An Oily Mess and the Possibility of Success

Have you ever noticed how success can change people?

Have you seen people come into a sudden windfall and, all at once, they aren’t the people they used to be?

That’s because many of us are prepared for failure, for rejection, for the status quo but few of us prepare for success.

I faced this at my place of work recently.

We’re planning an event. Because it’s Rhode Island and because we’re facing a struggling economy, we’ve a tendency to adjust our hopes for small numbers, we set low expectations for attendance.

Then, a member mentioned that they’d heard dozens of people talking about the event. Our team looked at each other with a sense of panic. “Wait.” Someone said. “Are we prepared to handle it if people actually come?”

We’ve been battling the economy and its effects for so long that the idea something might succeed came as a bit of a shock to our system and we had to rally our expectations and our plans to include the idea that we might actually succeed at something.

We’re ready now but if we hadn’t factored success into our plans, we may not have been.

I remember facing that same moment at a writing conference.

When you’re a writer, you know you must fortify yourself for rejection. It’s de rigueur, part of the job, comes with the territory (like clichés.) But one day, I was sitting with an editor who seemed engaged, interested, hopeful about what I’d written.

Wait. I thought. What if someone actually wants to buy this book? Am I prepared for THAT?

Many a morning, I had prayed for God to prepare me to handle rejection but that afternoon, I spent time asking God to prepare me for success, to ready my heart to receive His blessing.

There’s a funky little story in 2 Kings, way back in the Old Testament. It goes like this:

“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 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.”

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.” 2 Kings 4:1-7

I wonder about this woman as she knocked on neighbor’s doors asking for jars. What was she thinking?

Elisha had cautioned her not to ask for “just a few” jars but she knew how much olive oil she had in her house. She was a woman accustomed to managing a household, so surely she knew how far that one jar of oil would spread.

I wonder if it was hard for her to collect many jars. Did she feel hopeful or was she plagued by doubt that she was just going to have a houseful of empty jars with dribbles of oil in each one?

And then, what would the neighbors say about her surrounded by a roomful of borrowed but empty jars? Would she become “that crazy woman with the jars” that was talked about for years to come?

She was risking a lot to be out there collecting those jars.

Whatever she was thinking, the widow planned for blessing. She collected so many jars that when they were filled, she had enough to pay off her debts and then to live on.

Here was a woman who had trusted God by planning for success. She had anticipated a blessing from the Lord.

Not only that, but her act of faith served to prepare the way for her story to be told throughout the village as people from whom she’d borrowed empty jars heard about the woman with the miraculous bounty of oil. They knew they’d given her jars with nothing in them so they knew that God had to have been at work providing the oil.

How about you? Are you prepared only for rejection? Failure? The status quo?

Have you spent any time asking God to prepare you for blessing, for success?

Perhaps today you should check in with Him about this.

I don’t know. Maybe He wants you out in the neighborhood borrowing empty jars.

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  1. Heather says:

    Another great post, Lori! It reminds me of that story in “Fireproof” about the two farmers who were praying for rain during a drought. Only one farmer planted in preparation for the blessing. This is timely with your last post on suffering. It is especially hard during times of suffering to prepare for the blessing.

  2. Absolutely, Heather. I think success and blessing may have been the furthest things from this widow’s mind. She was just hoping to survive and be able to keep her sons from slavery and God surprised her with abundance.

  3. Love it. Need it. Will make mental and spiritual adjustments. We often overlook that He can do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. Great observation, Lori.

  4. Would she become “that crazy woman with the jars” that was talked about for years to come?

    Love it. I’d rather err on the side of crazy faith, wouldn’t you?

  5. Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Lori. It’s making me re-think several things.