Meet Olive. She is an unnamed woman in the Bible, her story found in 2 Kings, chapter 4.
I’ve dubbed her Olive – for reasons that will soon become clear. She’s just lost her husband and is feeling the weight of responsibility in taking up the new titles of single mum, provider and widow. Things are looking pretty grim.
We’ve all experienced some of the feelings this woman might have been experiencing: disempowered, fearful, perhaps even a little angry – her husband “revered the Lord” and was a man from the “company of the prophets”, yet for all his supposed favour, God wasn’t making her life particularly easy.
To add insult to injury, the debt-collectors were after Olive, threatening to sell her sons into slavery to cover the debt.
Desperate, she goes to Elisha, the prophet – a prophet being someone regarded as the inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God. No doubt he listened to her sorry story, nodding and arching his eyebrows in all the right places. But when she stopped, he said, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
In other words, I’ve heard what you DON’T have, now tell me what you DO have.
Olive said, “Nothing… except a small jar of olive oil.” Her namesake!
What DO you have?
It’s a question God asks of us daily. When we come to him with all our ailments and complaints and the complexities of this life, He says, “What DO you have, Claire?” Yes, I hear that you are frustrated because your three-year-old is throwing tantrums back to back and is refusing to sleep meaning you have no ‘mummy time’, but what DO you have?
God’s message here is bright with optimism. He wants us to focus on what we have, even if it’s just a little bit of oil like Olive, and to surrender it to him. God multiplies what we surrender to him.
1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
So, what happened next for our Olive…
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” (verses 3-4)
Olive diligently collected jars from her neighbours. I imagine a community piqued with intrigue, asking why the widow was collecting jars when it was well known that she had nothing to fill them with. Excitement was building like electricity in the air. The town gossip was hovering.
The miracle required faith. If Olive had only collected what was reasonable, or an amount that would be polite and acceptable, she would not have received the full blessing.
I love this picture so much. It’s the equation that God uses in our lives and I wonder if we were more aware of it, would we collect more and more jars? Would we believe for more and more? Would we surrender more completely because we know that God will bless that act of faith?
God took brokenness, poverty, and powerlessness, and, through an act of surrender and faith, turned it into deliverance, sustenance, life and unity. Through it all, God was glorified. Olive was able to sell the oil to pay her debts and live off what was left (verse 7).
I see this woman walking out of her home later that day, her face glowing, her boys at her side, ready to tell the whole community of the mighty thing God had done in their lives.
So my question for you is this: what DO you have? And will you surrender it to God, and exercise big faith, like Olive?
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday August 4, 2014.