In the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17), God told Elijah to go to Zarephath and live there during the drought, "For I have commanded a widow there to feed you."
From the widow's response to Elijah's request to bring him bread, we are left to believe that the widow had no inkling of God's command orElijah's need for "bed and breakfast."
Elijah told her that if she prepared bread for him, God would provide for her and her son. What resulted is a theme repeated throughout the Bible: "Give first to the Lord, and God will provide for all your needs."
The Apostle Paul must have known the story of Elijah and the widow, for he repeats the theme in his epistles. In 2 Corinthians, he encourages church members to give to the poor: "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8).
In 2 Corinthians 8:5, he wrote, "First they gave themselves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God." Again in 2 Corinthians 9:11: "You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."
Here, as elsewhere in the Bible, we are encouraged to give our "first fruits" to the Lord. By honoring and thanking him, God will enable us to live abundantly with the remainder of our resources.
I believe that God instructs us to make promises and commitments to him with the same resolve we bring to making payments for a car or a house.
So it puzzled me recently when a devotional guide stated it is OK for church members to say, "I never make a financial commitment to the church because I don't want to make a promise I can't keep."
The pastor and the parishioner missed the point: All commitments are made by God's people with the understanding and trust that God will help them to fulfill the commitment, especially if they honor God first with the fruits of their labors and tithing time and talent (spiritual gifts).
Mona Bagasao-Cave used her spiritual gifts well in her interpretation of Giovanni Savoldo's (Italian 1480-1548) painting Elijah Fed by the Raven:
"Here we see the prophet hiding from those who would take his life. Hated and sought by Ahab after prophesying that a drought would come, Elijah is told by God to go hide by the Wadi Cherith where the ravens would feed him.
"Though Elijah is protected by God from a death sentence and though he is nourished and fed by God, we see the intense strain on Elijah's face. Certainly he is weary; perhaps his patience is wearing thin. He may feel fear, loneliness, doubt. But in the distance, unknown to this humble man who appears to find no solace in a raven's company, we spy a chariot riding across the sky. It is the chariot that eventually will take him home.
"Our lives as prophets of God are often uncomfortable. We sit in the wilderness and wait, crumbs of bread and drops of water our only nourishment. We are afraid, isolated, despondent. But let us take hope! Not only are we being fed special food and drink, we can rest assured that God's chariot is there, just out of our vision, dancing across the sky, 'coming for to carry us home."'
Dr. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian minister who serves as a family therapist.