And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors.
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.”
So she did as she was told.
Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another.
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. (2 Kings 4:3-6)
Relate: My random thoughts on the story of the widow’s oil actually skip ahead to another encounter that will happen nine chapters later. In this later event, Elisha is near the end of his life. One of Israel’s kings, Jehoaz, will come to visit him and when he realizes that the prophet’s end is near, he cries out in tears: “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” Elisha tells the king to get his bow and shoot an arrow out an open window to the east. When the king does so, Elisha promises that Israel will have victory over Aram who is oppressing them. The prophet then tells him to take the arrows and shoot them at the ground. The king shoots three arrows into the ground and then stops. Elisha then gets upset at the king. Because he only shot three times, he will only win three battles. Had he emptied the quiver, he could have had a more complete victory over the enemy. The size of his miracle was directly proportionate to his level of obedience.
The same thing was true for the widow back here in chapter four. Elisha tells her to collect as many jars as she could. The size of the widow’s miracle was equal to the extent of her preparation. We don’t know exactly how many jars she gathered. We don’t know how hard she she begged, pleaded, or cajoled those jars from her neighbors. We don’t know how far down the block, or the blocks past that she went in her collection. What we do know is that as soon as the last jar was topped, the miracle stopped.
React: There is a myth I often hear that God will not give us more than we can handle. Garbage. Being in over our head is the safest place to be. Peter couldn’t “handle” walking on any water. If God is giving us only what we can handle, it isn’t miraculous… it’s proficiency. On the other hand, there are times that this saying is true, but just not in the way we expect. For example, if a church does not have a solid process for making disciples, God probably won’t be giving them very many new converts. They wouldn’t know what to do with them. If a family doesn’t know how to handle and budget their finances, God probably won’t be sending any windfalls in their direction. It would be squandered. His oil goes in jars, it doesn’t get wasted into the dirt.
With that in mind, there two questions I should be asking: 1) What am I praying for? 2) How am I preparing myself/my family/my church to be ready to handle God’s answer to that prayer? Almost always, the size of God’s miracle is a result to the extent of my preparation.
God, help me to expect bigger things from You. Help me to put feet to my prayers. Help me to demonstrate that I really do believe You answer prayers by preparing to handle the answer You are waiting to give. Let my works demonstrate the growth in faith that You are working in my heart. Don’t let my lack of faith, expectation, or effort limit what You are going to do in my life. You are a big, big God. Let my actions and my preparations be a demonstration of how true I know that to be.