Grateful for Enough
I recently enjoyed interacting with God as I entered the role of the desperate widow about to lose her children (2 Kings 4:1-7). To set the scene for you, her deceased husband had been part of the “school of the prophets.” (Josephus says he was Obadiah who hid 100 prophets of God, supposedly running up his credit card to feed them; 1 Kings 18:13.) This debt was so huge that the creditor came to take her children as slaves.
When she asked Professor Elisha for help, he quizzed her about her resources. She had nothing but a jar of oil. So he told her to gather all the containers she could find and start pouring her oil into those containers. So she and her kids gathered all the containers they could find and her small amount of oil miraculously filled all of them! Then he told her to sell all that oil to pay her debts (operating her own microbusiness) and she and her children could live on the rest. So she had enough, even more than enough.
As I meditated on this passage, I was reminded of the situation at our first church in downtown Los Angeles that could afford to pay us both one salary together. On that income, we managed to buy a very small house. I learned that if any extra money came in, I should not start plotting how to spend it. Shortly a need would arise that could be met by the money God had provided us ahead of time. We didn’t have a lot but we always had exactly enough. We became grateful the Lord really was our Shepherd and provided everything we needed.
But I was disturbed by two popular resources that cited her as an example of a lack of faith and obedience because she supposedly limited God’s blessings. The text says nothing about this (and Elisha was not one to mince words), only that the oil met her needs and gave her more besides. I’m guessing that these resources think she should have somehow dug up more containers and thus obtained more oil from the miracle. (That wasn’t easy; they didn’t have Tupperware.)
This bothered me because as I’m writing a book about simplicity of life, I’m seeing that it is now normal to frantically attempt to own and acquire more and more, operating on the assumptions that more is always better and bigger is better. Frugality, however, is the biblical value: “staying within the bounds of what general good judgment would designate as necessary for the kind of life God has led us to lead” (Dallas Willard). Frugality is about not being squeezed into the world’s mold by pursuing a consumption-oriented lifestyle. But these resources, written to a market within the richest nation on the planet (“the rich of this world” 1 Tim 6:17), suggested that not trying to have more was a sin. This view, which opposes simplicity, distracts us not only from focusing on our life with God but also from loving the people around us. Our cluttered garages and schedules as well as the greed we’ve witnessed by some corporations are testimonies that we desperately need to understand that having enough is a beautiful gift and we can be so grateful we have enough especially when much of the world God so loves does not.
This view that the woman wasn’t faithful and obedient even though her needs were met and she received more besides reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool who planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones: gotta have more than enough (Luke 12:13-21). One of the resources said that instead of behaving like her, we should imagine all that God can do (citing Ephesians 3:20). But that prayer isn’t about having more income than is necessary but about grasping how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is and how we can be a part of evidencing that to the world.
So picture this woman--with diligence and an expectant look on her face - and her rescued-from-near-slavery children running to and fro to fetch every container they could find to hold the abundant blessing God provided.
Grace and peace,
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