How can I help you? 2 Kings 4:1-7

I saw a sign once in the shop in Colchester Zoo. “Unattended children will be sold as slaves”. For the family of one of the community of prophets murdered by Queen Jezabel, that was not a joke. That was exactly the situation the impoverished widow was facing in this morning’s story of the prophet Elisha and the poor widow. This is one of my favourite passages in the whole of the Old Testament, and I am sure you will soon see why. Here is a woman in desperate need. Speaking on behalf of God, the prophet Elisha responds to the woman with a wonderful question.
How can I help you? What can I do for you?
Here is the offer of help God graciously makes to anyone and everyone. But we only hear it at those times in our lives when we turn to God for help. What can I do for you? How can I help you?
God asks each one of us the same question. What do WE need from God? There are so many different kinds of need – so many hurting people. Facing the cost of living crisis, with the prices of food and fuel and energy going up so quickly, coming so soon after all the struggles of the Covid pandemic, many people now can’t make ends meet and are finding themselves in debt, as this poor widow had done. Very many people need wisdom to find the right way forward in these pressing circumstances. How can I help you? Wisdom was the thing that King Solomon asked for when God asked him that same question.
1 Kings 3 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
Solomon could have asked God for riches or power or victory in battle. But he realised his greatest need was very different.
8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
We read that: 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honour—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.
Many people feel we need the wisdom of Solomon just to cope in these difficult times. What do you want me to give you? How can I help you? What is your answer to God’s question this morning? I think this must surely be God’s favourite question. Because we find Jesus himself asking the blind beggar named Bartimaeus exactly the same thing. We looked at that story in a family service some years back but I haven’t preached a full length sermon about Bartimaeus here at North Springfield. It comes at the end of Mark 10.
Mark 10 46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
49 Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’
So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
52 ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Since there won’t be time to return to Bartimaeus again, let me highlight the key points of his story this morning, using the first four letters of his name.
Bartimaeus was BLIND. That had trapped him in a life of inescapable poverty. But Bartimaeus knew that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of David, could help him. He cried out and Jesus heard him and called him to him and asked that wonderful question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus could have just begged for food, or money or for a new cloak. But he was much bolder than that. “Rabbi, I want to see.”
Bartimaeus ASKED for his greatest need, the thing which would transform his life. He asked to be able to see. And then Jesus worked his miracle
Bartimaeus RECEIVED his sight. He could see again. “Your faith has healed you.”
We can also ask, and we also will receive. Jesus made these promises to all his disciples,
Matthew 7 7 ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Jesus invites us to ask him for whatever we need. Jesus asked Bartimaeus: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And Bartimaeus received his sight. In fact, the miracle was even greater than we might imagine. The word Jesus used was sozo, which means “your faith has made you whole”, and even “your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus asked for his sight but the gift he received was all the blessings of God’s wonderful salvation. How did this happen?
Simply because Bartimaeus TRUSTED in Jesus. “Your faith has healed you.” Bartimaeus put his faith in Jesus. He asked and he received because he trusted. And we can do the same. There’s a four point sermon which is easy to remember. B. A. R. T. Blind Asked Received Trusted. If we had the time I could expand that into ten points using all the letters of Bartimaeus’s name. “Bartimaeus was Blind. He Asked and he Received because he Trusted Jesus.” In the same way, “I May Ask Expecting Undeserved Salvation.” There you go: Bartimaeus – a ten point acrostic sermon. Some people might think that was just showing off. But it’s true – Jesus invites us all to ask Him for whatever we need, even all the blessings of salvation.
What do you want me to do for you? How can I help you? That is the lovely question God is asking all of us this morning. Like Bartimaeus we may need healing. We may need wholeness. People may need to ask for God’s forgiveness and for all the blessings of salvation and new life. We may need God’s wisdom and guidance as Solomon did. Or our needs may be more practical – we may be facing money problems as desperate as the widow who came to Elisha. God cares just as much about “practical” matters as he does about “spiritual” things.
In this time of national mourning, we may be sad and grieving and we need God to comfort us. Facing the cost of living crisis in these uncertain times, people may be anxious or afraid. We may want to ask God to give us his peace. We may need God’s help in all kind’s of ways: for victory over temptation, or power to witness, or the grace to grow in Christ.
“How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” Elisha asks this poor widow on God’s behalf in our story. But then she doesn’t even need to answer. God already knew her needs, just as God already KNOWS our needs! So the prophet goes on,
“What do you have in your house?” What have you got? (verse 2)
God wants to use US to work his miracles. We may feel we have very little to offer God – but HOWEVER little that is God can use it! The widow answered,
‘Your servant has nothing there at all,’ she said, ‘except a small jar of olive oil.’
The jar was so small that the woman almost forgot to mention it. But it was enough. When we offer God the little we have, however small it may be, he can take and use and transform it and do more than we can ask or even imagine.
“What do you have?” “What have you got?” Each of us have our spiritual gifts and our natural talents. We have our skills and our experience. We have our homes, our money, our possessions, our jobs, our friendships. From time to time it is good to hand all these back to God again. Everything that we have, indeed everything that we are, is given to us by God. We should surrender everything back to God again. He can use all these things to bless us, to bless each other and to bless a needy world. We may not feel we have a lot to give, just a tiny jar of oil, too small to mention, but God wants to use every one of us in his service for his glory! We just need to offer everything back to God as this woman did.
This is the case in our everyday lives, and it is also true in the life of the church. We have seen from Ephesians chapter 4 God wants all of his people to be active in serving Him.
The Good News Translation of Ephesians 4:16 Under Christ’s control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.
The church will only thrive when each part does its work, when every one of us puts the little we have got into God’s hands for Him to use as He chooses. When each of us use our spiritual gifts, and build each other up by showing true Christian love for each other. “What have you got?” God wants to use EACH and EVERY one of us here in His church.
Back to the plot. “What have you got?” Elisha asked. So we find the poor widow and her sons stepping out in faith and obedience.
3 Elisha said, ‘Go round and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 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.’
5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons.
Can you imagine how foolish that woman felt going round to all her neighbours asking for empty jars. EVERYBODY knew she didn’t have ANYTHING to put in the jars. But the woman and her sons were courageous enough and trusting enough to do as Elisha had instructed. They went out on a limb for God. We don’t need great faith – just faith in a great God, going out on a limb for God.
That is exactly what God calls us to do. To be prepared to step out on a limb for Him. To be prepared to look a little bit foolish telling other people about Jesus. All it takes is a little bit of faith. A little bit of obedience. That’s what the widow did. She trusted, she obeyed, and here comes the miracle!
They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 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 just kept on pouring! Vv 5-7
She didn’t have a lot – just a tiny jar of oil. Still she kept on pouring olive oil out of her jar into all the empty jars until there wasn’t an empty jar left. God’s grace is overflowing! God doesn’t just meet her immediate needs – he goes on to do far more than she dared ask or even imagine. Because our God is the God who works miracles!
7 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.’
God’s blessing NEVER runs out. The only limit to God’s working is the extent to which we give Him opportunities to act. How much we are prepared to give of ourselves, our time, our talents, for him to use and transform. How open we are to being channels of HIS love, grace and power. We may not think we have very much “just a tiny little jar of oil, hardly worth mentioning really,” but when we surrender the little we do have to God he can work miracles! “She kept on pouring!” Each of us as individuals needs more of God’s love and grace and power! As a church we all need more of the overflowing grace and love and power of God which just keeps on pouring out!
Just a few weeks ago we thought about the church in terms of the premises, the programme, the people and the presence of God. In the context of our life as a church God asks us, “How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” That might lead us just to think about the programme of the church. But then God asks, “What have you got?” That will prompt us to thank God for his provision of our premises, and also for all the people He has brought together in this fellowship. Then we read of how the poor widow just kept on pouring, and that will speak to us of the presence of God in our midst, pouring out his power and His Holy Spirit into our lives, blessing upon blessing upon blessing. If any of us want to move on in our individual Christian lives, we need to be open to the working of God the Holy Spirit. Ministers who want to be used by God need the Holy Spirit. And if any church wants to move on with God the secret is the same – we need more of the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit.
“She just kept on pouring”. The blessings God pours down will never, ever run out. Paul reminded the Philippians that God’s grace is always adequate for ALL our needs!
Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
We also have received this same amazing grace of God. We also know the one we have put our trust in. Jesus has died for our sins. We share in his resurrection life and his immortality. We have received the love of God which never lets us go. God will always be faithful. God is not just able, he is much, much, more than able to meet all our needs and take care of us and keep us safe.
She just kept on pouring. God’s grace never runs out. Let me remind you of that story about an ambassador who was looking for a new car. He sent off to all the major manufacturers, Jaguar, Bentley, Daimler asking for the specifications of their top models. The other makes replied with all sorts of details: top speed, brake horsepower, miles per gallon, time to 60 mph, sound system and so on. Rolls Royce sent back a message with just one word on it. “Adequate”. For all of our situations the overflowing grace of God is much more than just adequate! Our God is “more than able”!
She offered to God that tiny jar of olive oil, and with the miraculous power of Almighty God, the woman just kept on pouring. And God will keep on pouring his love and his peace and His Holy Spirit into our lives.
She just kept on pouring. In the same way, we can open our lives to the unlimited possibilities which the Presence of Almighty God brings to us. How can I help you? What do you want me to do for you? What have you got? She just kept on pouring!
Ephesians 3 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Let us respond in reflection and prayer.
What are your answers to God’s questions?
How can I help you?
What do you have?
Draw near in faith and obedience – she just kept on pouring!

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