Selfless people are heroes. And I find it ironic that the most selfless people I know aren’t wealthy or famous or powerful. Some of them are, but most of them are normal, average people with limited resources. But limited resources don’t stop them from being willing to give everything they have to help someone else.
I was thinking about being selfless this morning, and the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath came to my mind. It’s a relatively long passage, but it’s a good read.
Today’s verses are 1 Kings 17:8-16.
Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”
But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”
So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.
This poor widow really had nothing. She had herself, she had her son, and she had enough food left for one meal before they starved to death. Put yourself in her shoes. What would you have done if some crazy, wild-eyed preacher walked out of the wilderness into your home and asked that you feed him before you eat your last meal.
I’d like to think my reaction would be as mild as the woman’s, but I don’t think it would be. If I were in her shoes, I think I might have told him to buzz off and let us starve to death in peace. But that’s not what the widow in this story did.
I’ve often wondered why the woman didn’t hesitate. From what I know of Elijah, he wouldn’t have looked clean-cut and appropriate. Actually, when he came to Zarephath, he had just come from living in the wilderness and being fed by ravens. This was at a time of drought and famine in Israel, due to the evil King Ahab. Everyone was starving. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think that the woman would have heard of Elijah. This was before the events on Mt. Caramel.
But something convinced her to listen to him. Maybe she believed him. Maybe she felt like she didn’t have a choice. Maybe she thought it didn’t matter. Personally, I like to think that she was selfless. Why else would God have chosen her to be the one to feed Elijah? Because that’s what happened. God used this poor widow to provide for His prophet, and as a result, the widow and her son had plenty to eat too.
What would have happened if she had refused to do as Elijah asked? Well, she and her son would have starved. And God would have used someone else to provide for Elijah.
And I guess that’s the point I’m making this morning. We all have limited resources (until we start drawing on what God has made available to us), and we all face a choice about what to do with those resources. And it never fails that the less someone has, the more they are willing to share and vice versa. Granted, I know some very wealthy people who are very generous with their finances, but they seem to be the exceptions.
When it comes right down to it, if you are a follower of Christ, you have a calling to help others, not necessarily wild-eyed preacher types but maybe it’s your next door neighbor. Maybe it’s your friend at school. Maybe it’s a coworker who needs a ride to the airport. And it doesn’t have to be a financial need either. Maybe it’s time someone is asking for. Or clothes. Or shelter. Or just a listening ear.
Someone in your life needs something from you. God has put that person in your life for a reason, and you have a choice to help them in spite of the cost to you personally or to ignore them and put yourself first. You can do either. That choice is up to you. But before you make that choice remember the story of this poor widow in Zarephath. She had a choice too, eat her last meal or share it with a crazy preacher who claimed God would provide for them both.
God didn’t have to use her. He could have used anyone. But in taking care of Elijah, God wanted to bless someone else too. And that’s what happens when you use your resources to help someone else. Not only do you help them, but God helps you at the same time.
You can’t out-give God. You can’t give Him so much that He can’t pay you back. Don’t believe me? Try it. This widow did, and she realized the benefit of serving God far outweighs the instant gratification of serving herself.
God will use someone. It doesn’t have to be you. But you’ll be much better off if it is.