2 Kings 4: 1-7
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.’
Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’
‘Your servant has nothing there at all,’ she said, ‘except a small jar of olive oil.’
Elisha said, ‘Go round and ask all your neighbours 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.’
She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’
But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’
Luke 5: 4-6
“…he [Jesus] said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’
Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”
This week we are thinking about 'capacity' and the idea that limitations and lack in our lives aren't caused by God's reluctance to give, but can be hindered by our capacity to receive.
In the story about Elisha, a widow comes to him in complete desperation because she owes money that she can't pay and the lender is about to take her two sons away as slaves to cover her debts. The prophet instructs her to go around her neighbours and borrow some jars. Notice his admonition: "Don't ask for just a few." It's almost as if he knows that her poverty mindset has created incredibly low expectations, that she is used to settling for very little in her life.
She starts to pour out the little oil she has, and as she does, one jar is filled to the brim. Her son brings her another one and soon it is full as well. He hands her another one and its filled. Jar after jar after jar. As long as they keep bringing jars, as long as she keeps creating capacity, God keeps on filling it. As long as there is room to receive, God keeps giving.
When does the oil eventually run out?
When all the jars were full. The amount of oil she would finish up with was not determined by God’s willingness to give but by her capacity to receive. If she had 20 more jars, then 20 more would have been filled. If she brought 1000 more jars, God would have filled every one of them.
God’s provision and power in her life was not determined by His capacity to give. Rather it was limited by her capacity to receive.
It's the same with the story of Simon and the catch of fish. In the original Greek text, Jesus says, "....let down the nets" (plural). However, Simon responds, "I will let down the net..." (singular). In other words, his expectations were set pretty low. Either way, the point being made is the same. The net was completely and totally filled to absolute capacity, to the extent that it couldn’t hold one more fish. It was literally at breaking point. If they had let down 10 nets, I believe every one of them would have been filled. The limitation wasn’t on Jesus ability to provide fish, it was on Peter's capacity to receive what Jesus would give him.
God is drawn to emptiness. He loves to fill whatever capacity is placed before Him. We see that even in the opening chapters of Genesis, in the account of creation. Over and over again we read that first God formed, then He filled.
Our concept of God's character, our past experiences, our theology and our level of faith will all determine what we believe God is able to do in our lives. Often we expect little and we settle for less. He is a good Father. Like any good parent, His desire is that His children don't just get by on the bare minimum or survive, but that we have more than enough, so that once our needs are met, we are able to live lives of radical giving and breathtaking generosity. As Jesus made clear: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt 7: 11)