will pay attention and learn the lessons of relying on God’s grace like Elijah and the widow did. I would pray that we’d all take a look at ourselves and figure out what it would mean to take a step out in faith so that we might experience the abundance of blessings that God would unlock in our lives.
I would pray that we’d respond to the needs around us and be sources of hope and strength.