The Answer in Economic Famine—Serve First

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The economy. It's on everyone's mind. Will I get laid off? Will I be able to find a new job? Will my business go bankrupt? Will I be able to pay my bills? How can I make the money stretch? Those are just a few questions facing business people today.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, real GDP decreased at an annual rate of 3.8 percent, according to this report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. Since December 2007, employment has gone down by 3.6 million, with approximately half of those jobs lost in the three months of November 2008-January 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the unemployment rate spiked to 7.6 percent in January 2009. And in the midst of these economic downturns, a November survey by the Barna Group shows that giving to churches and other charities has sharply decreased.

But is that how the Bible tells us to respond to economic hard times? Is it okay to pull in, look out for number one, take care of ourselves before we take care of others?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:31, 33, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

But what does that look like in real life? How does it apply in an economic famine? Perhaps the story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings 17:7-24 can shed some valuable light.

Elijah tells King Ahab that there will be no dew or rain for the next few years, except by Elijah's word. The lack of rain causes a drought, which causes a famine. Economic hard times, indeed.

When Elijah's brook dries up, God sends him to Zarephath, a town on the Mediterranean, outside of Israelite territory. There, he meets a widow, the poorest of all society, and asks her for water and bread.

She responds, "I don't have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die" (v. 12). She has nothing saved up, so how can she be expected to give to Elijah? Surely God would want her to take care of her child first.

Yet, Elijah says to her, "Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son" (v. 13). He asks her to serve first, before she takes care of herself and her son. He asks her to believe that God's word is true not only in good times, but especially in bad ones.

Despite her economic circumstances, despite the fact that she's a Gentile and he's a Jew, the widow chooses to serve. The Bible tells us, "She went away and did as Elijah had told her" (v. 15). She chooses to not worry about tomorrow. Instead, she obeys before she sees God's provision. Only after she obeys do we discover that, "there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family" (v. 15).

Like the widow, God also asks us to serve first, even in economic hard times. So, what might this look like for us?

First, like the widow and Elijah, instead of pulling back, we can seek to invest more deeply in relationships. In our personal lives, we can invite more people over to share meals, share times of entertainment, and give our time more freely to help others in our areas of expertise. Can you help solve someone's computer problems? Can you help clean their house? Can you advise them with financial issues? How can you use your particular skills to serve others?

Businesses can seek to serve customers more, rather than less, during these times. We can offer extra services at reduced prices. Employees can choose to take pay cuts in order to avoid layoffs.

In tough economic times, God calls us not to draw back into ourselves, but to give more, care more, and invest more in relationships with those around us. He calls us not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to love our neighbors as ourselves, personally as well as in our business relationships.

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