Have you ever been asked to pray over one who is sick, anointing him or her with oil?
Do you remind people of this truth from the Bible, and do you make it a part of your pastoral ministry?
This truth and practice is found in James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call or the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Here are a few things on which I have focused and taught as we gather to pray for this sick person who has requested prayer. This could be considered a biblical theology and my pastoral practice of praying over the sick and anointing with oil.
- When I have led such a time of prayer, I have used olive oil, which is used for anointing in the Scriptures (with various meanings). I have stated this is to note a setting apart to the Lord of this person in a unique and special way by the church, represented by the “elders of the church,” similar to the way anointing with oil had been used throughout the Scriptures. This oil is not intended to be for medicinal purposes. In some ways this “prayer of faith [for] the one who is sick” is an intensive form of intercessory prayer by the leaders of the church.
- The fact that this is done “in the name of the Lord” reflects that this is done under his Lordship, sovereignty and providence. We also remember that he is our Father and we approach him as such, being assured that he desires good things for his children, according to his good, wise, sovereign and loving plan (Matt. 7:9-11). He is good and his ways are good (Ps. 119:68).
- However, our gathering in prayer for healing is also a statement against sin, the effects of sin, and the results manifested in this fallen world (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave because of the ravages of sin (Jn. 1l, esp. v. 35), which he came to overcome (1 Jn. 3:5, 8). As Barth wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
- We together pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). We recognize this is not only a prayer against this fallen world, redeemed-not-yet-glorified, it is also a statement against the enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy (Jn. 10:10). But he has been defeated (Col. 2:15). It is also a prayer for God’s rule and reign to be extended through his grace and mercy, establishing peace with him and shalom, which affects our whole existence.
- As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we remember that in the coming of Jesus, who ushers in the kingdom, it is both now and not-yet, present and future (Mk. 1:14-15). God’s kingdom is evidenced by healing some now, and will be marked by healing for all in the kingdom-to-come.
- We know God and his truth as revealed in the Bible. But often in these instances we doubt. In addition to praying in faith for God to touch and heal, I also confess my sin of doubt and skepticism (Mk. 9:24). Although we do not conclude as Pentecostals that the kingdom is all here, and neither do we claim that if one is not healed they did not have sufficient faith, we often doubt God and do not expect God to respond as our Father and our God, who is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9).
- We pray “the prayer of faith” which means we trust God to be faithful, and we also trust God’s providence. We pray for healing, here and now, and we do so in and by faith. Because God is our Father, we pray expectantly but not presumptively (Matt. 7:7-11). And yet we also pray in and by faith trusting in our Father to do what is for our good and his glory, i.e. we pray in and by faith, for faith to receive what he lovingly allows. In other words, those who have been made righteous by faith, those are the ones who live by faith (Rom. 1:16-17).
- As we pray for healing, we also ask God the Holy Spirit to hear and interpret our groans (Rom.8:26-39), since he is our earthly intercessor and he intercedes on our behalf to our heavenly intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:25), who is our advocate before the Father (1 Jn. 2:1).
- We thank God our Father that he loves, that he hears and we ask that he will heal now, knowing it will only be temporary since we will all die. (For example, Lazarus physically died and was raised from death to live again [Jn. 11]. And yet, he also physically died again and now awaits his resurrected and glorified body [2 Cor. 5:1-10].) And we thank him that for those who live by faith he will heal ultimately. We recognize an eschatological reality to this prayer, and while we ask that that end-time reality might be brought back in time to the present in this healing, we ultimately trust in faith that God will heal.
- A prayer of faith does not mean God will necessarily give us what we want. Rather, we pray we will want what he gives, which graciously comes from our loving Father. We pray against the evils of sin, the kingdom of this world, and we pray for God’s kingdom to come. This is one of the most acute ways in pastoral ministry which manifests the tension of the now and the not-yet.
What is your understanding and practice of praying over the sick and anointing with oil?