Nothing tests a person’s priorities more than an empty stomach.
A severe drought plagued Israel, but in the midst of the famine God provided for Elijah. Ravens brought the faithful prophet bread and meat twice a day and he drank water from a nearby brook. Eventually, though, the brook dried up—and it looked like hope was drying up, too, until God provided for Elijah through an unexpected source. A poor widow was gathering sticks to build a fire so she could make one final meal for herself and her son before they died of starvation. Elijah told the woman, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me” (1 Kings 17:13). In light of the widow’s desperate situation, Elijah’s request seems unreasonable. How could he insist, “First give me some bread”?
The widow, however, appears to have viewed Elijah’s request as a positive test of faith rather than a selfish demand. Perhaps thinking, “What do I have to lose?” she followed the prophet’s instructions and miraculously “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” (1 Kings 17:15, 16). When the widow put God first, he met her needs and provided enough to share with the visiting prophet as well.
Firstfruits, Not Last Fruits
Something akin to the experience of the widow was built into the Law of Moses. Before feeding themselves, the Hebrews were required to offer the first grain of the harvest to God. Hardworking farmers deserve to enjoy the fruit of their labor, but God was to be their first priority. The Law specified, “You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God” (Leviticus 23:14). What can we learn from this Old Testament practice?
1. Don’t forget God. Bringing the first harvest grain as an offering reminded the Hebrews that they relied on the Lord for the productivity of their fields. Likewise, we rely on God for our paychecks and for every other blessing we enjoy. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
2. Don’t make God an afterthought. The Lord deserves the firstfruits, not the last fruits—the cream of the crop, not the leftovers. God should come first in our financial plans. It’s fine to give spontaneously in response to urgent needs, but planned, systematic tithes and offerings also honor the Lord by putting him ahead of any budgetary expenses. We exercise good stewardship when we set aside a portion of our income and present it to the Lord “on the first day of every week” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
By putting God first, we will not be shortchanged. Jesus promised, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Are we willing to give God the first day of every week, the first moments of every day, the first dime of every dollar, and the first place in our hearts?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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