This sermon was presented at the International Women's Day of Prayer 2002. It has been slightly modified.)
A husband and wife lived a very happy married life with their two sons. The father was a God-fearing man and nurtured his family in the fear of the Lord. He did everything possible to provide for his family and keep them happy. Then tragedy struck. Unexpectedly, the husband died. The wife had depended on her husband for every little thing, and she became a total wreck. She felt lonely, empty, and saw no reason to live.
How would she earn a living? How would she feed her children? She was not used to working outside the home. She was helpless and did not know what to do. To make the situation worse, a money-lender came to her home one day and demanded that she repay the money that her husband had borrowed. She did not want to be a laughingstock in the neighborhood, so she gave away everything she had in the house. But it was not enough to clear the debt. The creditor gave her a deadline and threatened to turn her sons into slaves if she did not repay him by the given date.
What would you do if you were in her shoes? Where would you go? To whom would you turn? In desperation, she cried to the Lord, "Lord! You alone can save me from this situation! Oh, Lord, who else can help me but you?"
She heard the Lord say, "Rise up, go to my representative. He will help you."
Immediately she rose up and went in search of the man. Fortunately, he was at home. She poured out all her troubles to him. The man listened patiently. You and I would expect the man to give her some money to clear her debt because that is what you and I would do to help someone in such a situation. But this man was different. He was none other than the prophet Elisha. We find the story recorded in 2 Kings 4:1-8.
He asked the widow, "What do you have in your house? Do you have anything at all?" She didn't have to think hard to remember that all she had in the house was a little pot of oil. Then the prophet Elisha asked her to do something strange. He said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Collect as many as you possibly can. Then, go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour the oil into all the jars and, as each is filled, put it to one side."
I imagine her sons went from house to house collecting all the available empty jars, vessels, and pots in the neighborhood. Then the woman did as she was told and shut the door.
What lessons can we can draw from this miracle? I find this miracle to be a symbol of the inexhaustible divine grace and power of God. All of us are in the same condition as that poor widow. We are destitute. We are empty and void. But God is eager to fill us with His power. This miracle made me realize that:
Humanity is reduced by sin to a state of spiritual bankruptcy and ruin. Like the poor widow, we are hopelessly in debt, and we have nothing with which to clear our debts. In Romans 3:23, we read that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The more we yield to sin or indulge in sin, the greater the moral ruin, and the more we are spiritually indebted.
God the Father loves us so much that He made every provision to restore humanity to His original righteous state of indebtedness. God sacrificed His Son to restore and redeem fallen humanity. Romans 5:15 reads, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." This reveals to us that restoration is possible even to the most abandoned—to the chief of sinners. It has been said that heaven itself is too narrow for the full display of the Divine goodness. Its streams flow down to bless and replenish the neediest on earth. The apostle Paul assured the Philippians, saying, “My God shall supply all your needs—both spiritual and physical needs—according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:19).
Faithful obedience is demanded in order to receive ample supply of Divine grace or power. The widow not only sought Divine help but also implicitly obeyed all the instructions. Her first act of obedience occurred when she and her sons collected all the available empty jars. She asked and she received. We do not have because we do not ask. God expects us to treat others as if they are empty vessels for us to use, so as to glorify God in their salvation. By bringing the empty vessels into her house, the woman implied she had something with which to fill them. She had faith that the Lord would provide. Waiting in faith is a high form of worship.
Her second act of obedience happened when she went inside and shut the door. Why would Elisha ask her to go inside her house and shut the door? Could it be because she was going to begin a new life and every new life begins in darkness—like the germination of seeds in the soil and the babes of the animal kingdom in their mothers' wombs? Or could it be that she might be more free to pray and act when undisturbed by the unbelief of others? Or could it be so no one would think that the oil was brought by another and secretly given to her? Whatever the reason may have been, she shut the door behind her as she was instructed.
The third act of obedience is that she poured the oil into the jars. Without the slightest moment of hesitation, the widow took the jar in her hands, tilted it over the first empty container, and watched as oil flowed out and filled the vessel. She brought the oil jar to an upright position and saw that it was full again. Imagine the look of astonishment on her face. The human mind cannot comprehend how the oil multiplied. The poor widow's faith and implicit obedience triumphed over all difficulties.
The supply of divine power is limited only by the capacity of the receiver. Every available vessel was filled with oil. The oil flowed as long as empty vessels were available. The oil stopped only when there were no more empty vessels. God's power is inexhaustible. It is not limited in itself but by the capacity of the individual receiver. The enjoyment of spiritual goodness increases the desire for more. If we have the feeling of want and desire God's help, that very want or desire will be to us what the pot of oil was to the widow—an abundant supply of all we need.
The vessels were exhausted, but the hand of God was not emptied. It is never God who fails but always man who comes to the end of his capacity. In Psalm 81:10 we read, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."
As long as there is an empty, longing heart, there is a continual overflowing fountain of God's power. If the oil ceases to flow in any place or at any time, it is because there are no empty vessels, no souls hungering and thirsting to be filled with God's power.
The reception of Divine power furnishes the highest motives to an upright and useful life. Go, sell the oil and pay the debt. You and your sons can live on what is left. One of the first and simplest principles of true religion is honesty—it teaches a man to pay his debts. The obligation to our neighbor should be our first priority before we enjoy God's blessings.
All that the miracle needed was empty vessels. Full vessels were of no use. Many do not receive God's power because they have no empty vessels. Their vessels are full of their own self-righteousness, intelligence, and strength. These things that are utterly useless and shut out the power of God from our hearts. God wants to fill our emptiness with His power. The shape, size, or material of the vessel does not matter as long as it is empty, open, and ready to be filled. We, the empty vessels, are created to be filled with God's power; otherwise, the purpose of creation is lost.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher, uses the following illustration to demonstrate this need:
“Do you see that beautiful tree in the orchard loaded with fruit? It is a pear tree. From top to bottom, it is covered with fruit. Some boughs are ready to break with their luscious burden. As I listen to the creaking boughs, I can hear the tree speak.
“It says, ‘Baskets, baskets, baskets, bring baskets.’
“Now then, who has the baskets?
“‘I've got one,’ says yonder friend, ‘but it is of no use, for there is nothing in it.’
“Bring it here, man; that is the very basket the tree wants.
“A person over there says, ‘Oh, I have a basket, a splendid basket. It is just the thing. It is full from top to bottom.’
“You may keep the basket to yourself. It is of no use to my loaded tree.
“What the Lord wants is our emptiness, for He wants to fill us.”
Fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!