II Kings 4:1-2 (NIV),
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 small jar of olive oil.”
This poor woman. In those days, in that culture, a widow with small sons had no one to provide for her. With sons not old enough to work, and her husband gone, she is facing the horrible fate of having her sons taken to be used as slaves to pay an old debt. We all come across situations that seem out of our hands. Her husband is gone. Hard enough to handle, and now she may lose her children. As a mother and a grandmother, I don’t even want to imagine what that might feel like, but I can assume she feels deserted, and frantic. Who can help? Then she remembers the man of God.
When she relates her circumstances to Elisha, his response is two sided. First he asks, “What can I do to help,” then he asks “What do you have?” Both are very important questions. He is asking this widow to think about a solution, not just the problem, and he is asking her to think about what she does have, instead of what she doesn’t. God can just override everything and instantaneously give us what we ask for. He is able. However, He knows as well as we do what happens to those who are just handed everything they want. It makes them weak, and spoiled, and they begin to feel entitled. They don’t grow in relationship with the person who seems to be like a vending machine, they only make demands and expect instant results. Nobody wants kids like that, not even God.
We appreciate things more if we work for them, or if it has cost us something. We treasure gifts, don’t get me wrong, a thankful heart that is grateful for every gift is a good thing. However, when a child works hard and saves every penny of his paper route money to buy that new bike…well who can blame him when he is proud of his new purchase. Even King David understood that there should be a cost. He was instructed to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Araunah not only agrees to allow David to do that, he tries to give him the oxen for the offering. Here is what David replied:
II Samuel 24:24 “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”
Let me try to explain it this way. Pretend that a missionary comes to your church and speaks quite convincingly about the need for help in the Congo. You feel two things simultaneously, one you want to help, two you are quaking in fear lest God calls you to the Congo. So what do we do, we quickly drop a twenty or more in the offering to ease both of those feelings. You say, “I have helped, I don’t need to go, someone else can use that fifty dollars to help.” Usually we are very quick to give to missions. Then the very next week your pastor speaks of the need to replace the furnace at the church you attend, your house, and what do we do? We slip a five into the offering and say, “let so and so give the big bucks, they have a better job, sister such and such doesn’t have diapers to buy, let her give it, I wonder if we can get a grant from Uncle Sam to pay for it?” On the surface it looks like giving to mission is easier, but if you look deeper, it’s the same spirit. We don’t want it to cost too much. Selling everything and moving to a foreign country is costly! So we cave and give money. Less costly. Paying for a new furnace is costly, so we cave and make excuses why we don’t give.
God is so smart! Elisha asks the widow, “What do you have in your house?” She had oil. God gave her so much oil that she borrowed jars and jugs and still ran out of containers. She then sold it for enough to get out of debt! That is just like the little boy who shared a small lunch…with thousands. There was a multitude, a huge multitude, that were tired and hungry and Jesus told his disciples to feed them. They started adding up the monetary cost to feed so many, and of course they came up short. Jesus wasn’t even thinking of money. So, He asks, “What do we have?” Enter the little guy whose mom packed him a few fish and some small loaves. What happened? Well, of course, they were all fed, and they gathered up baskets (12) of leftovers!
Salvation is free, but that doesn’t mean that there will never be another sacrifice on our part. “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” you say. Yes, it sure is. Are you obeying?
Romans 12:1 (Holman Christian Standard Bible), “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
Paul “urges” us, in other translations he “begs” and “beseeches” us to present ourselves as living sacrifices. That sounds costly doesn’t it? Before you get all worked up, stop and ask yourself, “What do I have?” What has God given me that will be multiplied to do His will and work miracles?
Do you have a little food, a little oil, some time, some money, a little talent? Give it to God. He’ll multiply it and use it to bless others. Don’t think about what you don’t have. When you are asked to give, don’t just plunk whatever is lying on the bottom of your purse in the basket. Stop, pray and listen. Then be obedient. It may cost you more than you wanted it to, but remember the leftovers? Remember the widow who had more than enough? Yep, that’s what God can do with it. Next time you are running errands and you see someone in need, stop, pray, and listen. What is God asking you to do? Take the time, sacrifice, let it cost you and let God work a miracle.
What do you have that God can use? We all have something, because He made sure you were prepared.
That should get you excited!