Responsibility in Revival
By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn
In Second Kings, Chapter 4, we read a story about Elisha. It begins like this. 1“Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant, my husband is dead, and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord; and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen. 2And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? Tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, except a pot of oil. 3Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels from all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. 4And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full. 5So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out. 6And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.” The next verse declares that she took it to the man of God and he said, “Sell the oil, pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children.”
The first thing we can see here is too few vessels for the oil. This begins as a sad story, I think. A lady comes to the man of God and declares she has a problem. Further, her husband was such a godly man she somehow feels she can come to Elisha on these, the husband’s merits. It’s a tragic thing when we only represent ourselves based on the merits of another: through a husband or wife or a son or daughter or even a church or a denomination. “Lord, You know I grew up in this denomination; I’m identified with it.” “I’m Mrs. So-and-So. You know my husband? Well, I just….” The answer comes back to the woman from Elisha: “What shall I do for you?” Or, “Let’s talk about you!” She responds, “Well, my husband was such a godly man and he was a good servant for you. He did have one little problem: he left us in this huge debt.”
Indebtedness in Bible days, especially in Old Testament days, was tremendously terrorizing. When one’s debt came due and he was unable to pay it plus the usury (we would call it “interest”), it was legal for the lender to come and take his possessions. If he didn’t own anything, they could take the children and make them servants. Or, they could literally take the wife out of the home and make her a servant. It was no small thing to be in debt. It was a very heavy load.
If the debt was large enough, they could take the man of the house, the head of the household, and make him a servant until he could pay it all off. Now, he never could pay off the debt, because the usury was so high that if the debt couldn’t be paid when he was taken into servitude, the interest continued to compound (interest upon interest) and eventually it was all due. In other words, a man could become a servant with no pay for life. Servants were not hirelings, therefore they received no income.
This was a very grave situation, and we can see it accurately represents how we feel at certain times of our lives – certainly before we met Jesus. There was an enormous debt! We could never pay the price for our sin! Didn’t we used to sing it? “I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe…” What a tremendous insight the writer of that chorus had! And that’s the situation here, for the woman and her sons. It would be impossible for her to pay off the indebtedness.
Wisely, however, she went to Elisha. We can see him as the man of God – the prophet, one who has a word from God – or we could legitimately see him as a type of Christ. Either way really doesn’t change this contextual meaning at all. She goes to him and says, “I have an insurmountable problem.” Let’s pause here, just long enough to recall that nothing is impossible with God (Mt.19:26; Mk.10:27; Lk.18:27). I believe it’s time for the Church, and individuals in the Church, to be able to come back to bringing insurmountable problems to the Lord. “Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?” Remember those old choruses? “God specializes in things thought impossible. And He will do what no other power can do!” If the people of God don’t believe in the God of the impossible, how do we expect the sinners to believe?
The woman comes to Elisha and says, “I’ve got this problem.” His response is something like this: “Alright. What is it you want me to do for you?” For you? “Let’s talk about you!” She says, “Well, here’s my situation. It is really an impossible thing. I can’t handle this!” With great wisdom, he says to her: “All you’re focused on…” – now hear this, Church! – “All you’re focused on is what you don’t have. I’ve got a great question for you! What do you have?”
What do you have? So many Christians are throwing “pity-parties” today – they feel so sorry for themselves and all their hard times. Have you noticed that? We shouldn’t go to those parties! It only feeds and even extends their negative situation when we commiserate with them. When you talk to such people and they whine, “You know I don’t have anything. Everything’s been taken from me. I tell you, I’ve given up everything… and it just seems as if….”
And Elisha said what we ought to say to one another! “What do you have?” She responded, “I don’t have anything. Oh, yeah, I only have this little pot of oil.”
What do you have, Church? You have the oil of the Holy Spirit in your life! Elijah says, “I’ll tell you what your problem is, you don’t pour out what you have! You don’t use it!” Then he says, “What you need to do is borrow some vessels.” This frustrated me throughout my growing-up years in Sunday School, because it never made sense to me that she had to go out and borrow vessels! I innately knew there had to be a deeper meaning than just this lady needing something to pour oil into so she could go out, sell it, and pay off her indebtedness.
I knew there was another meaning and no one ever made it clear to me, or perhaps I didn’t have the spirit of understanding to receive it at that time. But one day, I saw it. This is one of the most explicit passages to teach what true evangelism is all about! What the Lord is saying to you, my Friend is, “Go out and borrow some vessels that you can pour oil into. And don’t just borrow a few! Borrow enough!” He says “borrow” because there’s a tendency on the part of people who pour into others to think they then own them. It’s “borrow.”
As soon as I have an input into someone’s life, there’s that tendency (it’s a test for the pourer!) to make the recipients dependent, utterly dependent on me! “I’m their spiritual mother. They wouldn’t dare listen to anyone else!” “I’m their spiritual father. They better just hear it from me!” And you know what that’s like? It’s a tragic thing! Because children never choose to wean themselves! I raised two children – neither of them ever voted “yes” on being weaned. :-) And they voted a very loud “no” at 2a.m! I know most of you can identify with that! :-)
There must come a time in our lives, when we are willing to pour into someone else – pour until they are full of what we already have, and then sell that, as it were. They are “borrowed vessels,” not our permanent possession. Let them go – let them move on – let them grow up further – wean them. It’s time for them to grow up beyond what we can offer. Give them to someone else, so to speak, who has a little more insight, a little more experience, a little more knowledge, who can take them beyond where we are.
Do you know that whole pastorates can be made up of “babies” who have known the Lord umpteen years, but are never permitted to grow up beyond a certain level because it is so “need-meeting” to the leaders? How tragic! Those “babies” ought to grow up and have babies who grow up who have babies to grow up who have babies… and so on! That’s the Church! The Church ought to be made up of every generation alive on earth today! Every child of God has something to give to someone else. As long as there were vessels to pour into, the oil didn’t stop!
Let me tell you another tragedy that we do to ourselves in the Church! We put a premium on certain ages. We somehow feel that the only truly qualified people in a church are between this age and that age, married, with x-number of this, and a certain amount of income. Then everyone who’s beyond that age is kind of relegated to pillarship! And we say of them, “Good ole Sister So-and-So. Good ole Brother So-and-So. They’re “pillars in the church,” which means they had better not speak up. Just give us your money and sit there!
And we say of any “immature” individuals in the church, “You’re too young! You’re too young to flow in the gifts. You’re too young to pray for someone else. You’re too young to speak – you won’t say it right. You might use slang. That would be very embarrassing to your leaders.” Or, “you might hurt someone. You might be too curt.” How did you learn, Miss Perfect? We learned by embarrassing someone! I’m not trying to develop some negative pattern, but I’m trying to break a pattern that I believe is already developed among us which is negative. Every one is important to God!
We desperately need those who have gone before us because they have learned some lessons that can only be learned by living life. I know today we are a sophisticated society, and I know there’s a great premium on education, and I’m extremely grateful that education has indeed increased. I was on an airplane with a man who told me he had a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate in Physics. He said, “What’s amazing to me is, today it is a normal, regular, high school course.” What years ago he struggled and strove to discover in his Doctorate is now being taught in high school. I said, “Isn’t that wonderful, though?”
I’m glad we’re challenging the minds of our youth in our schools. But are we also challenging them in the church? Do we aim our instruction for the middle of the road – the middle class – the middle age – the middle everything – and hope that the pieces just fall where they ought to fall? Oh, God, stir us to borrow some vessels. Of course, it is an impossibility for those of us who have a public ministry to do much other than that – aim for the middle level of understanding. That’s why I believe the Lord is going to change the patterns of some things, and He’s going to change some methods as well! God’s going to change some things and some church services are going to be different than they ever were before! We’re going to become more interested in the people receiving the oil and the word of truth than we are in impressing them with how it was presented! That’s going to take some time to change because we are so entrenched in our ideas of what “church” should look like!
In the interim, God is saying – Father, give them understanding for this, in Jesus’ name – God is saying to you, “Start borrowing vessels!” I must give you a warning in this mind-set. There is a danger. Let me put up a yellow flag. Will you please see this accurately? The yellow flag is this: When you start pouring oil into borrowed vessels, when you start ministering one-on-one, the oil is going to make room for you! Those lives are going to change. They’re going to be transformed, set free. They will begin to praise and worship God and exalt the Lord – and others are going to come to dip into “your” river.
They will bring people to you to receive what you have to pour. Then the next voice you hear will say something like this: “You’re called into the ministry - full time!” The insipid (dull, wishy-washy, bland, flavorless) condition of the local church today, in Iverna’s opinion (which makes it right :-) – maybe), at least partly is due to our putting such a high premium on the “clergy” position and minimizing the call of ministry in “laymen.” We treat laymen like they are nothing! And if they’re anointed, we give them an official clergyman’s card and send them out to some place that God never called them. We employ the Peter Principle, pushing them beyond their capacity and/or ability, and certainly beyond their call. They fail in the ministry and therefore never go back to pour oil where they were called by God to pour it! And this is not a word for women only; it’s an operative truth for men as well!
If you’ve have a legitimate call of God on your life to preach the Gospel, as in fulltime ministry, I’m not worried about you reading the warning given above concerning going into fulltime ministry just because God is using you. If your call to fulltime ministry is truly of God you will be unable to get away from it! Does that make sense? But God is calling many, many, many, many of you, to minister right where you are, as lay-leaders in your church. So, begin to minister as that. There’s going to be a double-portion-anointing of oil on you. The oil’s going to be able to flow as long as there’s a vessel out in front of you and you are willing to pour and pour and pour. The oil of the Holy Spirit will flow.
Let me tell you the beauty of all this: you will learn so much while you’re teaching. Sometimes I stop and say “Amen” to my own message! :-) I’ll look over at my secretary and just smile. She knows what that means. “Write it down, Iverna wants to remember that!” I still need to learn some things, a lot of things. That’s what God wants to do – enlarge our capacity for Him. There have been too few vessels for the oil. It was not until the woman and her sons ran out of vessels that the oil stopped.
Let me tell you what that means: God’s not about to give you all the things you’re crying for until He sees what you’re going to do with what you have. Many of us want new insights, new truth, new revelation. God says, “Why? You haven’t done one thing with the last Truth I gave you! I’m not interested in just making you a key person with all of this ‘contained knowledge’!” If you watch those – Peter and John and others that were known – the Bible says the people of Jerusalem who witnessed the outpouring of something magnificent on Jesus’ disciples, the 120 in the Upper Room, although they could not identify what this wonder was, they “marveled” that they were unlearned men, mere fishermen. But they also took note that these had been with Jesus. (Acts.2:6ff) He rubbed off on them, their lives were positively changed, because they had spent quality preparatory time with Him.
What was it that the people noticed? Well, for one thing, they began to pour out the oil. Hallelujah! And as they poured it out, it came with knowledge, insight, revelation, and aptitude; it fit the situation (Ac.2:14ff). And the observers said, “My, that’s amazing that these unlearned, unskilled men could bring forth such a word.” And God says, “They’re so impressed with that, I’m gong to call a skilled, learned, knowledge-filled man and reduce him to love.” So, He called Paul! He was Saul then (Ac.9). Saul means “sought after.” God said, “I’ll call you ‘little-sought-after,’ put My Spirit upon and within you and then send you forth to the Body of Christ. And when you get really good at it, I’ll rename you. Instead of 'sought after,' I’ll call you Paul, which means 'little man.'"
That’s ministry, Church. The more you get of God, the less you have of your own, the smaller you become to yourself. “Oh, God, stir up some vessels here, in the name of Jesus! Let them go forth and begin to borrow some vessels and pour and pour and pour. Let their delight be in You, Lord.” Don’t listen to the lies Satan says to you. “You’re tired. You’ve worked five days. These other people – they are the ministry staff. They get paid to do this. They sleep all day and they just come to church at night.” :-) Not true, of course. But, don’t you listen to those voices, because the real joy of the Lord comes when you begin to give forth to others. Hallelujah!
Go to Part 2