When Nothing at All is Really Something

I hate asking for things. Fundraisers are the worst. Don't get me wrong. I know that playgrounds are built by the sweat of little salespersons. Trips are made possible by the generosity of people who buy cookie dough in a plastic tub. I probably dislike asking for things from people because I know how I sometimes say yes when I want to say no. I'm also familiar with the guilt feeling that comes with saying no.

It's not just fundraisers that I think many of us avoid like the plague. We just don't like asking for anything; much-needed aid or small favors included.

Studying the third chapter of 1 Kings this morning, I was going to stop at verse 27, but when I got to it, a Moabite King had just done something awful so I read on.

I got to a familiar, and much happier, passage. In chapter 4 we read about a woman who's lost her husband. Debt collectors are coming to take her two sons as slaves.

She cries out to the prophet Elisha, who then asks, How can I help you? What do you have in your house? (2 Kings 4:2)

At first, this woman says that she has nothing...at all, but then notes that she has a small jar of olive oil (hardly something that would appear useful in her predicament.)

Then Elisha, the prophet, tells her to hit up the neighborhood for empty jars. He throws in, Don't ask for just a few. Don't hum-haw, in other words, ask for jars...a bunch of them. Be bold about it.

There's not a big deal made, but I did notice in verse 5 that they, her sons I assume, brought her the jars. Maybe she hated asking for things too.

You might know the rest of the story. She's instructed to pour the oil that she has into these empty jars that have been collected. With only the little bit of oil she had, we read that she kept pouring until there wasn't a jar left.

She was able to sell the oil to pay her debts. There was enough left to care for her and her sons.

Reading past a couple of despicable kings this morning landed me on some good reminders.

  • Sometimes we need help. I love how the story isn't about someone doing everything, but instead, about everyone doing something.
  • God could have had Elisha write the widow a check. He could have petitioned her to get full jars of oil, or other donations from the neighbors. He didn't. He had her collect empty jars. The prophet, the widow, her sons, and the neighbors were involved in the process.
  • This past weekend a group of teenagers and adults gathered together to mourn the loss of one of our high school students, Jason, who we lost to suicide. We also met to get the word out that the suffering are never alone. Some brought their testimony to the event. Some just brought themselves, but were armed with a smile and a hug. Some adults provided transportation. Some brought cookies. We all sang and held hands at the end.
  • Some brought not much more than their broken hearts, but God would employ those too. Those who knew Jason would make a video at the event's end letting his family know what he meant to them.
  • When the widow in scripture was asked what she had that could be of use, she had to think about it.
  • Your servant has nothing there at all, except... 2 Kings 4:2
  • God never leaves us empty handed or at a dead end.
  • Sometimes we just have to ask for help, as uncomfortable as that is. We have to recognize our inability to secure all our needs independently.
  • Likewise, we have to remember the exception; what we do have when it feels we've lost everything. (For the widow, it was a little bit of oil.)
  • More than anything, we do best to trust that God supplies our needs. He's just gracious enough to let us play a part.
  • ...we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

    An empty jar (or half empty jar) is just as useful as a full one when we put it into the hands of God.

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