I wasn’t anticipating the sight that greeted me as I entered the room. It was the second morning of camp and I had gone in to wake a group of 10 year old girls, expecting to find them still sleeping, but instead I discovered them all huddled together on one bed, gathered round a girl who was reading from the Bible. She had bought it the previous day from the camp bookstall and had been so excited to finally have a Bible of her own. Ever since she got it she had hardly stopped reading it, but I wasn’t expecting a Bible study to be in full flow at 7.30 in the morning! As I made my way into the room, one of the girls exclaimed, “The story of Elijah and the widow is exactly the same as Jesus feeding the 5000!”
I was sorry to have to break up the discussion to tell them it was time to get showered and dressed. I loved their enthusiasm and the way they were engaging with the Bible. None of these girls came from Christian families, and it was exciting to see what God was doing and how they were exploring the Bible and making connections for themselves.
As I thought back to the statement I had overheard as I entered though, it struck me that while the stories are certainly very similar, they are not exactly the same. In both cases, food is miraculously provided, but there is one significant difference, because where one speaks of enough, the other shouts of abundance.
For Elijah and the widow the jars of flour and oil never emptied. Each day they used some and yet, still, a little remained . They never had full containers, or even a week’s supply; they never had food to spare, but they always had just enough for the next meal.
Certainly there are still times when God provides in this way- giving us just enough strength for the moment, just enough light for the next step. Often these are the times when we learn to trust.
But maybe there are also times when we need to set our sights higher, because when Jesus feeds the 5000 it is different. Not only is there enough to fully satisfy the crowd, but there are also twelve basketfuls of leftovers- an abundance of food!
There is a similar feature in other New Testament stories:
- Peter, James and John have been working all night but have caught no fish. Jesus tells them to go out again, throwing their nets over the other side of the boat, and suddenly they have more fish than they know what to do with! Not just an ordinary catch, or even a good catch, but an abundant catch of fish, so great that the nets are breaking!
- The wine runs out at a wedding party so Jesus provides- not just a small amount to keep them going, but six large jars full- probably about 500-600 litres- of the best wine they have ever tasted!
- A Samaritan woman comes to the well, looking for physical water to sustain her temporarily, but instead she meets with Jesus and receives an abundance of living water: “Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving the eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Jesus didn’t come to give us “just enough” but to give us an abundance. Because we are united with him we have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:3 NLT). Because we belong to him, his grace is “poured out on us.” (Ephesians 1:6 NLT) “He has showered his kindness on us along with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:8 NLT) In him we are “more than conquerors.” (Romans 8:37 NIV) “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3)
It challenges me to trust in God’s abundant provision: to remember, when I don’t feel enough, that his power in me is more than enough, and to step out in faith, believing that.
It challenges me to pray bigger prayers, to remember the one I’m praying to and have faith for bigger things.
It also challenges me about my response. Do I seek to give God “just enough” or do I respond abundantly, willingly giving my all, even when I feel that what I have to offer is inadequate?
Because the girls were right- the stories of the widow and the boy are very much alike, and there is another important similarity: they gave their all. It didn’t seem like much, but their willingness to give what they had and to place it in the hands of God allowed them to take part in the miracle and witness his provision, and it challenges me to do the same.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)