In our world, we like to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We don’t like unchanging standards. We can always find somebody who is worse, greedier, further away from God’s standards. We can do this in many areas of life:
- Generosity: We can say, “My heart’s generous. I want to be generous. I just don’t have very much money right now. Things are kind of tight. Someday, I’ll have more money and then I’ll help take care of people who are in need.” But for now, we go on spending every dime we have on ourselves.
- Serving: We can say, “I’m really busy right now. I’d love to serve people who are in need, but I can’t fit it into my schedule. Maybe when I have more time and get on top of things, then I will serve.” But our schedule never seems to open up and serving never fits into our day planner.
- Reaching Out: We can say, “I’d love to form a relationship with somebody of a different ethnicity or culture. I really want to be part of God’s solution to breaking down the walls that divide us, but it involves taking risks, and I am not up for that. I will wait for someone else to reach out to me; then maybe I can respond instead of initiate.”
But time passes and the walls grow higher and higher. We can measure our lives by comparing ourselves with others, but God does not. He sets a standard that is radically different from the constantly changing world in which we live. We need to look to his Word and discover his standard and then ask him for the strength to grow in our devotion to live with the justice, righteousness, and compassion that marks the heart of God.
God says, “I will measure my people by the one standard that counts. It’s very simple. Are people hungry? Feed them. Are people sick? Help them. Are people oppressed? Stick up for them. Are the widows lonely? Visit them. Are there uneducated children? Teach them. Are people rejected because of the color of their skin? Befriend them.”
The widow of Zarephath fed Elijah even though she had but a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug. (1 Kings 17:7–24) In this story she is recklessly generous. She gives the last of what she has to Elijah.
We should all pause occasionally to ask if we are living with that kind of generous spirit. Maybe we have an abundance of oil and flour in our jars. Maybe we only have a little. Maybe we have a huge flour jar, or perhaps a very small one. No matter what we have, we can still learn to live with a generous spirit.
Here are some questions we might want to ask occasionally:
- Am I being faithful with my tithe to God?
- Am I being responsive to the needs of the poor?
- Am I learning to take risks in giving that stretch my faith?
- Am I giving in a way that is becoming a natural part of how I live?
- Am I noticing God’s generous provision in my life and responding with a thankful heart?
Dallas Willard says the law of the kingdom is the law of inversion, where the last are first and the servants are the greatest. This is modeled in a striking way in the life of this widow. The weakest, most vulnerable person — an impoverished, pagan, Gentile widow — becomes the one whose generosity keeps the prophet Elijah alive.
If you were the widow in this story, how do you think you would have responded to Elijah’s request? What an amazing example for all of us!