We all long for it: the abundant life. I don’t know about you, but I stand against a scarcity mentality steeped in fear. I want to believe that I have more than enough, even when things seem bleak. How can we experience abundance?
Spiritual practices, GodSpace practices, will guide us. Here’s an excerpt from my book GodSpace that looks at the story of an amazing woman from the Bible, and how she experienced God’s miraculous and abundant provision. (The following is adapted from my book GodSpace.)
To me, the ultimate story of hospitality is that of the widow and Elijah. The widow would never be featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine or anything close. But she chose to practice hospitality when it was hard. Here’s her story as found in 1 Kings 17:
Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
Like so many women of the Bible, we don’t know her name: she’s just “a widow.” The Bible labels her “the widow of Zarephath,” the place she lives. God tells Elijah that he’s directed the widow to feed him, but their initial conversation sounds like she didn’t get the memo about that. But Elijah tells her the secret of abundance: “don’t be afraid.”
Zarephath, scholars tell us, was known as a place where the main industry was the “refining and smelting of metals.” Think Pittsburgh or Gary, Indiana in their steel factory heyday. It’s a wonderful detail that we might overlook, how a woman living in a town known for refining would have her own faith tested and strengthened by the fire of an inconvenient request. How fitting that in a place where ore was transformed into precious metal, a bit of flour and the last few drops of oil were miraculously turned into three years worth of provision.
Elijah comes during a famine, and asks her to practice hospitality: a simple meal of bread and water. Martha Stewart, or even Martha of Bethany, she is not. “I’m getting ready to eat and die,” she says, implying that she might wish the same fate on this demanding prophet.
But she is invited to trust. Elijah calmly challenges her to take a chance on divine provision. In essence, the prophet promises a miracle. There will be enough, if you are generous. Don’t be afraid. If you are not generous, your prediction of this meal being your last might be accurate. If you give to God first (he asks that she make him a loaf of bread, then make one for herself and her son), God will provide.
It’s not a threat. It’s a promise. Trust, and watch what God will do. Note that Elijah doesn’t demand to be fed instead of her son, but only to share what they have.
In the same way, the practice of hospitality invites us to trust, to pull up another chair to the table and share a modest meal. The widow made bread of flour and olive oil, served with water. She set the bar for “biblical hospitality” pretty low, with regard to the food. But she set it pretty high for trust. She kept on giving what she thought was the very last of her provisions.
What went through that widow’s heart during that first meal with Elijah? And what happened when she went back to the jar the next day, and shook out another portion of flour? Then poured out a few more squirts of oil? And the next day, and the next? Surely, her amazement and wonder grew each day. But did she, each day, think—this is it. This is where God’s provision ends. Did she doubt?
We’d understand if she did, right? But whether she doubted isn’t mentioned. If she did doubt, she wasn’t punished for that. Despite her doubt, she acted. She made the bread—embodying her faith by pouring out oil, kneading bread, handing it to Elijah, then her son. Sometimes we doubt, and that’s understandable and okay. But when we risk obedience, our risk is rewarded. We get to experience doubt-dispelling miracles that we’d never get to see if we didn’t take that chance.
What would it look like for you to follow the example of this widow? To be generous, not out of your abundance, but out of what you’ve got. Generosity and hospitality, in divine alchemy, turn scarcity into abundance.