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Elisha & the Widow Woman’s Oil

This morning we continue looking at the Exploits of Elisha. If you remember from last week, we learned that Elisha was just an ordinary guy – a farmer in fact, but he was used by God to do some extraordinary things. And the reason that God was able to use Him in such amazing ways was because Elisha was FAT. He was Faithful, Available, and Teachable. He was FAT. And I trust that over this past week you’ve been practicing being FAT. Because God uses FAT people (people who are faithful, available, and teachable) to do amazing things.

Now, this morning, we are going to fast forward a few years in time. The story that we are going to look at today happens roughly about 10 years after Elisha left the family farm to follow in the steps of Elijah. Since that time, Elisha has been training under Elijah. He has spent about 8 years with Elijah, learning and apprenticing under Him. And by the time of our story this morning, he has also spent about 2 years on his own, since Elijah was earlier taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. And that, by the way, is another great story that you should look up sometime. You can find that in 2 Kings chapter 2.

But our story today happens in 2 Kings chapter 4. 

One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.” 2 Kings 4:1

So here’s the situation: One of the prophets who served with Elisha (probably one of his good friends) had died, leaving behind his widow and his two sons. With her husband dead, the widow of course has bills to pay, but now has no means to pay them. And to make matters worse, now a creditor had been coming around, threatening to take her two boys so that they could work off the debt. So this widow is in a pretty desperate situation. She has no husband. No money. And if something doesn’t change soon, she’ll also have no sons either.

So Elisha, wanting to help her in anyway he can, says to the widow in verse 2:

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. 4 Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.” 2 Kings 4:2-4

Now this seems like rather odd advice to offer this poor woman. Telling her to pour her little bit of oil into a bunch of empty jars while there are creditors threatening to take away her sons as slaves, doesn’t seem to the most useful advice. How is this going to help?

If this woman was in our church, I’d like to think that we could take up an offering for this woman to help her pay off some bills. Or maybe someone here could offer her a good job or maybe offer to hired her boys for a few weeks. At the very least, someone could loan her the money temporarily until she could get back on her feet.

But Elisha didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t give her a single coin. His advice: Go gather up a bunch of empty jars from your neighbors, and then pour that little bit of oil that you have into those empty jars.

Now imagine if you knew someone in desperate financial need, and you came up to her and said, “You know that bottle of Pam you have in the cupboard – that spray cooking oil? Well, you just round up a whole pile of jars from all your friend and neighbors and you just start spraying that Pam in there – and all your financial troubles will be over.”

Can you imagine? What kind of advice is that? Generally speaking – I think that’s terrible advice. But in this particular incident, it was fantastic advice, because God was cooking up a miracle.

But that leads me to key question: How did Elisha know to tell the widow to do that? Had God revealed to Him what the outcome would be, or was he just faithfully following the promptings of God? Did God just whisper in His mind – “Tell the widow to gather up empty jars.” Did God give Him a vision of how this story would end?

The Bible doesn’t really tell us the process here. We don’t know exactly how Elisha knew to give that advice. But the important thing is that He did. The important thing is that Elisha was walking close enough to God to know what God was up to – however it was revealed to Him.

And that’s a key lesson for us. Are you walking close enough to God to hear what He has to say to you? Do you spend time in His Word so that He can speak to you from its pages? Do you spend time just listening to God? Most of our prayer time is spent “Us talking to God” – but do we take the time to ever listen to Him? Do we keep our lives free of sin? Having sin in our lives that we refuse to deal with is like stuffing cottonballs in our ears. We won’t be able to hear God’s voice when we have undealt-with sin in our lives.

So many people want to know God’s will for their life – but they never draw close enough to God to hear what He’s saying. One of the struggles I have is knowing whether the thoughts and the promptings I have in my head come from God – or just from my own imagination. Do any of you ever struggle with that? Sometimes its pretty hard to discern the difference. I know if I had a thought like telling someone to fill their jars up with Pam, I’d be pretty sure that was my own crazy thought.

Jesus talks about this in the book of John. In this passage, Jesus is talking about how He is the good shepherd and how all of His sheep know His voice. In John 10:3-4 we read…

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:3-4

Elisha was walking so close to God, that when he heard God’s promptings – however they came to Him – He knew it was God’s voice. He didn’t have to wonder if it was his own crazy thoughts. He had heard God’s voice before and was so used to listening for that voice, that when he heard it – He knew immediately it was the voice of God.

What an excellent example for us!

The second lesson that I see in this passage so far is that sometimes God asks us to do the ridiculous. For Elisha to ask that widow to pour out her little bit of oil out of her little jar and into a whole pile of other bigger jars seemed ridiculous. It seemed pointless. There was no logical reason to do it. It didn’t make sense. The whole idea was ridiculous. But as we are going to see in a minute, even though God’s plan seemed ridiculous, it was the best plan ever.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent series of Dairy Queen commercials. Their catch phrase is “So Good, It’s RiDQulous”  And the basic gist of the commercial is that Dairy Queen’s products and prices are so good, they seem ridiculous. You can find a whole pile of them on youtube, but just to give you a quick sampling this morning, let me just show you a 30 second clip…

Doesn’t that sound like the stories in the Bible?
“God doesn’t just rescue Jonah – He rescues Jonah by having Him swallowed by a great fish!
“And God doesn’t just communicate to Balaam – He communicates to Balaam via a talking Donkey!”

So Good, It’s RiDQulous. Isn’t that a description of God’s plans and God’s ways. They are so good – they’re ridiculous.
Providing for a widow by having her fill a pile of empty jars with tiny bit of oil – that’s so good – its ridiculous!
Choosing Saul, the greatest persecutor of the church to become Paul, the church’s greatest evangelist – that’s so good its ridiculous!
Sending Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to be born as a helpless, human baby in a smelly stable in Bethlehem – that’s so good – its ridiculous.
Having our Creator die on a cross in our place so that we could have life – that’s so good its ridiculous!
There is a verse in 1 Corinthians that says it well.

“This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

God’s plans and God’s ways may seem so ridiculous to us, so crazy, so far out there, that we might be tempted not to follow Him. But don’t make that mistake. God’s ways are so good – they are ridiculous.

When God leads you to or through some situation that you don’t understand. You don’t see the point of it. You don’t see how this could ever work out for good. Trust Him. Follow Him where ever He leads. The foolishness of God is far wiser than the greatest of human wisdom.

And the widow in this story had faith enough to follow God’s ridiculous plan. 2 Kings 4:5-7…

So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. 6 Soon every container was full to the brim!
“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.
“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.
7 When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”
2 Kings 4:5-7

That is a fantastic story! What a ridiculous way to provide for this widow – but isn’t God good!?

God took that little bit of oil, and somehow he stretched it out. That little jug of oil filled jar after jar after jar after jar – and the minute they ran out of jars – the oil stopped.

And I think that gives us our final lesson for today. God only fills the empty jars that we bring to Him. The widows oil kept flowing only as long as they brought the empty jars. When the jars ran out – so did the oil.

If that widow had gathered up ten more jars, I bet that oil would have kept flowing enough to fill ten more jars. Or if they had gathered up ten less jars, I bet that oil would have stopped flowing ten jars earlier. God gave just enough oil to fill the jars that they had brought.

And while I don’t think that God plans to duplicate this miracle for any of us exactly, I think there is a principle here that can apply to us. To put it in a formula I would say this:

God’s response = Our empty jars
Not: God’s response > Our empty jars
Not: God’s response < Our empty jars

Let me give you an example. If you pray about ten things – God will answer ten prayers. If you pray about 100 things, God will answer 100 prayers. That’s not to say that He will say yes to 100 things, or that He will answer 100 times in the way you expect, but point is that God cannot answer the prayers that you don’t pray. God’s response = Our empty jars

Alright? Let me put this same principle in another context: If you give God control over 10% of your finances, I guarantee you, that God will bless and will do some pretty cool things with that 10%. If you give God control over 50% of your finances, I guarantee you, that God will bless and will do some pretty cool things with that 50%. And if you God control over 100% of your finances, I guarantee you, that God will bless and will do some pretty cool things with that 100%. But God cannot bless that which you don’t give Him. God’s response = Our empty jars

God will only fill the jars that we put out for Him. Let me give you just one more example: We talked about being FAT last week – Faithful, Available, Teachable. Well, if you make yourself available to God to be used in just one way – God will use you in that one way. You’ll receive the joy of being used by God in that one way. You’ll receive the spiritual growth that comes from being used by God in that one way. But if you make yourself available to be used by in say… Five ways? What then?
Then God will use you in those five ways. You’ll receive the joy of being used by God in those five ways. You’ll receive the spiritual growth that comes from being used by God in those five ways. God’s response = Our empty jars

The amount that we give to God – that amount that we make available to Him, that’s the amount that God will bless. That’s the amount that God will use.

In Luke 6, Jesus is talking about forgiveness and not judging others. And I think it’s this principle here that He’s talking about. He says in verse 37…

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:37-38

The number of empty jars you bring to God will determine the number of jars you get filled with oil.

How many prayers do you want answered? Then pray that many prayers.
In how many ways do you want God to use you? Then make yourself available to be used by God in that many ways.
How many lives do you want to impact for eternity? Then get involved in that many people’s lives.

God’s response = Our empty jars. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

How many jars do you want filled? The Bible doesn’t tell us how many jars that widow filled up that day, but I bet that if she were asked to do it again, she would make sure that she found even more jars this time. How many jars to do you want filled?

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