While the majority of my thoughts have been focused on the new year before us, I was thinking of what has become customary in the week between Christmas and New Years: a time to discuss “The Year In Review”. There have been all kinds of articles on the top stories, people and events that shaped the year 2009. If I was an editor of some sort and was asked to give my opinion, I would have to say this year has been dominated, defined and overshadowed more by the economy than anything else. While not everyone is impacted in the same way, it certainly has been one of the most prominent realities affecting people’s lives and our nation.
As I look back over my own “preaching menu” over the last eighteen months or so, I find titles like, “How To Survive A Recession” — “Kingdom Economics” — and “Preaching When Time$ Are Tight.” My purpose in preaching these was to help people have a Biblical mind set since Biblical theology and a living faith are what anchor our lives in times of testing. I feel that this has been necessary in a time when people and businesses across the board are feeling the economic pinch, when unemployment is at a record high, and people are having to cut back or operate on smaller margins.
In this context I was drawn to the widow woman of Zarephath in 1Kings 17 as a “model” for our times. In (Lk.4:25,26) Jesus himself singled out this woman and the lessons that her life teaches us. The first that jumps out at you is she was definitely at “rock bottom.” When Elijah asked for some hospitality he learned of her situation and the dire straits she was facing. All she had left was a little handful of flour and a tiny bit of oil. She was gathering sticks to build a fire to make some tortillas as their last meal, then she and her son were going to die. If this is not rock bottom then it’s as close to it as you can possibly get! Have you ever wondered and asked yourself why the Bible has so many “extreme” illustrations like this. Is it simply for the purpose of sensationalism or is God trying to tell us something? I think the reason comes from the legal realm and what is called an a fortiori argument: it is arguing from the greater to the lesser. It comes from the Latin term for “with even stronger reason” meaning that if a thing is true in one situation, call it the “greater,” then it is even more certainly true in the “lesser” situation. This is why you find the reality of hard times (recession; inflammation; famines; economic setbacks) woven into the tapestry of God’s Word and serving as a backdrop for some important workings of God’s grace and power.
This story helps to expose the whole “myth” of financial security. In (Matt.6:19) Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” It is a reminder that the ambition of financial security is at best a short-sighted pursuit because it fails to recognize that life is fraught with uncertainty. Moth and rust can corrode and destroy and thieves can always break in and steal. This is not a call to a life of asceticism. No, we’re called to enjoy life and God’s blessings fully, but He’s reminding us not to hold on too tightly to things that will not last. That’s why I appreciate the Apostle Paul’s honesty when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil.4:12) Recover has to recognize the legitimacy of these realities. This is not unbelief or being negative, it is simply giving an accurate and a balanced posture from which to face life and move forward. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes said (Eccl.7:14) “Enjoy prosperity whenever you can, and when hard times strike, realize that God gives one as well as the other-so that everyone will realize that nothing is certain in this life.”
The widow woman also teaches us about having to confront the real enemy. Elijah’s simple yet powerful words to her were, “do not be afraid.” The spiritual forces of faith and fear certainly contend on the battlefield of our minds and spirit. The list of human fears is an exceptionally long one, but in the financial realm I think the fear of not having enough would rank right near the top. It is one of the things that contribute to the disturbing statistics of giving among American Christians. Study after study show that American Christians are not coming anywhere close to honoring God with their resources and their tithes and offerings. The point behind most of these studies is the astounding impact that could be made if Christians managed their money in a way that gave priority to giving and investing in the Gospel. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount he pointed to the twin maladies of materialism and worry as the chief culprits behind this sub-normal condition. His charge not to give in to anxiety and worry was based on the Father’s care and character, “Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” If we are to travel the road to recovery it will begin in our psyche and not giving in to the enemy of fear and worry that we are so prone to doing.
The final thing that this widow woman teaches us involves the “Best Investment.” We all have this one life to invest, and whether we know it or not, we are all investors! I think the question for us is not “Do you believe in Jesus?” but, “Do you believe in Jesus sufficiently to invest your life in His will for you?” God took this widow woman from Zarephath in Sidon to teach us four necessary lessons about bring good investors.
Good investing requires establishing right priorities: vs.13, gives us the operative word of this story, “but first make me a little cake of it...” God will meet my needs if I am willing to put Christ and His kingdom first in my life. (Mt.6:33) has always been one of my life verses, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Good investing is based on God’s promises and the perspective they generate: vs.14, “for thus says the Lord...this jar of flour shall not be spent.” Kingdom investors maintain a God-view that allows them to see beyond the current crisis.
Good investing calls for our faithful performance and obedience: vs.15, “she went and did according to the saying of Elijah.” God will meet my needs if I obey and practice his financial principles as a faithful steward.
Good investing results in God’s provision: vs.17, “the jar of flour was not spent neither did the jug of oil become empty.” God will meet my needs if I practice the law of harvest. While I don’t give solely to get, there is still real blessing related to and released by my giving. (Lk. 6:38) “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving — large or small — it will be used to measure what is given back to you."
Since all investing is the exchange of current resources for a future hope and return, this is why the Kingdom of God can be called the “best investment.” It is the only investment that promises us eternal rewards and return. Paul’s instruction to Timothy for the church contained this (1Tim.6:17-19) “Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven-it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well.” Individually and as a church let us position ourselves firmly on this “road to recovery” in the new year that is before us. You won’t be sorry you did!