They say confession is good for the soul, so . . .
I must confess that I’ve been a bit troubled by Philippians 4:19:
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve often quoted this verse and stood my ground on its promise. It’s better than money in the bank; the conduit of heaven runs straight to my account.
The supply is unending—it’s according to God’s riches in glory by Jesus. Stop and think for a moment how rich that is . . .
The currency is incorruptible—heaven’s treasures can’t be destroyed by moth or rust, and they can’t be stolen either.
What’s troubling about that?
It’s the context of this great promise that makes me cringe. You see, the ruby of receiving is set in the prongs of giving.
Philippians is Paul’s thank-you letter to the believers in Philippi; he assures them that their gift to him of earthly goods will not leave them begging. Their bank accounts were smaller now; they had less to call their own. But God Himself stood surety for their needs.
The promise of God’s giving is for those who have given to Him.
Some people are naturally more inclined to generosity than me. Take my wife, for instance. She would happily give with no regard to the future. I’m the skinflint of the family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in the way of my wife’s good intentions for giving. “We don’t have enough as it is. We can’t give that away.”
There is a place for prudence. We need to anticipate coming danger and prepare for it (Proverbs 22:3). And responsibility is a requirement in God’s kingdom. If we don’t take care of earthly money, who will trust us with true riches? (Luke 16:11).
Melissa and I have grown together over nearly seventeen years of marriage, and I like to think that I’ve helped to temper her propensity for heedless giving—and that, in the process, I’ve become more generous. Still, giving is often a sticking point with me. Give I do, but it’s often with a moan and a sob and thoughts of what we could have done with the dearly departed cash—rather than the hilarity of joy that God loves.
Let’s face it: God doesn’t need my money. He doesn’t need my talents or my time. He doesn’t need anything that I have. In no way do I make God richer by the offering of my paltry possessions.
Giving enriches me.
My mind traces back to the days of Elijah. Remember what happened when the brook Cherith dried up? God sent Elijah to a widow who had almost nothing. God deliberately sent his man to a woman who, along with her son, was on the brink of starvation. If there was ever a bad time for the poor widow to give, this was it.
As the woman was going to get Elijah a little water, he “. . . called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die’” (I Kings 17:11–12).
Ever wonder if Elijah did a quick double-take at his divine GPS? Surely this can’t be the right place! Why in the world would God send me to a woman who has nothing with which to supply my need? First the brook dries up, and now I’m at the wrong house . . .
Those thoughts might have dashed through my mind. But Elijah didn’t even hesitate.
“Do not fear,” he said to the widow. “Go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son” (I Kings 17:13).
In other words, “No troubles, ma’am. Go right on with your plans, but first bring me something to eat.”
That sounds like cruel, self-centeredness. Can’t the prophet see the worn figure, the grief-lined face, the labor-hardened hands? Doesn’t he care? And if this is the word of the Lord, what does this say about the character of God?
“For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,” Elijah continued, “‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth’” (I Kings 17:14).
“Give,” said the prophet speaking for God. Give from your emptiness. Give the last thing you can call your own. Give up the tiniest shred of treasured hope. Give to God’s man, and in so doing, give to God.
If I were orchestrating the plot, seems like it would have been better to leave Elijah at the brook, pump in a little water from a hidden spring, and keep the ravens coming.
But God wanted to give to this woman. There were many suffering widows in Israel during the drought, Jesus tells us, but God didn’t choose them; He chose to provision the house of this foreigner. When she gave the last of her meal and oil, she was ready for the giving of God. So God’s unreasonable demand was actually a testimony to His unexpected favor, the opening line in a story of His grace.
Jesus’ mention of this woman infuriated His audience and they sought to push Him over a cliff. (Luke 4:24–30.) This down-and-out foreigner didn’t deserve the riches of God.
And that’s precisely the point. She didn’t.
She emptied her pots of the old meal and old oil, and in giving her nothingness, she connected to the endless supply of the King.
Did God need the widow’s goods? No more than He needs anything that I give to Him.
There’s one more remarkable point to the story of the unnamed widow of Zarephath. God didn’t give her enough to meet her future needs. He gave her what she needed to feed His man and herself and her son one more meal.
I suppose she could have wondered with every dinner, “Will there be enough for breakfast? There certainly wasn’t a moment ago.”
She lived always almost empty. She never had money in the bank or a jug full of oil or a jar full of meal. She was expected to give out of nothing every single day. You would think that God might want to give this poor woman the visible comfort of food for at least a week.
But He did something better. He kept her eyes on the Source of her provision—the Invisible God. And He kept the woman herself in the place of grace—always almost empty—so that independence couldn’t plug the supply line.
Every day, she was only one meal from going hungry. Every day, she gave from the very last that she had. And every day, God replenished her supply. She was as rich as the promise of God.
We have God’s promise, too. He will supply our needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus. Are we prepared to give from nothing? Are we ready for the grace of God? Are we willing to live from hand-to-mouth for the rest of our lives?
If it’s God’s hand to my mouth, then count me in.
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins