A Severe Shortage of Pans

By: Dan Betzer

Text: “Then (Elisha) said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few” (2 Kings 4:3).

It’s an old story: a widow, left with children to raise, and no money. The lady’s husband had been a preacher, teaching in the seminary at Jericho. When he died, apparently suddenly, he left behind a debt. A big one, it seems. The Bible doesn’t specify this, but it could have been the debt that brought about the fellow’s demise. It wouldn’t be the first time that debt killed a person.

Let me tell you-there is no such thing as an easy payment. The ads cry out for your attention, “No payments until . . . such and such a date.” That means only that the execution has been delayed. Make no mistake about it, THE PAYMENTS WILL START! Sooner or later, the bills come due. We’ve been given a terrible example: Our government has been spending money it doesn’t have for a long time. We have emulated Uncle Sam. We’re all going to the paupers’ field if we don’t straighten up our financial act. Don’t get in debt! Avoid debt! If you can’t pay for it, you can’t afford it! It’s just that simple! When the poor man in our text died, he left behind an enormous financial obligation. His wife had no way of getting the money. The creditor had decreed, as was his right in those days, that the preacher’s dependents would serve as collateral. “No money, lady? Fine! I’ll take your boys!”

The widow ran to Elisha. Perhaps somehow this great prophet of God could figure out a way that her boys would not be sold into servitude. Elisha looked at her and asked, “Is there nothing in your house you can sell in order to pay the debt?” She replied, “Nothing, my lord, but a pot of olive oil.” The prophet’s eyebrows lifted. “Olive oil? That’s a good start! Lady, you’re going into the olive oil business!” Olive oil was used for many things, including cooking and fuel for lamps. It was a highly commercial product.

The widow perhaps thought Elisha had gone mad. “Olive oil business?” she mumbled. “With one pot of olive oil, I’m going in the oil business?” “Here’s what I want you to do,” Elisha commanded. “Go,
borrow pans from all your neighbors. Get everything that holds liquid, no matter what size. And don’t hold back on this. GET EVERY VESSEL YOU CAN!”

Can you imagine that poor woman? She knocks on a neighbor’s door. “Excuse me, but-but I need to borrow some pans. Empty ones. Please.” Her neighbors probably looked at her quietly for a moment, then shrugged and disappeared into their houses. When they returned they bore every kind and shape of pan you can think of-wide ones, narrow ones, tall ones, short ones, colored ones, plain ones. When the widow had stripped the neighborhood of all its pans and her house was full of these multi-shaped containers, she shut the door. She called her two boys over to her and said, “Now, boys, bring me the pot of oil from the back room.” They obeyed. With a quick look to the heavens, and a deep sigh, the widow took the pot of oil to the first empty pan and began to pour. She filled it and then looked into the pot. Her eyes must have looked like golf balls. There was still as much oil in the pot as before she started to pour! “Bring me another pan,” she ordered. And she poured again. “Bring another,” she said. And she poured. With the filling of every pan, the original pot still contained the same amount of oil. The woman began to smile, and then laugh as she continued to pour. How good God was! And how wise was Elisha! Every nook and cranny of her little house was filled with pans of oil. At last the boys handed her the last borrowed vessel. She said, “You know, boys, we’ll sell this oil and then borrow even more pans from
other neighbors. Why, we’ll be rich! This pot of oil will never be empty.” She finished pouring into that last pan and looked into the pot. What she saw took her breath away! The pot was empty! Not one
drop of oil remained! When the last borrowed vessel was filled, the supernatural supply of oil stopped! That’s why Elisha had told her to borrow every vessel she could find! She would not have a second

The Bible teaches us that she now had an adequate supply of oil to pay the debt. Her two sons would not go into servitude. The crisis was averted. But, oh-if she had only borrowed more pans! The miracle
ended because she had a severe shortage of pans! A severe shortage of empty vessels! How much more oil there would have been, and how much more money for her family, if she had just borrowed more containers!

I submit to your thinking today the biblical principle that we do not face a shortage of supply in the work of God; we face a shortage of willing, empty vessels! The Book of Exodus reminds us that when Moses
began collecting materials for the tabernacle in the wilderness there was TOO MUCH given for the work. It was announced to the people, “Stop bringing materials for the work of construction! We have more than we need!”

The principle here is simple: GOD IS THE SOURCE OF SUPPLY! When we are doing what God is doing, and we present to Him our lives emptied of personal interest, God pours out His provision! I know what I am talking about here, because I have seen it happen again and again! I should not expect the Lord to pour His provision into me if what I am doing with my life is counter to His will. His provision would then defeat His purpose. God is a God of logic. He would not do something so totally illogical. Look around you: Churches that are growing and prospering are those that are involved in God’s mission. A church historian told me just last week that in all his studies he cannot find one church that cared for the poor that has closed while involved in that pursuit.

I must ask myself, “Am I truly involved in God’s work-or am I just working on my own agenda?” Abraham Lincoln was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union during the Civil War. He replied that he was not so concerned whether God was on his side. He said, “What I want to know is, am I on God’s side?”

Think this scenario through with me: Elisha told the widow to find “vessels abroad of all thy neighbors.” What if-what if-she had brought back to her house many, many such vessels, but they were filled with
trash, debris, dirt, other articles, other liquids, and so forth? Would she have tried to fill all those pots and pans if they were already full? No, and if she had, the oil she poured in them would have been rendered virtually useless. Those pots and pans she brought in had to be empty to be of any use at all. Yet this is what we do to God constantly: “Fill my cup, Lord,” we pray. Yet our vessel is filled with all sorts of debris and sometimes outright

filth. Will God pour His pure Holy Spirit and provision into such trashy receptacles? I think not! We bring empty vessels to God, lives washed clean by the blood of Jesus. We pray as David did in the 51st
Psalm, “Cleanse me, 0 God!” Paul told us that Christ’s life within us was a TREASURE in an earthen vessel. The treasure must not be placed in a filthy receptacle.

Now let me get to my main thrust of this message: The widow did everything Elisha asked her. She got every vessel her neighbors could spare. Now I ask you, had she known that her pot of oil would be
unfailing as long as there were still empty vessels to fill, don’t you think she would have gone to extremes to bring in such vessels? Wouldn’t you? If you had a pot of oil that would supernaturally fill 50 pans, and you knew it could just as easily supernaturally fill 5,000 pans, wouldn’t you do what was necessary to get 5,000 pans? See, here it is: OUR PROBLEM IS NOT A PROVISION PROBLEM AT ALL; IT’S A “PAN
PROBLEM.” We have the oil-at least a little, which is all that’s required. We just don’t have the pans!

Jesus was preaching on the hillsides of Galilee. There were at least 5,000 men there, plus wives and children. The disciples were getting nervous. “Jesus,” they begged, “send these people away! It’s late.
They’re hungry! Let them go to the nearby villages and buy food.” Jesus replied, “You feed them!” “What?” they gasped. “It would take us months to buy the food to feed this crowd.” Jesus responded, “Well, then, how much food do you have on hand?” They took inventory and moaned, “Lord, we’ve got five loaves and two fish. That’s it.” “Wonderful!” Jesus said. “Have the people sit down to eat.” The
disciples suffered from the same disease we do: They couldn’t differentiate between provision and empty pans! Jesus took the loaves and fishes, prayed over them, broke them, and gave a section to each
disciple and said, “Feed this crowd.” Not only did they feed that whole crowd-and everyone was full; the Bible says, they had 12 baskets of provision left over! They had more than enough! Why? Christ was the
provision. All they had to do was to bring to Him the empty pans, and He would fill them!

Why, oh why, is this principle so hard for me to grasp? I am constantly moaning, “Lord, bring in the tourists to our state so they’ll attend church so they’ll give in the offering so we’ll have the money we need to do the work you’ve called us to do.” I honestly think sometimes that God is dependent upon the tourism industry in Florida to do His work in our churches. Isn’t that pathetic? God, help me to
understand that all the provision I need is already there through You! All I need to do is go out and get all those empty pans, those empty lives, those empty hearts, those empty families, and get them to the
source! You’ll keep pouring out the oil! There is an endless supply!

“Bring in the empty vessels,” the Lord says to us. “I’ll fill them!” Elisha said to the widow, “Borrow vessels-not a few!” Think in terms of the need, and not the source. That’s opposite to our natural thought pattern. We consider the source and that dictates filling the need. “No, no,” God says, “consider the need and I’ll be the source!”

We hear a lot today about “burnout” in the Christian world. I can understand how people “burn out” if they look on the whitened harvest fields of the world and think somehow they have to be the source, that
THEY have to fill all the empty vessels themselves. In truth we are only to bring the empty vessels to God, and He will do the filling every time. When we stop bringing the empty vessels, He stops filling
for He does not pour His supply on the ground.

I pastor a church that faces terrific needs every day. I live in a wicked, wicked state. Two of the three major crime cities in America are located in my state. The drug traffic there defies description.
Foreign tourists have been shot coming to our state for vacation. I tell you the need is overwhelming. I receive phone calls or letters from home and foreign missionaries literally every day of the year,
asking for financial help. If I thought even for a moment that I had to be the source to fill all of those needs, I would lose my mind. But, hallelujah! I am NOT the source. I am only responsible for
bringing the empty vessels to Jesus. He fills them from His bountiful supply.

I just have a deep suspicion that the widow wished a thousand times she would have brought more empty vessels into the house. I believe the oil would STILL be pouring out of that pot if the empty vessels had been there. God’s provision is endless. And I believe He will pour His healing oil through you and your life. You just have to be a clean, willing, empty vessel, that’s all. All around you are people
who desperately need help. Bring them to the source, my friend. That’s the responsibility you and I have-just bring those vessels to the source!

Is God diminished? Hardly. is His reservoir exhausted? Not a chance. Then what’s our problem? Oh, we have a severe shortage of pans!