Word for the Week: The Frustration of Dependence
Go... to Zarephath... I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.
1 Kings 17:9
At Kerith, Elijah was dependent on the direct provision of God. In Zarephath, he became dependent on a poor Gentile widow. Elijah was by nature a doer – a passionate man who liked to take and hold the initiative. What was God teaching him? What might he be teaching us?
First, perhaps, that we need to relinquish the control over our own lives. Difficult for Elijah. Difficult for many of us today. We want to do our own thing, in our own way. We may have sought to hand the control of our lives to God. But in the everyday matters of work, church and home, we may be very reluctant to pass initiative and responsibility to another person.
And, in Elijah’s case, what a person! A woman, a widow, and a Gentile. It is hard for us to appreciate Elijah’s humiliation. Perhaps, for him, this emptying of himself was the necessary preparation for his challenge to the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. For us, too, a renunciation may be a prelude to a new challenge, a new opportunity, a new blessing.
For some of us, however, there is no prospect of any alleviation of the state of dependence. Old age or chronic illness may sentence us for the rest of our lives to the humiliation of being cared for, intimately, by others. John Milton, on becoming blind, railed against God for denying him the use of his talents; but God reminded him that usefulness did not depend on activity: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’
We want to serve God, and we think that we must do this by serving other people. And so we may deceive ourselves that we are indispensable. But in order that one person may serve, another has to submit to being served. So the self-reliant Director may delegate crucial negotiations to a junior colleague, the competent wife and mother agree to sit down while her semi-skilled family cooks supper, the activist pastor allow a young church member to pray for him in the presence of the congregation.
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