Monday, September 29, 2008

The Jar of Oil and the Bottle of Medicine

Do you remember the story in I Kings, about the widow who took in the prophet Elijah and gave him food and shelter--even though she didn't have enough food for herself and her son at the time? She only had a small amount of flour and some oil in a jar, barely enough for one meal. But after agreeing to share with Elijah, something amazing happened. The flour and the oil never ran out as long as he was there with her.

I know some folks are tempted to discount stories like this as mere fairy-tales. But I've heard several accounts of similar events from contemporary times. The one that comes to mind is from Corrie ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place. When she and her sister were in a Nazi concentration camp, someone managed to sneak in a small bottle of medicine. The bottle was made of dark glass and they couldn't see into it, but they figured there were only a few doses inside. But the medicine lasted and kept pouring out as long as they needed it, dosing prisoner after prisoner.

Some years ago, I made a tiny movement of faith, scaling back from a full-time to a part-time job so I would have more time to write. I was okay financially partly because my car was paid for. But it was getting old, and if I had to replace it or make major repairs, things were going to get complicated. I used to drive around in that car praying, "Lord, please make this car hold out just like the jar of oil and the bottle of medicine." And he did just that.

I'm a little scared about the economy and finances right now. Who isn't? We're facing major budget cuts where I work. Once again, I'm doing okay for now, if my car (which has over 130,000 miles on it) holds out. So a couple of nights ago, when driving home from work, I pulled out my old prayer--that God would make my car hold out like the bottle of oil and the medicine bottle.

You know God has a sense of humor, right? When I got home and opened my chronological Bible for that night's reading, guess what was there in front of me? The story of the widow, and Elijah, and the jar of oil and the handful of flour! I could just feel God smiling down at me.

I noticed something else when reading the account this time. When Elijah approaches the widow and asks for her help, she tells him that she only has enough food for one last meal for herself and her son, and she doesn't know what she will do after that. Elijah tells her not to be afraid (I wonder if she laughed at that one!) and then says something really nervy. He asks her to bake him a loaf of bread first, before she makes a meal for herself and her son.

What an incredible step of faith it must have been for this widow to do as Elijah asked--to follow God's prompting and provide for his prophet before herself or her son. And of course, it all worked out. The oil kept flowing. By letting go of that death grip she had on her meager possessions, she gained security and plenty for her family.

I just pray for that ability to follow God's leading instead of my fears. To believe in his provision for food, for cars--and for my dreams.