We’re not the first people in history to face economic challenges. Far from it. But still. These days it feels like our volatile economy, soaring unemployment rates, financial uncertainty and worries about finding a job, keeping a job or managing on a fixed (or disappearing) income make our current circumstances more, well, frightening than many of us have ever known.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” we may cry with Thomas Paine. Or we may loosely paraphrase him: “This really stinks.”
It’s easy to spout platitudes, even to ourselves, but it’s harder—much harder—to think, believe and pray in such a way that actually helps. We should, of course, give ourselves permission to pray, simply, “Help!” or “Get me out of this,” which are similar prayers to the way our Savior prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I pray those a lot, myself. But there’s another kind of prayer I rely on in scary economic situations. I call it “a Zarephath prayer.”
It’s based on an incident in the life of Elijah, when God sent him to a widow in a town called Zarephath. She lived with her son, and had only enough flour and oil in the house for one more meal. Her plan, she told Elijah, was to “make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (1 Kings 17:12, NIV). She was exhausted and out of options.
But Elijah told her to cancel her plans:
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah (1 Kings 17:13-16, NIV).
That account has often inspired my prayers when I’ve felt financially exhausted and out of options. In fact, as I look back in my prayer journal, I see a succession of four prayers I have used—sometimes in quick succession, other times over a period of weeks—in times of need:
1) Lord God Adonai, let it be to me as it was to the widow of Zarephath. Let the jar of flour not be used up and the jug of oil not run dry until the day you send showers of blessing on me, my home, my land, my life. Amen.
2) Abba, Father, Yahweh Yireh, my Provider, I know that what looks to me like severe cash flow challenges in the weeks and months to come are no different to you than a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. What you did for the widow of Zarephath through your servant Elijah, please do for me and, more importantly, for my household, in Jesus’ name, amen.
3) Lord God Adonai, my defender and provider, I pray once more as I have prayed before: let it be to me as it was to the widow of Zarephath. You know my need of the moment; you know my need in the future. You know what is yet to come in, and what is yet to go out. You know the state of my jars, the condition of my pantry. I lean on you still, I depend on you to make much of little and enough of not enough, in Jesus’ name, amen.
I’m grateful and reassured by a fourth Zarephath prayer that I have also prayed on occasion, giving thanks that God answered:
4) Lord God Adonai, You have been to me as You were to the widow of Zarephath. You have supplied and sustained and showered Your blessing on me, my home, my work, my life. Please let Your faithfulness to me through these scary times of need and adjustment and faith be remembered in the future whenever I am tempted to doubt Your provision, amen.
These prayers help me believe that, if God replenished a poor widow’s store of flour and oil, He can also see me through times of scarcity and want.