Can't Pour from an Empty Cup

I have said for years, and still believe, that you can’t pour from an empty cup.


I have seen people I love, and watched myself, stretch too thin and try to be everything to all people all the time. I have watched friends try to help loved ones who refuse to change to the point of detriment to themselves. I have watched family act as if there are more than 24 hours in their days; booking themselves every single second for the service of others until they are near collapse. In every instance, my spirit tells me and I tell them, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”


It is a lesson I have learned as well. I used to try to strive and achieve and be and prove and always say, “yes” until there was just no more of me left. When there was no more of me left, I felt guilty and tried to pretend there was more when the next need or opportunity arose. Eventually, through the patience of God and the guarding of my heart from my husband, I learned the importance of saying, “no” when I just couldn’t do any more. I put up boundaries in my time so that the things I committed to I could do to the best of my true ability. I began to see and acknowledge the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” when it comes to helping others. I learned that I have to guard my cup and give it a chance to refill before I pour out again. I made intentional choices to give myself a chance to let God fill me back up by not teaching EVERY second, but instead giving myself a chance to be taught.


As I have settled into this understanding, I have started to see several people preach and teach against the idea of not pouring from an empty cup. It bristled my spirit at first because that phrase has been so critical in my own spiritual development, and I have said it to so many others. As I look into WHY some are going against this adage, I see their point. As with any good lesson, it takes more than one sentence to really explain and understand it.


In 1 Kings 17:10-14, we see a great example of pouring from an empty cup….


Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide food for you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the entrance of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Please get me a little water in a cup, so that I may drink.” As she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no food, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks so that I may go in and prepare it for me and my son, so that we may eat it and die.” However, Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go, do as you have said. Just make me a little bread loaf from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘The ]bowl of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil become empty, until the day that the Lord provides rain on the face of the earth.’” So she went and did everything in accordance with the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil become empty, in accordance with the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.


As I read these words, I realized something. Her cup wasn’t empty after all. The moment she put her faith in God, the cup was filled.


Had she argued or tried to find a way to fill the bowl with her own ability, it would have stayed empty, but when she put her faith in God to provide, He filled it up. It looked from the outside like she was pouring from empty, but on the inside, God was refilling over and over again.


If our cup is empty, it has to be filled. You. Cannot. Pour. From. An. Empty. Cup.


Here is the thing though, you also don’t always have the resources available to fill it back up yourself.


When God dropped this truth on me, I immediately saw an image of a faucet being turned on with water flowing freely. That water is there and available, but it won’t fill up the cup until you put the cup under the stream.


John 4:14- but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”


When our cup runs dry, we have a choice:


Keep pretending it isn’t empty.

Run around and waste time trying to figure out how to fill it up ourselves.

Put it under the stream.