Summary: In times of scarcity or stress, two personalities respond: fear, the cup half empty; and faith, the cup half full.
A few moments ago we sang, "Drop Thy still dews of quietness, Till all our strivings cease; Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of Thy peace."
Those are beautiful words; they are lofty sentiments. But how? How can such things happen? In an insane world, how can this be?
Till all our strivings cease? Doesn’t that undercut something basic about working hard? Strivings cease? How can that be?
Ordered lives? Who’s got an ordered life? Ask my wife what my study looks like when I’m preparing to preach. Was Hurricane Marilyn through here? Who can live an ordered life to confess the beauty of God’s peace?
Beautiful words, lofty sentiments. But how?
The times were hard. Harder than any they had ever seen. Everywhere you went, you heard the complaints. No work! No money! No food! No nothing! Hard, hard times.
It seemed as though everyone was sick. They coughed and wheezed, they complained of nausea. Everywhere there were signs of malnutrition.
The worst cases, of course, were the children. With those distended bellies. With yellowing teeth and bowed legs. With such weakness that they were susceptible to every disease that came along. Who could even stand to look at the children? It made you feel despair.
Hard, hard times. The hardest.
For many months now there had been no rain. And so the crops, such as they were, were poor, stunted things. No one would buy them. If you tried to eat them yourself, you found them worthless.
The livestock: Poor things, they moaned and groaned all night long, until you couldn’t sleep. But then you learned that when they stopped their terrible moans, it was not because they had found food and not because they had gone to sleep. No, they were quiet only when they had died. Hard, hard times. The very hardest.
Everyone met the situation by doing more with less. There really wasn’t any choice. You couldn’t get more, so you had to do more with less. You stretched everything you had, even though it already seemed stretched to the breaking point. If you had something, you made it last. No more of this business of having to have the newest and the latest of everything. If you still had last year’s clothes, no longer did you listen to the siren songs of fashion; you just put a new ribbon here and added a little something there, and thought of it as new. You had to do more with less. If your child could wear last year’s footwear, you turned a deaf ear to whatever endorsements came from the athlete of the moment or the musician that was current. You just patched and polished and put them back on. Doing more with less. It was absolutely necessary.
In times like these, two personalities emerge. Two ways of dealing with life come through. In tough times, it soon becomes apparent that there are two very different ways of dealing with the emotional strain and stress.
One of these ways is the way of the cup half empty. And the other the way of the cup half full.
One of these ways is the way of pessimism and despair. And the other the way of optimism and hope. One is the way of seeing things at their bleakest and knowing that the end is near. The other is the way of seeing things as difficult, yes, but as the prelude to something better, not far off.
In short, one of these ways is the way of fear. And the other is the way of faith. Two personalities.
I Kings 17: 1-24
The way of fear; the way of faith. The cup half empty; the cup half full.
The widow of Zarephath saw life as a cup half empty. She saw these times as undiluted disaster, and knew that it was only a matter of time until it was all over. Finished, dead and gone, nada, zilch, and zip. The widow of Zarephath lived the way of fear.
The prophet Elijah saw life as a cup half full. He found, in these times, a reason to sing; he found a source of hope. He saw the possibility of a better day. Elijah lived the way of faith.
Notice what they are like when we first meet them. Notice how they have responded to drought and deprivation, and where they are in their struggles.
The widow of Zarephath is picking up sticks out on the edge of town, preparing to build a fire and fix her last meal. She and her small son have eked out a bare existence for many months, but this is it. She has been deprived of so much that she cannot see her way out. And her words are telling and frightening. "I have nothing ... only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."