My car beeps at me when I only have enough gas to travel 50 miles. A little orange gas tank blinks on the dash. A message pops up on the display offering to search for the nearest gas station. The range I can travel with the fuel in the tank counts down to 30 miles and then the number is replaced by three dashes. I feel like the automotive engineers decided if I wasn’t going to fuel up after all the warning signs they provided, they weren’t going to enable me any further.
It works. Once I notice those dashes I panic a little. I wonder how far I’ve travelled since the 30 disappeared. I pull in to the closest gas station and fill up the tank.
What do you do when you feel empty? Do you see the warning signs?
Sometimes emptiness arrives without much of a warning.
In 2 Kings 4:1-7 we read about a woman running on empty. The crushing blow comes when she loses her husband. Then, while she is still grieving, a creditor shows up to collect on the debt her husband owed and threatens to take her two boys as payment. Can you imagine? I’d be a basket case. She runs to the prophet Elisha and he asks an interesting question.
“What do you have in your house?”
She answers, “I have nothing….”
I’m sure that’s how she felt. Empty. It seems like it would have been obvious.
But mid-sentence she remembers one small jar of olive oil. Her miracle was in the pantry.
I think we can learn some things from her story that will help us when we feel empty.
Ask for help – When she approaches Elisha with her need he responds with care and concern. “How can I help?” I appreciate that so much. We hesitate to ask for help. But if we don’t ask, no one knows about our need. That leaves us not only empty, but alone. We can’t assume our need is obvious to others. Give them a chance to care.
Look at what you have – Maybe you’ve heard the adage, helping can hurt. I learned this from my co-worker who oversaw benevolence for our church. It feels great to sweep in and meet a need, but sometimes it’s more helpful to empower people to look at what they have. Elisha’s question lifts this woman out of victim status. His instructions validate the resourcefulness of the woman and her two sons. Those boys would never forget what happened because they were a part of their solution.
See what you have with eyes of faith – I’ll admit I don’t always value what I have, especially if I’m feeling empty. I only see the vast nothingness. I disqualify my resources or even myself with my self-assessment. I don’t recognize the potential. I’m grateful when someone outside my internal struggle can help me consider what I have through eyes of faith and remind me that God is looking for partnership. My contribution, however small it may seem in my estimation, expands in his hands. He is known for doing a lot with a little.
I feel like Eugene Peterson gives a shout out to this small jar of oil turned debt-defying provision in The Message version of Romans 5:3-5
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
For the woman and her two boys, the oil stopped flowing when they ran out of containers. The provision was limited by available storage space.
God just keeps pouring.
We can’t round up enough containers.
His provision pours out and spills over.
He more than fills us.
He redeems our trouble by fostering endurance, instilling character and planting hope that stays with us for the next time we find ourselves struggling.
When we remember redemption, emptiness could be the very thing that leads to expectancy.
Father, when I feel empty, help me to remember redemption.