“Nothing in the House”
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
Last week I discovered that I needed to fill in for another speaker who had to cancel due to a family emergency. No problem, right? I am, after all, a speaker and have gone on as an ‘understudy’ many times before. Except this time I was also busy helping to direct the event. And did I mention that my audience would be a couple dozen top speakers and authors from around the country? So I did what you probably would have done too. I grabbed my Bible and fell on my knees. “God, what do we most need to hear from You tomorrow (Sunday) morning?” Then, because I was in a warm climate in the middle of January, I went outside and sat at a picnic table, opened my small travel Bible, picked up my pen and notebook (because this was also an unplugged-from-technology week for me) and began writing.
I decided to speak to my colleagues on “How to Live An Impossible Life.” You see, I often feel that my life is practically impossible to live – too many people needing too much of me too often. Always behind, never caught up. Sandwiched between needs of parents and needs of kids. You know. Kind of like your life too. So I figured my speaking sisters would certainly relate to the topic, if nothing else.
So many demands…. And yet sometimes so little available to meet them. So little strength, money, time, resources… Do you ever feel as though you have “nothing in the house?” That phrase is a direct quote from a remarkable story found in II Kings 4.1-7, of a woman who feels her life has become impossible. This widow of one of the prophet Elisha’s most faithful servants has suffered a triple blow: her husband has died, the creditors are coming to take her children as slaves, and there is nothing in the house. She is grieving, fearful and destitute.
As this new year begins are you experiencing loss? Are you afraid or worried? Are you lacking in resources? Then read carefully as we discover how God brings something out of nothing, how He can enable us to live through seemingly ‘impossible’ circumstances.
And the widow answers “Your servant has nothing there at all, except… a small jar of olive oil.” It’s almost as though the one thing she does have – the small jar of olive oil – is simply an afterthought because it seems so ordinary, so insignificant. And yet, it’s a start – a place for God, through His servant Elisha, to begin the miracle work.
I have often felt as though I had “nothing in the house….except” when it comes to what is needed for my daily life. Oh yeah, I have a lot of ‘stuff’ in the house, but sometimes I’m down to bare bones when it comes to offering hope, offering wisdom, offering answers… That’s when my answer needs to be, “I have nothing in the house except…..my willingness to be used, Lord.”
Last week as I was studying this scripture I remembered a poem by one of my favorites – Amy Carmichael. I first read this poem way back in seminary days and recall that it begins with her telling God she has nothing in her house but Pain. Amy, a Victorian missionary to India who rescued young girls from temple prostitution (the original human trafficking), lived in pain all her life. The last two verses of the poem are God’s words to her:
My servant, I have come into the house-
I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there can never be the need to tell
His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?
And I, his Conqueror, am in the house,
Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldst thou, child of Mine, if I am here?
My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing,
And he shall have a braver song to sing.
– Amy Carmichael “Nothing in the House”
God makes His presence and power and provision known when we most need it. Are you empty? Do you wonder how you can possibly have enough or be enough for what is required from you? Take a look at your resources – what has been provided instead of what has been withheld. Even the widow had something – one small jar of oil. And Elisha saw what could come from that.
God wants to do the same thing in my life and yours — take something small and multiply into more. But in the process we may be asked to do some questionable things, such as… gathering more of nothing! Yes, Elisha immediately told her to go and find as many empty jars as she could and bring them into the house (verse 3.) I can’t help but wonder what went through her mind as she was obeying this strange request? What goes through your mind when you are obeying God, but not understanding His will and His way? I confess I often grumble “I’ll do it, but it won’t make any difference” or “This is not the way the world works today, don’t you know that God?”
Then Elisha told her to take the one jar of oil and use it to fill a house full of empty containers (verse 4.) I wouldn’t be surprised if she was secretly relieved he had told her to shut the doors so that no neighbors would see her. And yet, as she poured, there was always more — more oil to fill every jar. The impossible had become possible.
And God’s purposes for this widow’s life – to enable her to become financially stable in order to provide for her family – were accomplished as she was instructed to sell all the oil (verse 7.)
It is a new year. And I suspect that during 2014 many of us will inevitably meet up with both opportunities and challenges which require more than what we have. And when that happens, we may be tempted to say “I have nothing left!” – no more energy, no more hope, no more words, no more time…
If that day comes, will you remember the widow’s answer “nothing in the house… except” and will you take whatever small thing you do have, offer it up to God and allow Him to multiply it into an ‘impossible’ amount of more?
Yes we can live our lives – our nitty gritty hot mess kind of lives – because truly “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1.37 ESV)
under the mercy, Cindy
FYI The second lesson in my presentation last Sunday was based on the Joshua 3 story, but I’ll save that for another day…