The Bible records many passages on generosity. It’s an important trait of the Christian life, and as followers of Jesus, we are called to be generous, joyful givers. But I know that sometimes I feel dry, spent, and with very little resources mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially. I want to give, but I feel like I am scraping the bottom of the barrel, and it’s taking all I’ve got just to get through the day.
This brings to mind a story in the Bible. The land of Israel and the surrounding areas are in the midst of a drought and famine. It hasn’t rained in years and people are literally starving. The prophet Elijah had been miraculously sustained by a brook, but one day, God called him to head to Zarephath, a little city in the foreign land of Sidon. At the outskirts of town, he meets a widow who is gathering sticks and asks her for a drink of water.
“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!’”1
I’m sure this widow facing imminent starvation felt far more spent than I do. I wonder what motivated her to be willing to give the prophet a drink of water even before he told her of God’s promise? Did she maybe think, at that point, that she had nothing to lose? As a foreigner, she may not even have known or believed in the God of Israel, yet she was willing to give the last of what she had to God’s prophet.
We often think of generosity as giving from our abundance, but what if it’s giving from our scarcity? Could giving from our lack of time, strength, grace, wisdom, and resources give God room to work in ways that He would not have if we felt “stocked up” on everything?
I don’t know if the widow ever had a full pantry, but I can imagine that over the next years, every time she poured oil out of her cruse or scooped up a cup of flour from her jar, she was reminded of how God took the last she had to offer and paid her back with continual sustenance.
So perhaps I’m not called to be generous because of my abundance (though I recognize that I have much more than so many). Perhaps I’m called to give because of my faith in God, knowing that what I have is firstly His and for His glory.
- 1 Kings 17:11–14 NLT