When I was a Vicar in Sheffield, the Lord multiplied the oil in a bottle I used for anointing people, so that there was 10 times more oil in the container, and it never went down, despite being used for over a year on many occasions. It is not surprising, then, that one of my favourite bible stories is found in 2 Kings 4 – the story of God multiplying oil for a poor widow. I like it because it tells of God’s practical provision for someone in real need. It also shows that there are some things that get God’s attention. That stir him to action. That cause him to respond. We see 3 of them in this story.
The first is a cry for help – a prayer. This woman is in great need: her husband has died and her two boys are about to be taken away from her, unless she can pay off her debts. So she ‘cries out to Elisha’ with great passion. It’s a call to God for help. A cry of real passion.
Do you ever pray like that? A passionate prayer for help? God loves that kind of prayer. The prayer God finds difficult is: ‘Well Lord, I’m fine, thanks very much.’ It’s hard for him to do very much with that!The prayer he loves to hear is ‘Help’ – because he then has an opportunity to respond with the resources of heaven.
The bible is full of stories of God answering cries for help, and he does the same today. Back in 2 Kings we read that the Lord hears the widow’s cry, responding to this kind of heart-felt passion with his great compassion. And he responds by giving faith for that situation.
Faith – believing that God is going to come and help – is a second thing the Lord loves to respond to. God normally gives faith to someone – although not necessarily to the person in need. Sometimes it is given to others, so in the story of the four men who bring their friend to Jesus on stretcher, it was the four who had faith, not the man on the stretcher.
What about here in 2 Kings 4? Who has faith here? Elisha. Elisha is given faith because instead of just saying ‘oh dear. That’s very bad. You’re in real trouble’ (as most of us would) he truly believes that things will be different. The widow only sees a negative outcome but Elisha sees something different. He sees blessing and prosperity. He sees God providing. This is because faith is seeing the unseen (Heb 11:1) – being certain of what we do not see. The prophet has faith that God can help, and he knows what to do, telling her: ‘Go and gather jars.’
A third thing that God loves to respond to is obedience. Simple acts of obedience. I wonder if this was the hardest bit because, having lined up all the jars it would have been quite tempting to have given up. She may have felt silly gathering jars to fill with oil, knowing full well that she doesn’t have a fraction of enough! But in the end, she chooses to obey. And interestingly it is the obedience that finally releases the resources of heaven. A simple act of obedience. For having obeyed, God takes her little oil and multiplies it into gallons and gallons!
Why not apply this to a particular need in your life or family or perhaps your work? So you PRAY – calling out to God with passion – crying to him for help. And then you look for FAITH – either within yourself or perhaps given to someone else who knows about your situation. And finally you OBEY – doing what the Lord has told you to do.
There are situations in my own life where I need God to release the resources of heaven. I suspect the same is true for you. So let’s not be afraid to ask, for we have a God who loves to respond as we pray, believe and obey.