She was a mother of two sons and a widow. Her husband, a student of the prophets, had died and the family was left in debt. The creditor was demanding payment and if she didn’t pay, he would take her sons as slaves as was the custom at that time. She was in dire straits and not knowing what else to do, she told Elisha about her situation. According to the narrative, Elisha said unto her, “‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have [of value] in the house?’ She said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a [small] jar of [olive] oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow containers from all your neighbors, empty containers—and not just a few. Then you shall go in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour out [the oil you have] into all these containers, and you shall set aside each one when it is full.’ So she left him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing her the containers as she poured [the oil]. When the containers were all full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another container.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not a one left.’ Then the oil stopped [multiplying]. Then she came and told the man of God. He said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest'” (2 Kings 4:2-7, AMP).
If Elisha had given the first set of instructions to you, what would you have done? Looked at him in bewilderment? Wondered if he was crazy? Walked away to find someone else who could give you advice that made sense? All of that would be understandable if we walked by sight and not faith. Being human, we are drawn to things that “make sense” in the natural and we often try to apply the same approach when it comes to God. Yet, how do we even begin to understand the God who has made it explicitly clear, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9)? We can’t. His instructions often do not make sense to our natural minds hence we generally do not follow them. In our disobedience, we often miss the full measure of what He has in store for us.
The widow did not question the prophet’s instructions. She knew those instructions were from God through His servant. She listened intently, pushing aside any questions or doubts. In fact, she did not offer a verbal response but “she left him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing her the containers as she poured [the oil]” (v. 5). She went and did exactly what she said. She had gone to her neighbors and, without telling them any of her business, had borrowed as many containers as she could. Then she and her sons started pouring from the small jar of oil (v. 3), and they poured, and poured, and poured. “Bring me another container,” she said to one of the boys, and he said to her, “‘There is not a one left.’ Then the oil stopped [multiplying]” (v. 6). Notice the oil stopped when they ran out of containers. It was only then that she returned to the prophet for further instructions and was told what to do: “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest” (v. 7).
We serve the God of overflow; the One “who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams]” but is only able to do so “according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). It is a partnership. We do our part and He does the rest. That is not always easy when we are faced with challenges that we need answers to. However, W.H. Auden was right when he said, “To choose what is difficult all one’s days as if it were easy, that is faith.” Christopher Bryant powerfully reminds us, “The act of faith is more than a bare statement of belief, it is a turning to the face of the living God.” No matter how dire the circumstances, no Christ-follower ever needs to do anything shady, illegal, unethical, or immoral to “help God out” for no good thing, consistent with His will for our lives, will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). We are reminded that “the just and upright shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) for it is faith in God that moves the hands of God (Hebrews 11:6). Whenever we ask for directions, He gives us instructions consistent with His word. Follow those instructions as given. Stay in faith. Allow the power of God to work within you and watch the overflow. Just ask the widow.