Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Widow and the Oil: Empty Buckets are Most Fit for the Well of Grace

“Empty buckets are most fit for the well of grace”~ Charles Spurgeon

“The Little Drummer Boy” has always been my favorite Christmas carol, and for Christmas, my mom gave me an original 1958 Harry Simeone Chorale album whose cover is complete with the boy and his red drum and white lambs. Holding it in my hands, I can still hear the scratchy sound of the needle circling the grooves of the record resounding with the Pa rum pum pum chorus. Something about this boy and his ineptitude spoke to me even as a child.  He had nothing “fit” to give our King -and I’ve always known that my hands are empty before the Lord, too.  Most of the time believing fully that I carry not even a drum beat worthy to be played for Him.

But knowing my hands are empty -and believing that empty handedness is the only true gift that I can give Him- has been a long journey toward faith.

I’ve always known that you can’t get cleaned up for church so to speak -that the cleansing comes AFTER redemption and not before, and I’ve always known that I could never bring something fit for my King. But I’ve always wanted to please, to bring a good gift. And I’ve brought many wrapped in good intentions, wanting to be loved, to be accepted  -despite my feelings of inadequacy, despite the fact that I was trying to win something I had already been given.

I’ve always known that God promises to meet my every need according to His riches in glory, and I’ve always known that those riches are inexhaustible, but I’ve always been afraid to fully trust in those inexhaustible riches.  I’ve brought my fleshly efforts to the table -despite the fact that I know they are worthless, know they are the equivalent of the mythological Daughters of Danaus whose eternal punishment was to carry leaking jugs of water to fill a basin without a bottom in order to cleanse themselves of their sins.

And the Lord, He keeps bringing me back to this story, this story of a widow woman whose husband was the son of a prophet, a widow woman who was in desperate need. A widow woman whose husband left her in debt, not procured by his idleness, but by his faith, because he would not comply with the king’s way of worship. A widow woman whose sons were about to be enslaved by a creditor - who was about to lose everything.  A widow woman who was left with only a vessel of oil, and not the finest oil, such as would be used for cooking food, but the more common kind which she would make use of after a bath.

And I’m sure she stood there for agonizing moments, not knowing what to do, looking at those boys, her boys, and thinking that she’d already lost so much, wondering why the Lord didn’t do something, didn’t intervene, and somehow bring about deliverance.

And this widow woman, she cries out to Elisha the prophet, the voice of the Lord, for help - and when he sees her meager stock, he commands her to “borrow vessels of all her neighbours, even empty vessels; and to borrow not a few.” And when she returned with the vessels, she was to shut her door and pour out her oil into the vessels and set aside those that were full (2 Kings 4:3-4).

And she doesn’t even think; she doesn’t contemplate whether or not to obey.  She doesn't consider the absurdity of the request. She’s desperate. So she just quickly sends her sons to go -to collect empty oil jugs from their friends and from their neighbors.  And these friends and neighbors comply -and soon the room is filled, filled with empty earthen vessels.

And there she stands, this widow woman and her sons, surrounded by borrowed emptiness.  And she begins to pour from her pot of oil -her small pot, and the vessels, all the empty vessels are filled, one by one filled with precious oil.  And she goes running back to Elisha and he tells her to go and sell the oil, and pay her debt, and live with her children on the rest (2 Kings 4:7).

And I can’t stop wondering what she did at that moment, at that moment of the miraculous when her sons were saved and their future was secured.  Did she weep? Did she dance before the Lord? Did she shout praises to His name? Or did she stand in that room with those vessels full of oil, speechless with worship.

And I think of Elisha’s command to set out empty vessels for the Lord to fill, and I stand here in my place of anxiousness contemplating the difficulties of this year that has just passed, and the possibilities of what may come in the new year -what joys and what tribulations.  

And I begin to set them out, one by one, even empty vessels, not a few.  Vessels for every need -needs many and needs varied.  Spurgeon says we should “[h]ide none of them away, but put them down one after another, in a long row, all of them. There are needs for [our] body, needs for [our] soul, needs for [our]selves, needs for [our] families, needs for the present, needs for the future, needs for time, needs for eternity, needs for earth, needs for heaven.”  Don’t limit the miracle, he warns, “Have you one forgotten need? Make haste with it! Still the oil is multiplying. Come one! Come all! Arrange your vessels and the Lord will fill up your needs by His grace, and fill your mouths with a song.’

And I think about what was required for the widow’s miracle, and what is required for mine -and I look at these empty hands, lifted up before Him, no good gift fit to bring. And I think of the widow and how she was pressed and scared and how the creditor was coming and those boys were looking at their momma with fear.  And how in her desperation, she began to set out those pots in anticipation of the Lord’s filling.  

And I set out another vessel and another -until there’s room for no more. For my needs are many and varied. And I shut the door and wait.

And I turn over my uplifted hands so that anything left of me can spill out on the floor.  I empty myself before Him -empty myself of seeming control and earthly efforts -of doubt and unbelief -so that He can fill me with His grace, His miracle.

And Spurgeon reminds me that “that this is precisely all that Jesus Christ requires of us—that we be to Him and His divine fullness as empty vessels! The grace is with Him, not with us, just as the oil was in the woman’s one pot and not in the empty vessels. …O soul, if you believe in Jesus, you shall find in Him grace to pardon you, grace to change your nature, grace to keep that nature changed, grace to preserve you till you are perfect, grace to help you till you are brought home to glory! ”

And the sufficiency of His grace meets my needs and my anxious place becomes my place of faith, Holy ground.

And in the morning, I will set out the vessels again because His mercies are new each day and my needs are many.  And some of those vessels, I’ll set out again tomorrow and again and again each morning until the Lord sees fit to answer. Until the Lord grows my faith and strengthens my resolve and becomes my strong tower.

And to you who are waiting, waiting with me, waiting for the miracle to come, I’ll set out a vessel for you tomorrow and you set out one for me, and together, tried believer, we will offer Him the only gift fit for such a King: emptiness.

Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum.