Have you ever felt "I just can't go on"? Or "I just can't see any way out of this"? Perhaps things have got so far out of hand, so badly messed up that you can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.
And you feel that you just don't have what it takes to get through it.
Or perhaps as you look at issues you have to contend with in your life, sickness, pain, poor health, you feel "I just don't have enough, Lord, I'm running out of strength and energy."
Or perhaps you're facing temptation, or fiery darts from Satan, fears that just keep coming and coming, and you feel, "I just can't cope with this any more."
Or perhaps you look at loved ones or colleagues or neighbours who aren't yet converted and you look at yourself and you think, "I don't have what it takes to communicate what I want to communicate with these people."
Or a slightly different problem, you look at your past, all the sins and all the judgment that you know that you have accumulated, and you feel Satan accusing you, and you wonder "Can my debts be cleared?"
2 Kings 4:1-7 has much to say to us
Being a Christian does not exempt you from trouble
A distraught lady 2800 years ago felt many of those things. A few months previously her husband had died. They hadn't been that well off anyway, he had been a prophet, and who pays prophets in a country where the king and queen are dead set against the true religion? Not only was she bereaved, but also destitute. It was bad enough to be a widow, to have lost her husband, but the main breadwinner was gone, and there were debts, and the creditor was closing in.
It looks as if he had already been and cleared the house out, and sold what he could to reclaim his finances, but it wasn't enough, and now he comes to take her two sons, and they would work for him for a minimum wage for years until the debt was cleared. And this woman is at the end of her tether. Where does she go? Whom does she turn to? Where is God when his people are in trouble?
Because God's people do get in trouble. They are not exempt from trials and difficulties. And often what makes it worse is that they are God's people. Here is a man who had stood against the Baal worship of his neighbours, who had given his life to proclaiming an unpopular message. And yet now, his wife and sons face disaster. Surely if there is to be merit in following God, then God's people should be exempt from difficulties.
And yet don't we often see the opposite - a Christian lady finds herself widowed, not once but twice. A man who has been serving Christ faithfully finds that his job falls apart around him, and he loses everything. Or a Christian mum who had cancer and two months after the all clear had been given, the cancer has returned and it's inoperable. Or the elder in the church who is struck by a mystery disease that leaves him virtually paralysed.
Bearing this in mind will help us - sickness may come, financial troubles may come, farming troubles may come. Temptation will certainly come, struggles in our faith will come. God's people are not exempt. Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Paul had his thorn in the flesh. Being a Christian isn't a get out of jail free card for illness or difficulties. What is happening to us is exactly what God said would happen. But how are we to respond?
"Fix the problem not the blame"
How do we respond?
Sean Connery in the film, "Rising Sun" turns to a colleague and says, "Fix the problem, not the blame."
This widow doesn't blame God. She doesn't shake her fist angrily at Heaven - and say, "We served you faithfully for years, and now look what you've done to us. What did we do to deserve this?"
Often as Christians we can be filled with the "Poor me" complex. We feel justified in being swallowed up by self-pity. "After all I've done, why is this happening to me?" - As if somehow we have earned the right to a trouble free existence. And yet when we do that we miss out on an opportunity to see God supply all our needs.
This widow shows us how to react: In her desperation she is faithful. This widow seeks to fix the problem, rather than fixing the blame. She cries out to God - look at her cry in v1 "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."
She brings her problem to God. And look at v2, at the response of God's prophet, "How can I help you, tell me …" You can hear his eagerness to help. And here is the wonderful privilege of the Christian set out for us. And it is only the Christian that it belongs too. Look back a few verses earlier in Ch 3 to v13-14. Here is Elisha is approached for help by a man who has denied God, and wanted nothing to do with God. See Elisha's scathing response on God's behalf. Not everyone has this privilege of bringing their problems to God, and knowing that they will be heard and answered.
But the believer has. Are you a Christian this morning? You have an access that no-one else has. You have a blood-bought access into the throne room of Heaven. Perhaps this morning some of you aren't Christians - you have no access. No blood has paid for your prayers to be heard. Christ's death hasn't opened up a new and living way into the Most Holy Place for you. When you pray, God is not obliged to hear. When you pray in trouble, God is not obligated to answer, when you pray for your children you have no reason to expect an answer. When you are at the end of your tether like Joram in the previous chapter, God is not compelled to do anything. Unless you are asking God for salvation, that is the only prayer of the unbeliever that he has bound himself to answer.
But the believer has instant access 24 hours a day into the throne room of God. And its not on some sort of sliding scale - the longer you are a Christian the more access you have. The newest believer has the same rights, privilege and access as the oldest saint. And you have no more access in Heaven than you have here. Rom 5:1,2. We may have troubles, but we have a friend to take them to.
Do you use it? Or do you store up resentment that poisons our relationship with God that steals the joy that can be ours? Perhaps resentment is too strong, but do you feel hurt that God has somehow disappointed you? We need to repent of such responses, and turn to God in prayer. But perhaps you wonder whether God is really interested in someone as insignificant as you.
God is concerned about the lives of each of his people
The world we live in is so full of personalities - people famous for being rich, being smart, being sporty, people famous for being famous. And nobody else gets a look-in. And sometimes the Christian can be tempted to think the same way. They look at famous Christian writers, or famous Christian ministers, or even just their own minister, or some other Christians around them whom they see as much stronger and a much better Christian than they are and then they look at themselves and they think, "Well God couldn't be interested in me."
For 8 chapters since 1 Kings 18 its all been about kings, and the man of God confronting kings, or wars, or cities, or politics. Where God has been working it has been very public, and a great display of might. Yet here in this incident and in those which follow we see God at work in the home, very personally and privately. We see his tender care for his people. When they are hurting, he notices. He is not just the God who deals with kings and armies, but the God who deals with hurting widows, where the practical details of life have overwhelmed and swamped them. Her name isn't even mentioned - she is a nameless widow, someone that would have gone unnoticed in the villages of Israel, certainly not anyone that would be talked about around the king's table.
But yet around the table of the great King of Heaven, her name is known, and her request is heard, and it is talked about there. Your God cares. Your God is interested. Not only do you have access, but as you come into the throne room of the King of Kings he sits there as heavenly father. He sits with a tender heart and a sympathetic ear. And while kings and presidents may be waging wars and fighting election campaigns He is interested in what is troubling you. And in this chapter we have a picture, in Elisha, of a God who is near to his people when they are in their problems.
Child of God, you have no right, no reason to feel that God is anything less than 100% intensely and personally interested in you and in the details of your life.
God seeks to strengthen the faith of his people
This woman is at the utter end of her resources. She has nothing left. When we are in debt, nothing that we own is ours until the debt is cleared. Nothing you have is yours except what remains after debts are paid. To have the wherewithal to pay, and yet not pay, is theft.
Elisha knows this, and so he asks this woman, "What do you have in the house?"
She has nothing. I suspect the creditor has already come to the house, he has brought round the heavies, and he has cleared it out. Tables, chairs, everything is gone. They are left with the clothes they stand in, and one little jar of olive oil. You can almost picture her as the men clear out the house, holding the jar out to the men, and saying, "Here you forgot this," and they turn and look, and pause and say, "What would we want that for, that's no use to us."
She has nothing.
But God doesn't just wave a magic wand and make her problems disappear. Because God is in control of our lives, including the trials. It's not as if the trials catch God unawares and he comes along to tidy up the mess. No he orders the difficulties because he is teaching us, and shaping us, and sanctifying us. And he has a purpose in this trial for this widow. He is seeking to strengthen her faith. And so Elisha sends her out to gather up from her neighbours every jar, barrel, bottle, basin, that she can find. He tells her to get as many as she can.
What faith! What obedience! She is facing the most traumatic day of her life, her two sons are about to be taken from her, and Elisha sends her out on a bottle hunt. And she goes.
And she takes her sons and they gather every jar and bottle they can find. And as she will find out, it is in proportion to her faith that God will bless her. If she had only gathered a few jars, her reward would have been small. And so Elisha tells her to gather not a few. In her trial her faith has been tested already in the trying circumstances. And now it is about to be tested again in the answer to her problem. And that often happens to us. We have to hang in there through a trial, and we are tempted to give up, but we hang in there. And then we find that the solution requires us to put our faith even more in God. As in this case when we can't see how things will turn out. And we are required to hang in through difficult times and times when we can't see how obeying God will actually provide an answer.
Times when we don't feel like obeying…
And it is in these cases that God provides for out need, and in doing so strengthens our faith.
We mustn't be like some preachers who do this woman a disservice. In v 6 she calls to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. Some preachers claim that she lacked faith, that she hadn't gathered enough jars. But there is no hint of that in the passage. In fact v7 makes it clear that She had gathered an ample amount of jars to supply oil to clear her debts and provide income to live on.
She has obeyed in faith. Will you keep on obeying in faith? Whatever problems you are facing have come to you from the hand of a loving father who is seeking to do what you need - to strengthen your faith. The very act of obeying him and trusting him and keeping doing that even when you can't see how this will actually help your circumstances is what God is looking for. Whatever circumstances you are in God is seeking to stimulate your faith. And so there is little point in complaining or wondering what God is doing - this is what he is invariably doing. And her faith was tested before the miracle - she couldn't sit back and wait for God to work. She was to exercise her faith. And according to her faith it was done to her. (Matt 9:29)
You obey and trust, and leave the circumstances in his hands.
God displays his overflowing kindness in supplying the needs of his people
And the widow and her sons return to the house after visiting every home in the neighbourhood, they go in and shut the door - and we see that God works miracles in places where no-one else sees, only the people directly involved. He doesn't always go in for the big display. And all the bottles and jars and pottery are spread out over the floor, and she takes her little jar of olive oil, and she says to her son, "hand me a jar," and the son hands her one and she pours the oil into it - there's nothing amazing about that.
But then she says, "hand me another one" and he does so, and she pours again, and you can see the eyes of the three people standing in that room widening and their jaws dropping, and that jar is full, and the first son is reaching as quick as he can for another jar, and the second son is reaching for the full one. And the mother is taking the next jar and they all watch as she tips up their own bottle a third time and still it pours. And a fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh. And on an on and on it goes.
And in that little home, you can imagine them nearly weeping with joy as they realise the wonderful truth of God's abundant kindness and love to his people. You can picture them as the last bottle is handed over and the son reaches round for another bottle only to find that there is none there, and as he turns back the oil has stopped flowing just as the bottle is filled and they know that it isn't magic, they know that it is a mighty miracle done by God. And you can picture them standing in silent adoration before their God, quietly delighting in the power and the goodness and the love and the mercy and the kindness of their God.
Because God is a God who does provide. He filled all there was to fill. His grace is sufficient for all your circumstances.
Elisha gives the widow three commands - Sell, pay, and live. God grace has not only cleared her debt, but he has given her enough to live on. God doesn't just see the immediate emergency, but he sees also the ongoing need. And that is part of the reason that he brings us through difficulties is so that we are equipped for the future. This is God's way, not just to meet the present need, but the ongoing need.
Whatever situation you find yourself in - this widow comes to you and says, "He provides, My God is able to supply all your needs."
And beside her comes the lady in the next section, and she stands with her son in her arms and says, My God is able to supply all your needs. And walking from school of the prophets comes the man from Baal-Shalisha at the end of the chapter and he says the same. And there comes the vast hoard of all the Children of Israel who had manna supplied, and who drank water from a rock. And here comes the Daniel, "My God provided an angel to shut the mouths of the lions." And here comes Esther, and she takes her place, "Yes he does supply all your needs." And there is Hannah, poor broken hearted Hannah, now standing with Samuel, and Sarah with Isaac, and Rachel with Joseph - My God is able to supply ALL your needs. And here is Jairus. And the crowd of 5000 men, and the crowd of 4000 men from Samaria, and with a mighty chorus they look you in the eye and say, "Our God is able to supply all your needs." And here is Peter walking in to the line from Herod's prison and he raises his voice and calls to you across the centuries, "My God is able to supply all your needs."
And a man in chains comes and stands beside them. He's still in prison and will never be released and he says, "I wrote those words in prison because I found that whatever circumstances I was in 'My God was able to supply all my needs."
And we could add to that the vast countless millions of God's people down through the centuries who have found that God's kindness overflows to his people. God doesn't save his people and then leave them to get by.
That which frees from debt also enables her to live.
And the same is true for us. The Gospel is what frees us from debt but here is what many Christians forget - they forget that the gospel is what enables them to live. And we need to remind ourselves of the gospel each day. It encourages us. It frees us from legalism. It helps us to pray. It gives us a sense of value. It helps us when we are struggling with sin. What God has provided to clear our debt also helps us to get through each day in a way that brings glory to God.
My God is able to supply all your needs. At the cross Jesus Christ purchased everything you would need to live your life here on this earth. You don't have to earn it. You have a father who loves to abundantly supply the needs of his desperate people.
And there is no situation that God's goodness and power aren't able to supply. God's goodness to this widow only stopped when the jars ran out. God has more to give than we can ever contain. So whatever trouble and situation you are in or find yourself in, I can look you confidently in the eye and say with Paul, and this widow, and that whole host of other people, "My God is able to supply all your needs."
A great picture of the Gospel
A woman in great debt. She is unable to discharge what she rightly owes. The law has come, and has taken away everything she owns, and still it isn't enough. Her debt is still standing. Eventually it comes to take away that which is most precious to her. Its like our debt to God. We can't clear it ourselves. If we gave everything we had, all the good we could do, it isn't enough. And that which is most precious is demanded of us - our life.
What hope is there for those of you who find yourself in this situation?
The same hope that this woman found - My God is able to supply all your needs.
Go to God, and ask him to clear the debt that you can't clear. Because if you don't then he will make you pay for all eternity.
If you do go to him and ask that He pay the price that you owe, He will pay it. And not only will he clear the debt, but he will set you free from the power of sin. And you will be freer than you have ever been in your whole life. And like this women and her sons, you will delight in the goodness and mercy and abundant kindness of God.