Thursday, September 3, 2009

Running on Empty

This past Sunday I concluded a series at BridgePoint called Ordinary People Extraordinary Lives. We wrapped it up by looking at a woman in the Old Testament. Her story is recorded in 2 Kings 4. Let me give you the short version.

A lady has lost her husband and inherited a great about of debt. She had no way to pay the debt and her husband's creditor was coming to take her two sons as his slaves as payment. She turned to the prophet Elisha for help. He asked her what she had to pay the debt and her reply was nothing. She was tapped out except for a "little oil." She was running on empty.

I have a feeling, like me, many of you can relate to this woman. We are tapped out, running on empty and just trying to keep our heads above water. We are desperately looking for a way out. We turn to God and God's people looking for answers, looking for help.

What is so interesting about this story is what happened next. Elisha tells the woman to go ask her neighbors for their empty jars. There are three really cool things related to this request. First, by getting the neighbors jars she realizes that she is not alone in her struggle. Not only are her jars empty, her neighbors have empty jars too.

Often times we feel so alone in our plight. It's as if we are the only one struggling. We feel like no one else can identify with us. The reality is that all around us are people who have equal or greater needs. We are not in this alone!

The second interesting thing is that instead of providing a quick exit for the woman Elisha forces her further into her emptiness. By gathering her neighbors empty jars he is asking her to surround herself with more emptiness. Often times in our lives God forces us further into our emptiness before he fills us. He asks that we become totally dependent on him. He wants us to totally trust him. He wants all of us and unless we are totally empty of self he can't fill us.

There is a promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it says:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond
what you can bear. But, when you are tempted, he will also provide
a way out so that you can stand up under it."

One way to look at that scripture is the promise that as we are sometimes forced further into our emptiness we can take heart and trust that he is "faithful" and has given us the strength to endure and "bear" that emptiness. He also promises that when we can't "bear" it he will "provide a way out."

That leads me to the third truth I discovered in this story. The "way out" Elisha provided may not have seemed like a way out at first. You see, he tells the woman to pour her oil into the empty vessels she has around her. The problem is that the empty vessels he asks her to pour into aren't hers. They belong to her neighbors. Now, they had freely given them to her to help in this time of need, but the reality is that when she poured the oil into their jars she was risking them taking it for their own. After all the jars where theirs. Elisha is asking her to trust and be willing to risk what little she has. She had to trust her neighbors and the process.

Again, God is saying are you going to depend on me? Are you willing to give away what you are hanging on to so that you have nothing else but me? Are you willing to risk it all for me. Instead of running around on empty trying to figure it out on your own God is saying give it to me. Trust me you don't need what you are hanging on to. I will fill you.

Well, the story concludes with an awesome display of God's power, faithfulness and provision. The woman pours the little bit of oil she has in jar after jar and God multiplies that oil until every last jar is full. He provides enough for her to live on and to sell to meet her debts. He meets all her needs and gives more than she asked for.

Great story! By the way, I like to think there was a little oil left in those jars for those neighbors too. What do you think?

Whatever It Takes!

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