Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I love when I am reading God’s Word and He just brings to light something I haven’t seen before, don’t you?
A year ago, I was reading through the books of First and Second Kings, and I really lingered with the stories of Elijah and Elisha, the prophets. And I stumbled upon two stories that I had known about Elisha, but that hit me in an entirely new way. And it hit me big enough that I STILL think about it today.
Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is living and active, and part of that means that we can come to the same Bible passage time and again, and God will reveal new things about it, or put it in a different perspective, or speak to us in a different way.
And that’s exactly what happened here. These two stories reveal the beautiful way that Elisha helps two women he crosses paths with. Specifically, there are two different questions he asked, and that’s what I want us to focus on today. I think we can learn a lot from him. Especially when it comes to looking after those around us.
I didn’t realize a prophet could teach me so much about care and encouragement. Are you ready to hear what his two questions are? Let’s dive in.
The Prophet’s Widow
Both of these stories take place in 2 Kings chapter 4. It is early in Elisha’s ministry, and we’ve only read about a few of the miracles he has performed: purifying the water in Jericho and then cursing a group of boys who were teasing him for being bald, after which, a couple of bears come out from the woods and mauled 42 of them—that is one of the stories of the Bible that I have so many questions about.
As we look at chapter 4, though, it begins: “One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha…”
Apparently, there were whole groups of prophets back then who lived life together. Can you imagine? We often think only of the “big names” like Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and Jeremiah, but there were others. So many others! And some, we don’t even know their names.
Yet the Bible references groups of prophets in 1 Samuel 10, 1 Samuel 19, 1 Kings 20, and several times in 2 Kings 2. In fact, on the day when Elijah was taken to heaven, he and Elisha travel from town to town, and in each town, a group of prophets comes up to Elisha and asks, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?” This happens in Jericho and in Bethel.
How many of them are there? Well, at least 50 of them watch as Elijah and Elisha walk through the Jordan River on dry ground. (Did you realize how many times God parted the waters for people?) So if at least 50 of them witness this miracle, that means there are probably quite a few more.
Can you imagine?
So as we start 2 Kings chapter 4, a widow of one of these prophets comes to Elisha, crying out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”
So we know that Elisha is obviously seen as a leader, in some sense. Why else would the widow come to him instead of someone else? They recognized that he apprenticed with Elijah and then carried on his ministry after Elijah was taken to heaven.
How would you respond in this situation? One of your people come to you with this rather large problem. Do you feel guilty that her husband is dead? Does the problem seem too big for you to solve for her? Do you judge her for being in debt in the first place? Are you angry that she is making you responsible for finding a solution?
How would you respond? And how do you think Elisha responds?
He responds with a question: “What can I do to help you?”
I love how he just jumps right in. “What do you need? How can I help?” Elisha doesn’t ignore her plea for help or shoo her away. He doesn’t say, “It’s not my problem.” He welcomes her in and inquires as to how he can be of service to her.
He ends up asking her to gather as many jars as she can and telling her to fill them with oil from the oil flask she has in her house. And one flask of oil fills so many jars. She can then sell that oil, pay off the creditor, and keep her sons. It’s incredible.
And it all started with one question: “What can I do to help you?”
Is there someone you know who is going through a hard time, like the prophet’s widow? Who is facing a seemingly impossible situation?
Maybe she lost her job and can’t find anything remotely close to the work God has called her to do.
Maybe she is a single mom with littles and is struggling to get it all done everyday while still showing up for her kids.
Maybe she is chronically ill and so she can’t take care of her house and family like she wants to.
Take a few moments to prayerfully consider if and how God is calling you to help her. Maybe, like Elisha, you even ask her, “What can I do to help you?”
I know it seems like sometimes we don’t have a lot to offer, especially when we come up against these overwhelming circumstances. But remember the boy who gave up his lunch. Jesus took that food and fed more than 5,000 people—and had food leftover. And God took the oil from this one flask and filled who-knows-how-many more.
You never know how God might use what you have to perform a similar sort of miracle for your friend. What can you do to help?
The Woman from Shunem
So Elisha’s first question, to a woman in a dire situation, was, “What can I do to help you?” But we meet another woman in the verses following this in 2 Kings chapter 4 that describe a different kind of situation.
This is a woman who lived in Shunem. Since Elisha traveled there often, he would stay with this wealthy woman and her husband. They even created a special room just for him, complete with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. They served as his hosts, feeding him and tending to his needs. He had everything he needed.
If you were to meet someone gifted in hospitality, this was her. Imagine how Elisha must have felt, to have a sort of home with this couple. To know he had a place to spend the night when passing through. To know he would be able to eat good food. To know he could give his body some rest and have a private space to be on his own and meet with God.
Has anyone blessed you in this way? Has anyone opened their home to you? Has anyone invited you to “eat at their lunch table,” sort of speak? To share a meal? To have a cup of coffee together?
When I was living on my own after college, I became good friends with a family at my church. Not just the married couple themselves, but I also interacted with their kids, I was in a Bible study with the grandparents, and I was friends with their other son, as well. I felt adopted into their family. It was such a blessing.
Maybe for you, it’s someone who has helped you get a job you’ve been hoping for. Or someone who mentored you in your marriage. Or someone who discipled you at church. Who has blessed you in an amazing, overwhelming kind of way?
Back to our story. One day, while sitting in this special room of his in the upper part of the house, Elisha wants to bless her. He actually calls her to him and says, “We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?” (2 Kings 4:13). And she responds with, “No, my family takes good care of me.”
But Elisha doesn’t let it go. He genuinely wants to bless her, to show his appreciation for all the kindness that she has shown him.
And so he asks his servant, “What can we do for her?”
And that is the other question I want us to look at today. “What can we do for her?”
Elisha is proactively looking for a way to bless this woman as she has blessed him. I love that.
Elisha’s servant mentions that this woman does not have any children, and so Elisha proclaims that, in a year, this barren woman will have a son. And she does.
Again, I know that whatever we do seems like it won’t compare to Elisha. I mean, I can’t proclaim that someone will have a son, or get them the job of their dreams, or anything like that. But there is something I can do to show my appreciation to them.
I want you to proactively consider how you can do something for someone else today. Just to bless them.
It might be someone who has already blessed you, and you want to bless her in return. Or maybe, you’ll be the one to initiate the blessing altogether.
Ask God to bring someone to mind who could use some of this kindness. This encouragement. This almost celebratory kind of blessing. And then ask Him, “What can I do for her?” Ask God to show you what would be meaningful and special to her in this season of her life.
Adopting Elisha’s Two Questions
So what do you think? Aren’t those two powerful questions? I love seeing Elisha’s heart here. He’s not just a prophet proclaiming messages from God, but a man who is caring for those around him.
And those two questions that Elisha asked have touched me deeply. I’d love for us to adopt them as our own, always on the lookout for a way we can help others.
What can I do to help you? What can we do for her?
Remember, if you feel called by God to encourage and care for others, but you are struggling to discern the best way to do it, or even how to sense those nudges from Him about when to reach out, I want to invite you to consider spiritual direction with me.
In spiritual direction, we can discover how God speaks to you and how you best connect with Him. And building that relationship with Him allows you to know when He’s asking you to reach out—and when He’s not. You can sign up for a complimentary Discernment Call where we can talk about it some more.
But also, you guys, think about this: imagine committing an entire year to spiritual direction. To seeking God. To listening to Him. To pursuing Him. To paying attention to how He is moving in your life.
What would that be like for you? How would you see your relationship with God grow? How would that impact your relationship with your family? You can learn more about both of these opportunities by going to lovedoesthat.org/spiritualdirection.
Don’t forget our two questions from Elisha today: “What can I do to help you?” And “What can we do for her?” I encourage you to read the stories for yourself in 2 Kings chapter 4. And let Elisha inspire you, like he did me, in what it means to look after those around us.
Until next time…
- “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)
- 2 Kings 4
Friend, I’d love to encourage you as you encourage others. Here are two ways to get started:
1. SHOP ENCOURAGEMENT + SYMPATHY GIFTS
These are prayerfully-crafted gifts you can share with those you love as tangible expressions of care. Let your friend know she is not alone.
2. SCHEDULE A SPIRITUAL DIRECTION DISCERNMENT CALL
Interested in spiritual direction? Schedule a complimentary Discernment Call where we’ll talk about what’s weighing on your heart and identify next steps you can take to discern God’s direction.