Am I Enough 4
Passage: 1 Kings 17:7–17:16
Growing up my family and I had dinners together every night. Now obviously with kids in sports and a dad who coached and living in Northern Virginia it wasn’t literally every night. But it was pretty much every night. The norm was to eat together. My mom had read something in the paper that was like the number one indicator of college success was did families eat together. So she was determined that we eat together.
And it was nice. We’d talk about our days, we’d race through our first helpings so we could make sure we got seconds, we enjoyed each other and bonded as a family. We listened to a lot of Garth Brooks and Randy Travis. But growing up in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s, there was another soundtrack that accompanied our dinners. And it was the soundtrack of the telephone ringing.
Insurance companies. Credit card companies. People offering different long distance packages. The phone would ring again and again as we tried to have as quiet a dinner you can have when you’ve got four kids and Garth Brooks. But at least the kids and Garth Brooks were invited. Telemarketers were the nightly uninvited guests to our family dinner.
And when the phone rang and my parents or my brother or I would go over to the caller ID to see who was calling (me having the briefest hope it might be a girl…it never was…) the vast majority of the calls would be met with annoyance. But there was one call we’d get from time to time that we met with something akin to laughter.
The College of William and Mary.
My mom’s alma mater.
Calling to ask if we’d donate to the school.
My parents were both public school teachers. My dad taught high school math and my mom taught fifth grade. We grew up in Fairfax County and as a child I had full knowledge of two things: 1) my parents would always provide me with everything I needed 2) my parents would not and could not give me everything I might want. There were things we couldn’t afford. So when I had a Super Nintendo and also wanted a Sega Genesis, well we couldn’t afford both.
Now to be fair and give a more complete picture of my parents, they made a lot of wise choices when it came to finances. Again they were two public school teachers who put four kids through college. My siblings and I all graduated undergrad debt free. They gave me immeasurable gifts throughout my life. But one thing my childhood taught me was that money was finite and as such money is scarce.
I said when William & Mary called there’d be laughter. In the spirit of “we’re teachers, you’re wasting your time calling us.” But here’s what was really behind that. My parents are generous people. They gave regularly and faithfully to their church; I remember every Sunday morning their check in the offering envelope on the end of the table. And when we missed church because we were on vacation, there’d be two envelopes. So their response wasn’t so much let someone else donate to William & Mary. I think their laughter was an expression of longing. I think they wanted to be able to give to William & Mary. But money is finite. And sometimes finite becomes scarcity.
I think on some level many of us approach finances from a place of scarcity. I’ve mentioned this before and it won’t be the last, but I remember hearing a study that the vast majority of Americans agree that they’d feel comfortable about their financial situation if they made 10% more. And so what that means by virtue of the converse, the vast majority of Americans don’t feel like they earn enough. If 10% more is what it would take to be comfortable about their finances, that means the vast majority of Americans don’t feel comfortable about their finances. They don’t think they have enough. And because of the way we connect our money with our worth, I imagine this means most Americans don’t feel like they are enough.
I think one of the main anxieties that confronts us, especially for those of us living in Northern Virginia, is whether we have enough money. Case in point. Sound financial planning says that your monthly total housing costs should not exceed 28% of your monthly pre-tax income. So rent or mortgage plus insurance plus property taxes plus HOA or condo association fees. 28%. The median household income for Prince William County residents is $98,500. So if you’re going by the financial planners recommendations we are talking about $2,300 in total housing costs for the average family here in Prince William.
Can you do that? Sure. The median home price in Prince William County is about $375,000. If you can put 20% down, which is $75,000, and then you’re at about $2,000 in housing costs. If you can’t put $75,000 down, if you can’t get to 20% down and have to get PMI, then you’re right at that $2,300. But start thinking about that. If you make nearly six figures you need $75,000 for a down payment to buy a median value house in this county. And I don’t know about you, but just looking at the housing reality here makes money feel very scarce.
There’s a story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah that we are going to look at this morning. It’s a story of scarcity. It’s a story of not enough. And it’s a story that has a twist ending, one that only God could write. We’re going to walk through it together beat by beat. I don’t want to tell the whole story all at once because that’ll make us race to fast to the ending. And really it’s the middle that’s most important. So stay with me, don’t cheat and read ahead.
1 Kings 17:7-16
7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
We begin with scarcity. The brook is dried. There’s no rain. You can picture it, right? You can see a place that should have water dried up. Dusty. You can see the grass dried and yellow, burned out. You can see crops and plants wilting. I planted a cherry tomato plant this year and I planted it in a pot on my deck because I wanted my family to eat the tomatoes not the deer. But I only put dirt halfway up the pot. And if I watered the plant every day during the summer it was ok. But there wasn’t enough dirt in the pot to hold enough water to last for longer than a day. So when we went on vacation for a week, we came back to a wilted and dying and dry plant. A depressing plant. This is our setting, this is our context, the brook dries up, there’s no rain, and everything around just looks depressing.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 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?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
So Elijah is told to go to this town and God says I’ve got someone who will take care of you who will show you hospitality. This was a pretty common practice for prophets; they’d go from town to town and would be taken in by someone who would care for them while they did their prophet business in the town. Sometimes the prophet would be running from the rulers because the rulers wanted to kill the prophet and they’d need a house for safety. Sometimes God says go to this town and hang out. So Elijah is going to this town God told him to and looks for the person God says will take care of him, finds that person, and does what is natural: hey can I have a place to stay, some water, and some bread. The basic requirements of hospitality.
12 “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.”
There it is. Scarcity. She doesn’t have enough. Elijah asks for water and bread and she doesn’t have enough. I don’t have any bread. I just have this bit of flour and oil, I’m going to make a meager snack that my son and I will share and then we’ll die. Elijah has asked for her to share what she has with him and she doesn’t have enough to keep her family alive. How could she possibly be called upon to keep the prophet alive?
I want us to linger here for a minute and remember that Elijah didn’t pick her at random. Elijah didn’t go up to the first person he saw. God said go to this town, there’s a widow I have directed to supply you with food. Let’s think about that for a minute. God tells Elijah that he’s got someone; he’s recruited someone to serve Elijah. So I think its right of Elijah and of us to expect that if God has picked out this woman that he’s also equipped her to serve. And we might expect that part of that equipping would be literally giving her the resources, the food, she needs to serve the prophet. So if I’m Elijah I might be wondering at this point what gives? Did God pull the bait and switch on Elijah? Did God forget to communicate his plan to this woman? What’s the story here?
Do any of us ever feel like this woman when it comes to our finances? Here’s what I mean by this question. This woman is going about her life; she’s running an errand when this prophet walks up to her. And says can you share some bread and water with me. She’s being asked to be generous. It’s unlikely that we’ll be running about our daily business and a prophet will come ask us for water and bread. I’m not saying it won’t happen. Weird stuff happens all the time. But that’s the primary request we get with respect to being generous. But we are often asked if we will be generous. Every week I invite you to make a financial contribution to the ministries here at Spirit & Life. And there are more and more charities and non-profits doing great work in our community and asking for financial support. Last weekend was the iWalk for Acts. Streetlight is trying to build the Hope Center, which would be wrap around support for the homeless in our community. My son’s PTA is doing a fundraiser for the school. In a few weeks I’ll be out selling donuts for the Cub Scouts. There are myriad local and national and international charities that will be sending us letters asking for year-end gifts. Over and over and over and over we are asked if we will support good work being done in our community through churches, schools, non-profits. Will we be generous?
And I don’t know about you, but I really want to say yes! I want to support the PTA and the Scouts and Acts and Streetlight and tithe to the church and give to the Red Cross and the American Heart Association etc. but more often than not deep down I feel like I don’t have enough to do all the things I want to provide for my family how am I supposed to give extra when I don’t have enough?
And I’m not meaning to suggest that all of us are misers who won’t give anything or who don’t have any margins. What I do believe though is that for many of us there’s a point where our desire to be generous is outpaced by the scarcity of our finances. We simply don’t have enough to give away as much as we’d like. So at some point we feel squeezed. At some point we have to say no. At some point we have to say this is all I’ve got and it’s for my family.
But I don’t know about how it is for you, but for me there’s a point where I have to say no but I don’t feel good about it. I’m not happy about it. In fact, I might even feel a little ashamed at having to say no.
13 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. 14 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.’”
Elijah responds to the woman don’t worry. Make something for me; make something for your family, share, and the jar won’t run out. And I think that’s our fear. The jar running out. Because what would that say about us? What would that say about me if the jar ran out? That I was a fool. That I ruined myself. That I’m not good. That I’m not enough. But Elijah says God won’t let the jar run out. It might not be filled to overflowing. You might not feel like there’s extra. But there will never be nothing.
15 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. 16 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.
Here’s the big twist ending. But you known what I find most surprising? Not so much that God provided. That the woman shared. She did it. She confronted her feelings of scarcity and let another person speak words of grace. And she was brave enough to be generous. She was bold enough to be generous. She was courageous enough to be generous.
God has a solution to our problem of scarcity. God has a way out. And the solution is generosity. But what I want you to know today is that the message be generous isn’t coming from a don’t worry be happy perspective. I get how hard it is. I get how dangerous it is. I get the worry and the anxiety and all the things that shout down our better angels. I get it. And I’m not saying get over the fears and the worry and the anxiety and just be generous and it’ll all be awesome. Instead what I’m saying is that if we can summon the courage to be generous, we’ll begin to find the solution to scarcity God wants us to find.
There’s a quote from Game of Thronesthat I come back to from time to time. At the beginning of the first book in the series a child Bran asks his father, “Can a man be brave even when he’s afraid?” And his father replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.” When this widow shared her what little meal she had left, despite Elijah’s direction, I don’t think she did it without fear. I think she was quite worried. I think she was afraid. Afraid that the jar would empty. Afraid that she’d be putting her son needlessly at risk. But she chose to be brave.
And here’s what I think happened when that woman was courageously generous. I think she began to see the jar differently. At first when she looked at the jar she saw scarcity. She saw something that was going to run out. But I’ll bet as day after day she went to the jar and found it wasn’t empty, I bet she began to look at that jar as abundance. We think of abundance as filled to overflowing. But I wonder if abundance is a jar of flour that simply won’t run out.
And I bet if we can summon the bravery in the face of our fears to be generous, we might begin to look at our finances as abundance. As blessing. So many of us approach our finances with fear and trembling. We don’t have enough and that quickly becomes we ourselves aren’t enough. If we were smarter, if we were more driven, if we worked harder, if we were simply more we’d have more money and everything would be fine. But it isn’t and we don’t and we are not enough. God does not want us to feel that way. God wants us to be free from the anxiety money often creates. God wants us to see His abundance and His blessing in our financial lives. I wonder if we’re able to share just a little bit more than we feel comfortable if we won’t be surprised when the jar doesn’t run out. And I wonder if that might allow us to be a little more generous. And I wonder if that isn’t how God frees us from feeling like we don’t have enough and we aren’t enough.
Before we go, though, I want to spend at least a minute asking the follow-up question. Because some of you might be like yes I’m right with you here Pastor Matt, you’re right I want to be more generous but always see scarcity and see that scarcity as a personal failing but I do believe that the jar won’t run out, I think I can be a little more generous if it means seeing what I have as blessing, but how do I do it? How do I start? Can you give me some homework?
Here’s my recommendation: pick something and give $10 a week to it. Maybe it’s ACTS. Maybe it’s Streetlight. Maybe it’s the American Cancer Society. If it’s Spirit & Life Church, I won’t fight you on it. In fact I’d thank you. But pick something. And give $10 a week. Why $10? Because while it might seem trivial, at the end of the year its over $500. If you got a letter from the American Heart Association today asking you to pledge $500 annually you’d probably say I can’t afford that. So $10 weekly is an amount you both think you can afford and can’t afford. So go home and pick something and set up recurring payments of $10 a week. And see if the jar runs out. Then maybe you up that donation to $20. Or pick another thing. And start to see, hey, we might just be blessed. We might be able to be generous. We might be able to say yes to things we didn’t think we could say yes to. We might be able to be enough to be the people we want to be. And you might be free to live more of the life God wants for you.