Dr. Charles Lake, Senior Pastor, Community Church of Greenwood

Greenwood, Indiana

Summary: The focus of this message is simple: God’s Word says to us, ?Obedience always assures provision. Obey the Lord and He will provide for your need.? You will be drawn into the true stories Dr. Lake uses to illustrate this key principle.

The consequence of obedience

Elijah and the widow of Zarephath have a lot in common! First of all, the word of the Lord comes to both of them. In 1 Kings 17:2 we read, ?The word of the Lord came to Elijah.? And that word was clear. The word of the Lord also came to the widow when God commanded her to provide Elijah with food (vs. 9). Both hear the word of the Lord.

A second comparison is the way they respond to what they hear. Both are obedient. Verses 5 and 15 say Elijah and the widow did what the Lord told them to do. Both hear God’s Word; both obey. And each experiences the conse­quence of obedience. In the morning and evening Elijah receives food from the raven, and drinks from the Brook Cherith. This provision for his need is there because he obeys. As for the widow, verse 16 says the oil was not used up and the jug did not run dry, in keeping with the Word of the Lord. Because she obeys, provision is made for her need.

The focus of this message is very simple. God’s Word says to us, ?Obedi­ence always assures provision. Obey the Lord and He will provide for your need.?

Three in one-hundred

George Barna, Christian pollster, released this survey result: ?In 1995 among Christians in North America, no more than eight percent pay tithe to their local church.? Five years later, the percentage dropped from eight to three percent.

As a child, my parents taught me the lesson of tithing. The first dollar Dad paid me for a chore was ten dimes. He explained that one of the dimes belonged to the Lord. Actually he said they all belonged to God, but I was to give back one-tenth. The other nine I could keep. God used my father to teach me about the joy of giving.

My friend had a sister who was called by God to be a missionary. She went away to Bible college, one of nineteen children! There was no money, so she worked her way through school. Mid-way through her training, she was broke. She didn’t even have enough money to buy food for her supper. She cried out in self-pity to the Lord: ?I’ve answered Your call. I’ve been obedient to Your Word. I’ve done everything You told me to do and put You first in my life. Here I am, without enough money to even buy a bar of soap to keep myself clean!?

That Saturday when she walked out of the dormitory onto a quiet campus, she saw a man with a bag over his shoulder approaching her from the opposite direction. As he move toward her he said, ?Ma’m, I notice you are deep in thought. I don’t want to intrude, but

could I give you a sample product from my company?? He handed her a bar of soap and she began to weep. The salesman responded, ?I’ve offended you.?

?No, not at all,? she said. Then she told him her story. He looked at her and said, ?Ma’m, I’m getting tired. My day is over, and I still have a satchel of soap; take it all. It’s yours.? This is the way God sustains His children—from sources totally unexpected, and listen carefully, even if it means using ravens to supply bread by night and day! God supplies the needs of His children when they are obedient to His will and His purpose.

Four reasons why

Why aren’t we more obedient to Christ in this area? Why isn’t the treasury of the church overflowing so that we may reach and bless all with the message of Christ? I don’t know all the reasons, but I want to suggest a few.

First, many people don’t tithe because their lifestyle exceeds their income. They need more to live on than what they earn. We need to simplify our lifestyle. In working with people who are financially overextended, I have discovered that with prayer and discipline, they can get out of debt and become faithful tithers. God honors this process. I have also found that these people often spend money on things they can’t afford. You begin by advising them that, at least for now, they delay such purchases. There may be nothing wrong in the expenditure itself, but they cannot bear these financial liabilities.

We don’t have ?call waiting? on our telephone, or cable television. I do not want these monthly obligations in the stewardship of my resources. Everyone must live according to their own judgment, but if your lifestyle exceeds your income, you can certainly sacrifice these items. The key is to simply study your lifestyle to see where your money is going, and find what can be sacrificed in order to put God first.

Secondly, some people’s income is not adequate to support their everyday life! In this case, the response would be, ?Increase your income.? You may reply, ?That’s easy for you to say!? But think about it for a moment. I’ve heard some say, ?Pastor, I’m in a hole. The training I have limits me in what I’m able to accomplish.? So, why not increase your training? Today there are vocational schools, night classes, and retraining programs, and if we are willing to catch a vision, we’re never too old to learn. God wants us to be stewards of what He places in our care. Increasing our income may be possible, if we are willing to try and let God lead us to productive living!

The third reason people don’t give is because they are deeply in debt! It is not uncommon for me to talk with individuals who have $5000 to $10,000 of credit card debt. And many see no light at the end of the tunnel. When you can’t find your way out, seek help. It’s there! Honor God with your stewardship. Let Him teach you the lessons of spending and saving and earning.

And God said what?

Unfortunately, the fourth reason is human self-centeredness. Many delight in God’s blessings, but keep these to themselves. I was in college when a great campus ministry, America Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, published a magazine entitled, His. One month they ran a story that really made people irate! I’ll never forget reading it.

The story tells of a young man who starts his own business. He believes it is a great opportunity and that God is leading him. So the young man prays, ?Lord, I’m starting this business, and I seek your blessing. If you’ll honor me, I’ll honor you. I’ll run my business by ethical principles and the teaching of your Word, and I’ll honor you in my giving.? God keeps His part of the bargain and honors the young man. The man prospers, but fails to keep his part of the bargain and doesn’t honor God with his tithe.

The young man loses everything, and in desperation, cries out to God, ?Forgive me, I have sinned against you. Give me another chance, and I’ll prove my faithfulness and honor you.? Again, God honors His word, but the young man doesn’t. Again, he loses everything! He is back to zero, starting over again. He cries out to God for another chance. And God honors him. But he doesn’t, and he loses it all. For the fourth time he cries to God, ?I repent, just give me one more chance. Honor me and I’ll honor you.? And God replies, ?Shut up.? And when people read this story, they cancelled their subscription!

I don’t believe God would respond this way, but there is a point for us to consider. There comes a time in the mercy of God that He withdraws His hand to bless us. It could be that some people don’t have more than they do because God hasn’t been able to bless them with what they do have. If He can’t trust us with what we have, how would He dare bless us with more if it leads us to even greater disobedience?

There is no magic to tithing—no guarantee of prosperity. But there is the guarantee of obedience. Of knowing that when we honor the Lord and put Him first, He binds Himself to the commitment to honor us.

An important lesson

Look at the story of the widow of Zarephath again. Elijah says to her, ?Bring me a drink.? No problem. But as she goes, Elijah says, ?Bring me a piece of bread too.? I don’t know of a more pathetic passage in the Bible—a widow and her son, ready to make their last little cake to eat before they die. The supply is gone, and Elijah says, ?Don’t just give me part of it; give me mine first.?

How egotistical, Elijah, to think that your needs are greater than those of a widow and her son! But God is teaching her an important lesson through the prophet. Honor God first, and then, when you go to the jar of oil and use what is there, the next time you go, the supply will be renewed. And when you use up the flour and go back to the jar, you’ll find there is more! As long as there is famine in the land, there will be food for my children to eat because obedience assures provision.

Three percent of American Christians trust God enough to take Him at His Word and tithe their income to His church. Are you one of them? Can you stand in the test of faithfulness to a God who can be proven true and who will never allow you to outgive Him? It is a matter of obedience, when we put Him first by honoring the ?first fruits? of all He places within our care.

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October–December, 2003

Stewardship