I love miracle stories, in particular the miracle stories in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New. Stories like Moses parting the Red Sea or Jesus healing a blind man or bringing Lazarus back to life. In the wedding world, the most famous miracle is Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. With miracles, People facing dire situations see the impossible give way to solution and possibility.
In the books of the Kings, there are two famous prophets, Elijah, and Elisha. Elijah famously confronts the evil king Ahab and calls fire down from heaven. Elisha is his protégé and performed 32 recorded miracles in the book of 2nd Kings. These miracles consist of healings, raisings of the dead, miracles, and prophecies. He was busy.
I wanted to share one of those miracle stories but also provide you with the ability to see a miracle happen in your marriage. In fact, it can be miraculous in all relationships if you use it correctly. The story is called the Widow’s Olive Oil and is found in 2 Kings chapter 4, and it reads:
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.”
It is a cool story. Did you catch the miracle? Yeah, the jars and the oil and all of that, but that is not the miracle. The miracle begins with a question: “How can I help you?” The widow approaches Elijah and describes her problem. In this time, there were no retirement accounts or social security. The woman’s husband was a prophet and served with Elijah and Elisha. His death was terrible enough, but now she was faced with the brutal world of being a widow in the ancient world. She fell into debt and the only answer usually resulted in the person or the person’s children being sold off.
She tells Elisha her problem and before he gives his thoughts or opinions, he asks the miracle question: “How can I help you?” This is the miracle question.
At least for me it is. When I am presented with a problem or a situation from my wife, kids, or a parishioner, it is asking or forgetting to ask this question that makes all the difference.
By not asking the question, I can offer a quick solution. Sometimes, it works; sometimes it doesn’t. If I don’t ask the question, I rarely can grasp the full scope of what is going on. I have not heard the whole story or more importantly I have not learned what the possibilities are.
When you ask the miracle question, it automatically puts you in a place of service. If you think about the people or situations that have been the most helpful, the most meaningful, the most miraculous, they probably began with this question.
Think about the best waitress you have ever had, the best advice you have been given, the most helpful people in your lives. Reflect on the teachers with the most insight, the coaches with the clearest sense of direction, the boss, colleague, or mentor that helped you go the farthest. They most likely asked you this question, and they probably asked it frequently.
Andy Stanley is one of my favorite preachers and teachers. He used this question in a recent message where he talked about the polarizing subject of submission. It is a concept that has been used and abused in our culture. A guy may not know anything about the Bible or the Christian idea of service, but somewhere he learned of the Bible verse that says, “Wives submit to your husbands.” That is a shoddy quotation of Ephesians 5:22 which reads: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Taken out of context, the verse has done lots of damage, especially when we realize the verse right before it says something profound. Ephesians 5:21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The Apostle Paul makes a blanket statement and then unfolds it for all parties. Everyone, especially husbands and wives, should be in a “submission competition.” Andy suggests that maybe “defer” is a better word to use given the history of misapplication. Even so, deference, submission, and service all begin with the miracle question, “How can I help you?”
When I speak with couples who are in trouble, I often hear the word “need.” They need a miracle, but then quickly one need turns into other needs. He needs to do this; she needs to do that. The problem is not something I need to do, but rather something someone else needs to do.
Do you want to see a miracle? Just for a week, (maybe just for a day) when you encounter a spouse, child, parent, or colleague… try asking the simple question. “How can I help you?” You might just be shocked. In Elisha’s story, the finances began flowing, the problem was solved, the future seemed bright, and the anxiety of the moment began to dissipate.
It was truly a miracle.