I have a confession to make: I am really struggling with a scarcity mindset right now.
A few nights ago, I went out to the store to get some bread. When I got there, this is what I found:
I’ve never been to the store and seen completely empty shelves! It reminded me of Who-ville after the Grinch has come through and taken the last can of Who-Hash! And it wasn’t just one store that was like this — I couldn’t find bread anywhere in town.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience this week. In times of uncertainty, the fear of scarcity — not having enough — can drive us to stock up and horde things.
The scarcity mentality causes us to act in ways we wouldn’t normally act. A friend of mine mentioned that she saw people actually taking items out of other people’s shopping carts when they weren’t looking. Another friend told of someone who stole a pack of toilet paper out of their car in the parking lot of a grocery store. When we see empty shelves at the store, the scarcity mindset kicks in and fear does its worst in us.
At the beginning of 1 Kings 17, we learn that a severe drought has come upon the land of Israel. This is actually brought about by God and his prophet, Elijah.
We might ask why God would do such a thing. Well, the Canaanites believed Baal was the god of rain and fertility. Throughout the Old Testament, the children of Israel would be tempted to worship Baal — to ask him for rain, for healthy crops, for healthy children, etc. In the time of Elijah, the people were turning to Baal and asking for his blessing of rain upon the land. So Elijah’s announcement of the drought serves to demonstrate that it isn’t Baal but the LORD who controls the rain. HIS power is supreme.
God provides for His prophet by giving him water from this brook and directing the ravens to supply him with bread and meat, both in the morning and in the evening. We don’t have any other details, but this story shows God providing sustenance for Elijah. And this is a key point for what comes next: Elijah, in turn, will provide sustenance for someone else in a time of scarcity.
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.”1 Kings 17:8-12
God sends Elijah to a place called Zarephath, north of Israel. This was a place where Baal worship was even more rampant. And it seems that the drought has extended to this region as well. But there is a widow in Zarephath and God directs Elijah to go to her. “She will supply you with food,” God says. But that’s only part of the plan. God intends for this widow to meet Elijah’s needs and for Elijah to meet the needs of the widow and her son. This is how the abundance of God is demonstrated in a time of scarcity.
Elijah asks the widow for some bread and her reply is heartbreaking: “I don’t have any bread — just a handful of flour and a little oil.” The shelves in her home pantry are barren. She tells Elijah that she’s gathering wood for a fire so she can go home and prepare one final meal — a last supper — for her and her son. They have no one looking out for them and they have nothing to spare. Scarcity has become a death sentence for the widow of Zarephath.
The widow says something interesting when she speaks with Elijah: As surely as the LORD your God lives. Even though she lives in the land of Baal, she knows something of Israel’s God — enough to refer to Him as “the Living God.” This sounds like an expression of faith. She’s lived long enough to know that all those prayers and sacrifices to Baal amount to nothing. “No graven image can help me,” she says. “Only a living God.” But she’s reached the end of the line — “I’m going to go home, fix a final meal for my son and myself, and then we’ll die.” Her deprivation has made her despondent.
But this is precisely where God does His best work. He specializes in bringing abundance out of scarcity.
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.1 Kings 17:13-16
Elijah replies to her by saying, “Don’t be afraid.” Those are the same words we talked about last week — words that are always spoken within the context of God’s presence. Elijah promises that God will be miraculously present to her and her son through the abundance of their flour and oil. Elijah tells her, “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.” Elijah brings her in contact with the world of God’s great abundance.
Let’s look at the way God uses faithfulness in this little story:
- God uses the widow to meet the needs of Elijah by faith. (It was an act of faith on her part to use her resources to make bread for Elijah.)
- God uses Elijah to meet the needs of the widow and her son — also by faith. (It was an act of faith on Elijah’s part to journey where the LORD directed him to go.)
- At any point, fear might have derailed these faithful actions. But trust in the active presence of the living God sustained these acts of faith.
This story teaches us some really important things that we need to remember in times like this:
First, in times of scarcity, it’s good for us to recognize that the scarcity mentality doesn’t come from God. Baal is the one who traffics in scarcity. The whole enterprise of Baal worship in the ancient world was predicated on the idea of scarcity. Baal declares, “Worship me or you won’t have enough.” And that prompts people to do crazy things — like steal toilet paper out of someone else’s car!
No, the scarcity mentality doesn’t come from God because (secondly) our God is a God of abundance. Even during this drought in Elijah’s day — which God brought about — the drought was intended to help Israel realize the abundance they already have in God. And faith is living out of God’s great abundance.
Finally, this story teaches us that the people of God can counter scarcity through sharing and through serving. According to the Scriptures, God sent Elijah to the widow and God sent the widow to Elijah. They overcome the scarcity of their circumstances by sharing with one another and by serving one another. That’s precisely where the miraculous power of God shows up in this story.
And I believe God has given us an opportunity to do the same thing right now. I believe this is an opportunity for us to be sent out to the people in our communities — much like God sent Elijah to the widow and God sent the widow to Elijah.
This is a great time to check on your neighbors; the people who live closest to you. There was a time when we knew our neighbors and we would rely on them if we needed to borrow a tool or a few ingredients. I can’t tell you how many times my Mom sent me to the Nortons next door to borrow some margarine or some brown sugar. And they would borrow from us all the time. That doesn’t happen very much anymore, but since we will be spending more time in our neighborhoods, this is a great opportunity to reach out to your neighbors, see what they need, and share out of your own abundance.
There might be someone just like this widow who is living on your street. Maybe he or she can’t get out and get some of the things they need right now. Maybe they haven’t been able to get out and get groceries. Could you share a bit out of your abundance? Or maybe they can’t get out and pick up their prescriptions. Could you serve them by making a trip to the pharmacy on their behalf? I’d ask you to be praying about that and see what God puts on your heart.
Scarcity impacts us in different ways. We’ve talked a lot about the run on food and supplies. But “social distancing” is a term that is being used now and although we understand why we’re being asked to take these precautions, there are some who are hurting emotionally as a result of this.
I’m thinking of a friend of mine who lives alone with no family nearby. Attending church is not only something they do out of obedience to God, but it’s also a social connection for my friend. So right now, her scarcity mindset is less about groceries and supplies — it’s emotional. My friend is just really, really lonely right now.
Maybe you know someone like that. During this time when our lives have slowed down a bit, would you make a note to reach out to that person? Could you help overcome the emotional scarcity he or she is feeling because of isolation and loneliness?
In times like this, I hope we can remember that our God is a God of abundance. We believe in a God of manna, a God of daily bread. Jesus tells us to ask for daily bread — and by sharing and serving, we can actually help to provide daily bread for the people around us — the hungry, the lonely, the overlooked. That seems to be God’s preferred way of countering the scarcity mentality — with His great abundance.
I just have a feeling that widow and her son found a way to share with the people in their community. Because that’s what happens when you experience God’s abundance.
And all of this points us to Jesus, who came years later declaring that the god of the scarcity mentality comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But Jesus says, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. Jesus explains this further by declaring, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
In Jesus we come to know the abundance of God, the only God who can meet our needs, both physically and spiritually. At His table, our cup runneth over — and we can dwell in the house of the LORD forever, time without limit and world without end.