Have you ever been reluctant to do God’s will? Was it because you were limited in your ability, or what He asked seemed unreasonable? I know I’ve felt that way. Opportunities to obey present themselves every day, but what happens when we are unwilling?
I was recently reminded of Elijah and the widow woman in 1 Kings 17. In this passage, we read that Elijah was in such dire straits that God had commanded ravens to bring him food. When the brook he was camping by dried up from the lack of rain, God told Elijah to go to Zarephath because He had told a widow to sustain him. When Elijah showed up, he found her gathering wood for a fire because she planned to prepare the last meal for her and her son instead.
Most people focus on the blessing that followed her obedience, but I want to emphasize something just as important. Her initial reaction was in direct disobedience to what God had commanded her to do. She knew the will of God before Elijah arrived, but she chose to eat the last of her food and die rather than give it to someone else.
Now, it may seem that I am being harsh on her, but I’m not. What she did was a natural reaction, and I don’t blame her in the least. God knows I have acted selfishly on countless occasions, so I don’t begrudge her response at all. Rather, I call attention to it because it gives me hope!
That may seem like an odd thing to say, but I see myself in her misdeeds. And knowing how the story ends, I can’t help but get excited about the possibilities that lay on the other side of my own repentance and obedience. Like the proverbial carrot on a stick, hope is a powerful motivator. Acting on a partial revelation is dangerous, and partial revelation is one without hope.
The word she received from God only told her to care for Elijah, so the blessing beyond her obedience was unknown to her at the time. She had no provision, no promise, and no prospect of change. She had no motive to do God’s will save the knowledge that she would have obeyed. To paraphrase her own words, she had nothing to look forward to but death. Can anyone blame her for responding the way she did? I can’t.
After she told Elijah her plans, he revealed the rest of the word from God and promised that if she obeyed, the meal and oil would not fail as long as the drought continued. Now she had hope! Death was no longer a near certainty. She and her son would survive.
Hope is an integral part of our willingness to act. I have been taught my whole life that I should never do anything expecting to receive something in return, but that attitude isn’t reflected anywhere in the Bible. For the Joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. Paul pressed on toward the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus. And for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that mankind would be redeemed to Him.
Mind you, we don’t have the right to expect anything from the recipient of our action or giving, but it is an affront to God’s character to not expect Him to reward us. Jesus said that when you give in secret, God rewards us openly. Give and it shall be given unto you. Sow a seed and you reap a harvest. These are principles that the Kingdom holds inviolate and they are exemplified everywhere in scripture. To deny it is foolish and prideful.
Despite the many times I have acted contrary to what I felt God wanted me to do, my ultimate obedience to Him always paid off in spades! Every time I doubted His word, refused to see things His way, or resisted His call, He always met me with open arms and hope at my slightest relent.
Our doubt, indecision, and stubbornness are no match for His designs. He is a master strategist, so don’t think for one second that your eventual obedience to His direction is a disappointment. He is overjoyed! While a moment in time may have passed, it’s never too late to get involved in His plans.
The devil will do his best to convince us the opposite is true. He can’t see beyond our actions. He doesn’t understand God’s plan, so the second we deviate from what he knows about it, the devil is right there condemning us for it. But if we dwell upon our shortcomings, we are in danger of letting them destroy us. When repentance is as simple as saying we’re sorry and picking up where we left off, why would we let regret fester in our heart?
God works through our willingness, even if it’s reluctant. The next time you feel like He is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, ask yourself if your reticence springs from a hope that is based on your own ability and not God’s. Remember, if God inspired a fatalistic, frightened widow to carry out His will, then there’s a blessed hope for us all, and it springs eternal!