I Kings 17:8-16
The Big Request
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

I am indebted to an article by Ron Haas in the Fall 2010 issue of Outcomes magazine for opening my eyes to the significance in the widow’s life of a request made by Elijah. He asked her to do something difficult. She consented. Her life was never the same. As we stand at a doorway entering in to a new year, as we pass the threshold, I trust you’ll prayerfully consider five big requests for 2011.
We Baptists voluntarily decide how to live out the Christian life, but maybe these five requests at this momentous season would cause us to see things in a new way, from a different angle. Due to our sin nature, we all have blind spots. We need them exposed. To know what and where they are, someone has to probe us to help us see our life differently (Radical, p. 107). Maybe our paradigm could shift, and our lives would never be the same again, due to our five big requests.
I Kings 17:8-16 (Holman) Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there.” So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow woman gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.” As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked – only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.” The Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. Only make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterwards, you may make some for yourself and your son, for this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.” So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. She and he and her household ate for many days. The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord He had spoken through Elijah.
In a time of severe famine, Elijah asked a widow for water and bread, a reasonable request, except for the fact she and her son were starving to death. She chose to grant the prophet’s request. The result was a miracle, an unending food supply. The five big requests I’ll make of us for 2011 may seem hard, but please pray about saying yes. Maybe our lives will be changed forever as a result.
Elijah’s question resulted in her rearranging her priorities. Before Elijah asked, she had a plan: fix one meal; then die. Elijah’s request shook her paradigm. She had to choose to decide what would be her first priority, giving or hoarding.
Elijah’s request and her appropriate response triggered God’s blessing for all involved. Elijah benefited by receiving food, but the biggest winners, by far, were the widow and her son. They immediately went from starvation to abundance.
I’m not advocating health and wealth theology. I am reminding us the best benefit of giving goes to givers, not receivers. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35). Paul taught this. “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that is increasing to your account” (Philippians 4:17). In Heaven, those who asked will thank the givers, and the givers will thank those who asked.
When Elijah asked, the widow balked, facing the tension we all face when deciding to tithe or not. “If I give 10% to the Lord, will 90% be enough for me?” A huge issue in deciding to give to God is, how much should I take for my use, and how much should be funneled to God’s work that is totally separate from me.

“How much?” is the bugaboo question, especially for people who convey to God’s work very little of what’s been entrusted to them. As one pundit said, “When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.” These can be the ones most aggravated at the “how much” issue. It is amazing, but true, the more people give to the Lord, the less they tend to worry about the “how much” question.

The Bible gives only one guiding principle on the “how much” issue. The starting point for giving is ten percent. In the Bible, Abraham was the first to tithe (Genesis 14:20). By tithing to Melchizedek, Abraham admitted he was in the presence of someone greater than himself (Hebrews 7:7). It is no coincidence the first act of tithing was an acknowledgement of Lordship. Tithing is an act of worship. Many people don’t know this, and some conveniently forget it.

Melody Jenkins took an unchurched friend to church. As the organ played the offertory, Melody put in her tithe. The other girl immediately dug in her purse for money, and later told Melody she was glad she was able to tip the organist.

Church members often forget tithing is worship. Hosea Bilyeu, Pastor at Ridgecrest, received on a guest card, “Don’t send me anything about tithing. I just want to know about devoting my life to Christ.” Huh? Tithing is an expression of devotion. I like the bumper sticker: Tithe if you love Jesus; any fool can honk.

Tithing is worship, and only God can be its legitimate object. Ultimately, He is the receiver of our offerings. We church leaders need to be ever mindful of this, and often remind our people, “God is at work through our church’s ministry. Would you like to join us, and be engaged in His mission, His movement? Will you partner with us by investing in things that last for eternity?”

Our first big request for you in 2011 deals, appropriately, with worship. We want your devotion to grow. Before any of us can give our money aright, we must give ourselves as an offering. Having a daily time set aside for organized prayer is vital, but for 2011, we want our focus to be reading the Word daily.

Let’s read the entire Bible together as Pastor and people, each of us using the same through-the-Bible reading guide. If you miss a day, circle the page number, and read it later. As you later read the missed day, x through the circle. For us to do this together, I’ll have to change the plan I have used every year since 1976.

I’ll alter my way of doing it (you know how much I hate change) to help you join me. I’ll even try to make comments on Facebook or my blog about what we are reading – Oh my, what am I saying? – Like you, I’m already too busy, but I believe in this spiritual discipline enough to personally sacrifice for you to share the journey with me. For 2011, big request number one: Read the whole Bible.

Elijah’s request forced the widow to take spiritual inventory. Would she trust God? We ask you, “Will you trust God with the first 10% of your income?”

Tithing is the only thing God challenged His people to prove Him on. “Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure” (Malachi 3:10). Some churches take God’s in-your-face dare so seriously that they promise to return people’s tithe if the Lord does not obviously bless them. I’m not that spiritual.

Let me gently challenge you who do not tithe. When you receive your year-end statement from our church, determine what percent you gave in 2010. Try to raise it in 2011 by two percentage points. I challenge you to move step by step in the direction of ten percent. I think you will never regret the effort.

Benny Gard tells of a single mom who felt too poor to tithe. He urged her to start where she was financially, and increase her giving as she could. In January she gave 1%; she had a little money left over, so in February she gave 2%. Each month she gave one percentage point more. She was giving 12% by December.

A caution. Give God the first ten percent, not the last. “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest” (Proverbs 3:9). Let me draw a mental image for you. Imagine the ninety percent of our income we can keep as being nine tennis balls. If we give God the first ten percent, it looks to be the size of a golf ball. If we give the last 10%, it grows to look like the size of a basketball. The longer we keep God’s tithe, the harder it is to give it up. The last tenth is tougher to give than the first tenth.

Sid Aslin posted on Facebook that when he started tithing he had to mail the check to church if he was not going to be at church so he wouldn’t be tempted to spend it another way. Wise words. To be safe, some tithe by direct deposit. For 2011, big request number two: tithe, or give two percentage points more.

The next request asks you to be directly involved in helping the poor. An emphasis for us this year at GIC will be helping hands-on with eliminating poverty.

Second needs to reach around the world to help the poor. Every day 26,000 children die of starvation or a preventable disease. One billion people live on less than one dollar a day. Two billion live on under two dollars per day. This is less than you and I spend each day on lunch. Does this not bother us?

We want to emphasize also our need to help relieve the plight of the poor here in Springfield. Many of us enjoy living in the upstanding, nice outer edges of Springfield, yet are clueless about the painful inner core of our city.

(INTERVIEW JIM HARRIGER)

Second wants you to give yourself to touching the poor. For 2011, big request number three: Work with the poor hands-on, hopefully through one of Second’s world-wide partners, or one of our 20 Springfield ministry partners.

1