“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in darkness and your night will become like noonday. The Lord will guide you always…You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” – Isaiah 58:10-11
There is an important linguistic connection we should notice in these verses. The word translated “spend” in verse 10, “if you spend yourself on behalf of the poor,” connotes the idea of “issuing forth.” It’s the idea of “pouring out.” The King James Version talks of “drawing out” your soul to bestow a mercy upon the recipient. We use terms like these when we talk about water. We talk about pouring out water or drawing water from a well. And what we are being told to spend in these verses is ourselves, our very souls. We’ve got this “water” of ourselves, of our time, of our heart and soul, and we are to pour it out, to issue it forth to water others. But isn’t it our fear that, by pouring ourselves out, we will become empty and dry? What holds us back from spending our lives on the poor, from pouring out that which is inside of us? Isn’t it a fear that we won’t have anything left? That if we pour it all out, we ourselves will be dry?
It’s the same fear that the widow of Zarephath must have had. Her story is recounted in I Kings 17. There’s a famine and drought throughout the land. God tells the prophet Elijah to go to a place called Zarephath and informs him that he will encounter a poor widow there, and is to ask her for something to eat and drink. So Elijah goes, and at the town gate he meets a widow and asks her for a little water and bread. The widow replies, “Well, sir, I really haven’t got anything. I’ve got this tiny bit of oil in my jug and just a handful of flour in my jar. In fact, I’m gathering some sticks right now to take home and make a fire and cook what will be my last meal. I’m gathering up firewood to make a final meal for myself and my son, and afterwards we’re going to die.” This widow is hard up! This widow is at the end of her own provisions. And, incredibly, Elijah stills asks her to feed him – to feed him first, before she feeds herself and her son! But he promises her that if she pours out all that she has left, God will be faithful and will provide for her and her son! Elijah is asking a radical thing. But the widow has faith. She pours out the little she had left to feed Elijah. And God came through. Verse 15 says: “and there was food every day for Elijah and 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.” It wasn’t used up because God Himself replenished what the widow poured out.
And that is the promise of Isaiah 58:11. We take ourselves and our “water” and we pour ourselves out in a sun-scorched place, among people who need the water. And we ourselves do not run dry because God pours Himself and His provision into us so that we become “well-watered gardens.” This is the wonderful paradox of the Christian life. When we pour ourselves out we do not become empty; instead, we become full. As we give ourselves out, God pours Himself and His provision in. Through our enriching entanglement in the lives of the poor in the places of pain and drought, we become, by the hand and faithful provision of God, a well-watered garden.
For Further Thought…
1. How have you “spent” yourselves on the poor during your short-term team? Have there been times that you have held back? What caused you to hold back?
2. From when you first arrived in-country, do you feel more or less “full”? What experiences have been energizing and / or challenging? Do you agree that the more you have spent, the more you have received?
3. As you think about returning back home, what are ways you can continue to pour out to others, thus becoming fuller of God and His provision? Please read through the next session “Going Home,” before you return home to think through ways you can pour out to others.