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A sense of enough

By Rev. Charles Qualls

What is the craziest-sounding thing someone has ever told you to do? Twice, I have gone ziplining. If you’ve never ziplined, they put you into this harness. You have a helmet on. You are simply hanging there in space as you fly along a cable up overhead between two points.

As your turn arrives, they clip the harness onto the zipline itself. All of it is heavy-duty. All of it is safe, assuming nothing breaks. They give you all the instructions you need. They tell you how to get started and how to stop when you reach the end. Then, they tell you to step off the platform. That’s where everything inside you will protest.

This week’s scripture text in 1 Kings 17: 8-16 involved not just one, but two such examples. Elijah was sent to tell the mighty king Ahab news of an impending drought. Prophets who delivered bad news could find themselves in danger fast, especially if that bad news hinted that the looming misfortune might have been caused by something the powerful rulers had done.

God told Elijah to go give the bad news and then hide out for two years. No matter how one might add this all up, Elijah’s assignment didn’t sound desirable. Was the notion that Ahab’s reaction to the news would be so bad a little overstated? It says, “There was no nation that Ahab did not send to seek after Elijah.”

He wanted the prophet found and brought to him. So, Elijah’s assignment was pretty unthinkable. I have found that bad news is pretty hard to give in just the right way. Telling someone “no” when they want a “yes” is never easy. Don’t you think? When folks make a suggestion, they never seem to consider that you might need to say no.

Another pretty obvious example of someone being asked to do something that made no sense involves Elijah instructing the widow at Zarephath to take her last handful of meal and make him a cake to eat. Flour and meal were basic commodities then, as now, in cooking and survival. They were not luxuries.

If this woman was down to her last handful to cook with, she was destitute. As Elijah encounters her, in fact, she is out doing what she can to make any money. Or, she is gathering sticks in order to be able to make a fire for baking. “I will bake a cake for me and my son and then we will die,” she says. She has given up. Her resolve for life is gone. She’s exhausted.

Let me ask you another question. What seems to be your greatest deficit in your life? I talk with people all the time who are coping, dealing from out of what they see as scarcity in their lives.

Your scarcity might be financial or relational. Maybe a dream that you haven’t been able to work hard enough to make come true. You may feel lonely. Your scarcity might be the lack of a second chance to right a wrong, or to take a chance that you never took. Maybe now it truly is too late.

Your scarcity might be grief. That person you once had is gone now. Everyone around you knows that this is your burden you carry. Your understandably broken heart is a deficit. A scarcity in your life.

Scarcity is not limited to individual people. I’ve known towns and cities that lived a collective wish that they had more, and it kept them from seeing clearly that they did at least have enough. I’ve known entire families that felt life hadn’t dealt them a fair shake. Companies often force mistakes because they think they need to be bigger. I’ve known churches that couldn’t see the wonder of what they did have because there is always a scarcity of this ministry or that type of people. They couldn’t see how beautiful their fellowship was with what they did have.

There was a fellow who sat in a diner and drank iced tea for hours while he worked. Eventually, he asked the server for more sugar. She held up his glass to the light and there was a large layer of sugar down in the bottom. “Why don’t you stir what you’ve got,” she advised. Though our pain can be real, though our need may be urgent, God is never done with us. Maybe we could stir what we do have and find newness of life.