The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 2 Kings 4.1-6.
It is all too easy at times to see one’s self or one’s church as “having nothing at all” whereas the truth is that, in any Christian and in any church, there is always “a little oil”. God never deserts his people, either individually or corporately, and if I look I will always see in my own life and in that of the church signs of the Spirit’s presence and activity. For oil is, of course, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
And the first thing this story teaches me is that I must learn, like Elisha, to see the little as a kind of promise that there can be more. But for the little to become more, certain conditions must be met.
First, I must do what I’m told … however strange it might seem. 2 Kings 4 does not record what the villagers said when this widow went from one end of it to the other, borrowing every empty jar that was to be had. “Nutty as a fruitcake” was probably the verdict. But she did it and had she not done it, there would have been no increase. And as I write that, I am reminded of the wedding feast in Cana, centuries later, when, after the wine had run out, the mother of Jesus said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2.5). And what Jesus told the servants to do was to fill six, twenty-five gallon jars with water and then take some of the “water” to the master of ceremonies to serve as wine … which by then, of course, it was!
Secondly, I learn that I should “think big”. Get lots of jars, says Elisha. “Don’t just ask for a few”. J B Phillips once wrote a book called Your God Is Too Small but I think it is often my expectations that are too small. It is surely significant that when Jesus came to the recue at the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana, he didn’t turn just a jug of water into wine — he produced the equivalent of about 500 bottles! I wonder just how limiting to my ministry is my low expectation of what God will do? William Carey, the great missionary, once said: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”.
Thirdly, I must learn to pour out what I’ve got in order to get more. There must be an out pouring if there is to be an outpouring! It really doesn’t seem to matter how little is little so long as it is used in the way the Lord tells me to use it. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17.6).
With what astonishment, and then with what jubilation, this widow must have watched as she tipped up her almost empty jar of oil and watched the tiny remaining trickle turn into a flow as it was poured out … filling every vessel that lay before her, and ceasing only when there was nothing left to contain it. As John the Baptist once said: “God gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3.34).
Help me this day, Lord, to pour out what I have in the faith that you will give more; and widen my vision of what you are willing to do through me. Amen.