“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.” 1 Kings 17:14-16
A few days ago I was telling one of my girlfriends the story of a powerful prayer last year. A group of strangers on the opposite side of the country prayed for me. When they finished, their prayer time had been so powerful, they called me to express how they’d each been impressed during their intercession.
I don’t remember everything each person said, but two things still stand out in my memory:
- a man who didn’t speak English asked his wife to translate his prayer impressions to me. During the prayer, he had seen in his mind a pair of shoes with laces untied. As he prayed, he saw the laces began tying themselves neatly, without human hands. He told me God was going to tie up all the loose ends in certain trials I was facing, without human hands, and that I needed to be trust Him and wait.
- several of the prayer warriors told me they were strongly impressed that I should not worry about my needs. This was huge, because I’d recently quit a stable office job in order to work from home and be more available to my children. “Money will appear when you need it, opportunities will arise, God will provide,” they insisted in unison. “Read the stories in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4 about how God provided for the widows — they had enough flour and oil despite famine and loss. Don’t worry about your basic needs. You will have enough. God has declared it,” they said.
You know how sometimes things happen a few times in a row, just in case you missed the message the first or second time around? I’d mentally mislaid that prayer encounter until telling my prayer partner about it. But then… the very next morning my reading included guess which passage? First Kings 17.
“You will have enough flour and olive oil until…”
Except this time the passage came packing some fresh punches. Because this time something totally different stood out to me — it isn’t just that you’ll have enough… it’s that you’ll have enough UNTIL…!
The Lord WILL send rain again.
The crops WILL grow again.
The famine WILL end.
You will be sustained.
But not merely sustained. There will be down-pouring rain and abundant harvest again.
Imagine this starving mother and son — emaciated, hungry, moving with painful slowness… Every last shred of hope has evaporated like the raindrops that haven’t fallen in years! She’s a walking skeleton, and the very last thing she’s doing with her remaining vital energy, is scrounging firewood to make one final meal to share with her child. After that, she fully expected to lie down and die. She’s the quintessential selfless mother.
A strange man, not from her village, approaches her and introduces himself with the words “Don’t be afraid…” And then asks her for water.
It’s the middle of famine, she’s ready to die, and he asks her to bring water… He doesn’t stop there. Next he says, “Bring me bread, too.” This is just too much, even for her starvation-fogged brain. “I don’t have a scrap of food in my house,” she tells him.
But Elijah doesn’t take No for an answer. Not because he was demanding preferential treatment, but because he was offering her a chance to obey something that seemed outrageous and impossible.
Do this hard thing, risk everything that seems to make sense, and place your faith in a God who is powerful enough to make that crazy reality come true. And if you do, you won’t lie down and die today.
Buried in the implication of Elijah’s words, was the promise that rain and crops would come again. And that she would be alive to see it. That must have sounded like lunacy to a woman who was dying of starvation.
She’s thinking “I have enough for me and my son. If I feed the prophet first, then I will give the leftover to my son, and I will eat nothing. I’m going to die anyway…”
But she obeys.
She clings to the promise.
She takes hold of his words and internalizes them like bread to a starving stomach.
She places her faith ahead of her reality… and God keeps his promise.
Yet, like every person everywhere, that miracle does not mark the end of her trials. Later, before the famine ends, her son gets sick and dies. She’s devastated. What are you doing? You saved my son from starvation just to let him get sick and die? Didn’t I place my faith in You? Didn’t You promise to feed us until the rains and the harvest come?
Her faith trembles.
The son she was prepared to lie down and die with, is now dead himself. Back then she had lost all hope in living, but now? Now she has been clinging to the promise that she will be alive when the rains come. She accuses the prophet bitterly — “what have you done to me!???” It feels like she would have been better off starving to death back when she’d lost all hope.
Even being saved from starvation wasn’t enough to fully convince her of God’s promised and goodness, once she was face to face with pain and loss again.
That’s when Elijah took her dead son to a quiet place and pleaded with God. Interestingly, while the widow blamed the prophet, Elijah confronted God directly — clearly, he didn’t understand either. God, why have you brought tragedy to this generous widow who opened her home to me?!
God used Elijah to bring the boy back to life. NOW… now she rejoices unashamedly. Now she believes, finally. We get the sense that she does not doubt again. She trusts. She believes. She is carried through to the other side of the promise.
But what about Elijah’s own faith?
It is still months or years before the famine breaks. I’m both humbled and amused by the fact that even after being fed by ravens, rescued by a starving widow, seeing a dead child come back to life, and later watching God pour out rain in answer to his prayers — Elijah’s faith trembled when Jezebel’s men chased him into the wilderness with a death warrant.
Isn’t that just how we are, though?
We each travel our own faith journey, we each experience unique circumstances that develop personal trust in God. “It’s a reminder not to worry about how another person’s faith journey is progressing,” said my prayer partner Sarah, the other day. “Even Elijah had to be reminded that he was not the only one who had “not bowed the knee” and that he wasn’t alone.”
It’s also why “yesterday’s manna doesn’t carry over into today”, as John Eldredge puts it. Because God is continually desiring to lead us into greater spiritual maturity, instead of stagnating on past lessons and refusing to keep growing.
Watching God do outrageous things for others may be encouraging, but often we doubt until we experience Him for ourselves. Sometimes, we still doubt even when we HAVE experienced Him for ourselves. But we can change that, with purposeful growth mindset thinking.
Because, no matter what circumstances tell us — the promise still stands.
We simply have to stand on the promises in return… while we wait.
“Talk and act as if your faith was invincible.”
Christ’s Object Lessons, 146
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