What Can the Woman with the Oil Teach Us About Seminary?
By Ryan McCord
How does someone prepare their heart for seminary? How can I possibly know that I am ready for what God wants to do in and through me during the next few formative years of my life? Perhaps the short answer is that there is no way to know for sure whether or not a heart is ready to embark on the journey that is seminary. That’s the earnest conclusion I had reached, until I began reading and praying through the story of the Woman with the Oil in 2 Kings 4:1-7. Come, let us gather around the table, and learn what this woman can teach us about beginning seminary, and about the lessons we are called to remember even once our time in seminary is complete.
Is this story familiar to you? Does rereading it bring up memories of hearing it preached in church or discussed in small group? For me, this was a passage in Scripture I had completely forgotten about until I reread it the other day. I am deeply grateful we serve a God who calls us to remembrance. Both remembrance of Him, and of His faithfulness, but also remembrance of the things He has taught us before, as He brings them back to mind again.
Before we even get to the Woman with the Oil, this is a personal word I can share of how I have been preparing for seminary. In full candor, I have been intimidated by the thought of starting seminary, knowing soon I will be sitting in the classroom of spiritual giants and pioneers of their fields. The goal and the outcome is to produce a well-rounded minister, who has both been formed academically and shaped spiritually. This is all well and good, but this also requires a starting place, and what if my starting place isn’t good enough? What if I am an absolute fool in my knowledge before this renowned faculty? These thoughts swirled in my mind, until they came to a simple and sweet stop. “Remembrance.” I hear the word spoken to me by my Heavenly Father, and the raging thoughts in my mind come to a peaceful stop. I pray to my Father in Heaven and I ask Him to help me remember that it will be an absolute honor to sit under the teaching of the faculty at George W. Truett Theological Seminary for a few years. However, there will never be a higher honor than being welcome to come and sit before the greatest, and most renowned teacher of all: my Rabbi, Jesus. I call on my Rabbi to help me remember the things I learned in my undergrad studies that will set me up for success in seminary.
Something I do that I hope you find yourself doing too is praying to the Lord that He would call to remembrance the Scriptures you have already read, and that He calls to mind the ones you should go back to in this season for wisdom and guidance. I pray over the Scriptures that you and I are to read in the coming days, that the Lord would allow us to remember all He has said and done. Whether you are preparing, discerning the call, preparing your heart, looking for encouragement while you are in the depths of seminary, or whether you are looking back in remembrance, I pray something you take away is how important it is to ask the Lord to call you to remembrance too. I pray you ask the Lord to anoint your eyes and heart as you read the Scriptures He prepared for you ahead of time, and that you find rest and renewal here, for we certainly know seminary is many things, but restful isn’t often one of those things!
So, this Woman with the Oil, what can she teach us about seminary? It seemed strange and far off to ask this question until I found myself praying over these verses asking the Lord, my Rabbi whom I have the privilege of sitting under, to teach me whatever He wanted through these verses. Let’s start at the beginning of this passage, 2 Kings 4:2, where Elisha asks this woman who has cried out for help, “what can I do for you?” Perhaps the Lord is asking us this question today too. I challenge you to dig deep and ask the challenging question, “do I recognize God as my strength and my help, and do I cry out to Him and ask Him for guidance when I am in an unrecognizable spot?” I think recognizing our Father as our only source of strength and our greatest help is the formative foundation a heart preparing for seminary should be built on.
Elisha hears this woman as she is crying out for help, and he asks her, “what do you have?” Elisha was asking this woman what she had to offer, what she could bring to help solve this problem. The basis of this question was literal and logical, but there are spiritual undertones here too. What gifts and talents do you possess that you are willing to offer our Father in Heaven? Let us learn here that all we have is a gift from the Lord. These gifts include our mind, our intellect, any knowledge or revelation we have about God, Scripture, and theology. These gifts aren’t ours and they don’t primarily belong to us, but unto the Lord. As seminarians, we must remember that not even our knowledge or intellect is our own, but it belongs to the Lord, and we are to offer it to Him to see how He shapes and reforms the gifts we give Him. The Woman answers Elisha’s question by saying to him, “your servant has nothing except a jar of oil.” Let us engage in the spiritual practice of remembrance, and recognize that we, servants of the Lord, have nothing without Him. We can do nothing apart from Him, the way a branch can do nothing apart from the vine (John 15:4). As emerging seminarians, I pray we begin our journey with the humblest heart and mind knowing we are nothing without Him.
What if the jar of oil the Woman mentions in verse two (2 Kings 4:2) is the perfect image of seminary? We are the jar or vessel that was created by God, but we are to pour out what we have filled ourselves up with. The things of this world, desires of our flesh, pride from prior job experience, arrogance from good grades, accolades, a high GPA – death to that. Pour what you have filled yourself up with out, so that God may fill you up with Himself as you progress through your time in seminary. May we remember our bodies, and minds are not our own, they have been purchased with a price. May we use our bodies and especially our minds as emerging seminarians as living sacrifices for the Lord (Romans 12:1,1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Elisha responded to the Woman in verse 3 (2 Kings 4:3), telling her to “Go out and borrow empty containers from all your neighbors. Do not get just a few.” Reading this paints the perfect picture of community and dependence on the Body of Christ. May we recognize the beauty in the symbolism of the jars, and the way it pushes us into community. The woman asked, and her neighbors met her needs. We aren’t meant to do this life alone. We have the high honor of being shaped spiritually with other minds, and we are meant to embark on this journey with them too. Together, we represent the body of Christ, and we are to be in communion with other believers during our time in seminary. We will experience the fullness of God through His Bride, the body of Christ – our peers next to us in the classroom.
The Woman left and did what Elisha had told her (2 Kings 4: 5-6). Let us go, take what we have learned from this Woman and use it to better prepare us for seminary. If you have already completed seminary, let us reread what she taught us and remember that despite your Master’s degree, you too must be in the habit of acknowledging God as your strength and asking Him to help you. You have been given gifts that are not yours, but that belong to the Lord, and you are to use them for His glory. Our knowledge doesn’t belong first to us, so let us not brag on how much we know. If we must brag, let it be in our weakness for it is the place where Christ is glorified (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Even if you’ve already finished seminary, you’re called to remember that our lives are like these jars. Perhaps they are halfway filled, but regardless of where you are in your education or your career, we are to empty what we have filled ourselves with that isn’t the Lord, so that we create the space for the Lord to use us and fill us up. We cannot do this alone, and perhaps the people who need this reminder the most are the ones who are out of seminary and are no longer surrounded with a tight-knit community daily: remember to go and borrow jars from your neighbors.
Lastly, no matter what stage you are in as you read this, remember the call to remembrance. We as God’s people have a history of being prone to forget, so do not forget the things God has taught us through the Woman with the oil, and do not forget His love, graciousness, and His kindness to us. Amen.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common