When money is tight or ideas fail, when leaders deceive or coworkers turn, it can be hard to discern what faithfulness to a particular calling looks like. Labored prayer and conversations with friends often include questions like, “How much do I let my family feel these financial risks?” Or if you aren’t married, anyone can wonder, “What is good for my sanity and health? Was it the Lord who called me here or was it my ambition? Is the present evil a sign that I must leave or is it just the first bell of many rounds in a long fight?”
Rarely do we have quick answers that are clear. And rarely does any calling come with a list of adversities one encounters so he or she can be prepared to avoid disappointments or unknown sacrifices. For the Christian, the unknowns appear to be part of the crafting of our faith, not only in who God is but also in the path He calls us to travel. In shaping our faith, these unknowns conform us to the likeness of His son in whom is every spiritual blessing.
In one quick verse about calling and God’s inscrutable particularity, Jesus mentions the prophet Elijah visiting the widow of Sidon as told in Samuel-Kings. Jesus’ application of the story enrages His listeners as He highlights a man who, hundreds of years earlier, carries out his calling in one of the most spiritually dark regimes on Israel’s record. Elijah’s whole life is a worthwhile study, but the small snapshot of his time with the widow shows how he too is under a cruel leader with “coworkers” who’ve turned, i.e. false prophets. He’s on the brink of starvation laboring in a land judged by famine when the Lord sends him to someone suffering worse than he.
“Go to Zarepath….I have commanded a widow to feed you.”
If this solution doesn’t strike you as utterly ridiculous, it should. Elijah, God’s prophet is sent in utter humility to even humbler circumstances to depend on a woman who has no ability to provide what he needs. She is foreign, poor, and has no husband. You can just imagine it today: “Ladies and gentlemen, I know the project has run out of funding and I can’t even feed myself, but don’t worry. I’m flying to Ethiopia to ask a woman living in a refugee camp to feed me.”
Though it would make most investors balk, God’s calling is to Elijah and the widow, and His glory is displayed before their eyes only. Elijah’s work does not make sense to the public world yet, but prior to this God has confirmed His love and power to him privately, and that makes all the difference.
Before sending Elijah to the widow, God sent him to hide by a brook by himself where He commanded ravens to feed him. They come, and no one else sees it. But this divine sustenance is enough to take Elijah faithfully on each terrifying leg of his journey that, frankly, only gets harder from here. And isn’t this what we have on Sundays at the Lord’s table? A mysterious sign that confounds the wise and gives us the strength to do God’s bidding?
When Elijah reaches the woman and asks for food, she tells him she’s gathering sticks to prepare her last meal with her son, and then they will die.
“Do not be afraid,” Elijah says, and instructs her to make bread for him first and then for herself and her son because, “…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 Lord gives rain on the land.’ ”
She obeys, and she and her household are saved in more ways than one (See 1 Kings 17). From there, the Lord sends Elijah from this second hidden place to one of power where Elijah takes center stage among the cultural and cultic elite. But this work comes only after Elijah’s dependence and faith has been built on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Elijah’s calling and suffering first sends him into the life of one suffering worse than he, where both are blessed beyond measure with the glory and provision of the Lord. It’s an unbelievable story.
Discerning our callings and the daily steps they require is difficult—sometimes unbelievable—work, and we’re not always promised earthly security. But we are never starved of God’s word and His fatherly direction. We also can seek Him at the communion table with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and see what we find, being conformed to the image of His son so that we can go out together as the blessed ones who bless.
Shannon Geiger is a counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, and she and her husband Josh are working in a bilingual church plant in the Latino community of Dallas.