Praying Over The Sick, Anointing With Oil

Greg Strand – February 12, 2016 8 Comments

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?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

8 responses to Praying Over The Sick, Anointing With Oil

  1. Excellent Greg. Thanks. I have been asked a couple of times in my current ministry. It is a blessing to gather the elders together for a sweet and intimate prayer time with one who is struggling.

    • Thank you for sharing about your pastoral experience, Jeff. I am encouraged, though not surprised, this has been a blessing for those praying and the one for whom prayer is being offering. Blessing always comes from obedience, both in belief and practice, to the Word of God.

  2. Thank for sharing the Truth from the Word of God. In Africa we are facing all kinds of anointing lacking a Biblical understanding like you labored to share in this blog. I hope l will share this article in our Bible study at church

    • I am grateful to the Lord to hear you found this faithful and helpful, Edward. I hear of the many blessings accompanied by the many biblical and theological struggles within the church in Africa. I am encouraged to hear this can be used to bring people to the Word of God to determine both belief and practice. May the Lord bless you and this teaching, by His grace, for His glory and the good of His people in Africa.

  3. I believe that with anointing should come a look at one’s self and a confession of sins. My husband and I had asked to be prayed over and both confessed our sins (mine that I was unhappy where God had put me. I prayed that I would be content and not angry). With the confession, we now had accountability with fellow believers. It helped to encourage and keep us on the right path. God answered those prayers years ago- and i rejoice that God has made me content In my home serving my family first 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment, Tanya. Acknowledgement and confession of sin is a good thing, a mark of health in two ways. First, it reflects health in that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). In other words, it reflects God’s work in a person’s life. Genuine repentance does not happen apart from God the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life. Second, it is in the confession, which is agreement with God, that any infection, any discontent, any spiritual sickness is made well (Jms. 5:16). It is the way in which one is made spiritually well. Thus, not only does confession/repentance manifest a work of God’s grace initially, it is also the means by which spiritual health is regained and maintained. We are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). I am encouraged to hear how the Lord answered this prayer.

      From what I gather in your comment, your “sickness” was not physical as much as it was spiritual, which needed to be confessed so you could be “healed.” That was very important for your spiritual health. Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy in answering that prayer.

      In this text, James appears to be addressing primarily physical sickness, though admittedly, physical sickness can be caused by sinful infections. Regarding James’ focus on sickness, prayer, anointing, confession, being well, the connection with sin is absolute, though thankfully not permanent, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The effects of sin are also cosmic in that all creation now exists on this side of the fall awaiting the new heavens and new earth (Rom. 8:18-23). Until then, creation groans, as does all of humanity. The connection with sin is also contingent – though some sickness is caused by sin (Mk. 2:1-12; 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:27-30), not all sickness is caused by a direct result of personal sin (Jn. 9:2-3). James’ “and if he has committed sins” (5:15) addresses this latter point.

      James addresses this confession and prayer at two levels. First, he focuses on the “elders of the church” (Jms. 5:14), the leaders of the church, which is the primary focus of “let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (Jms. 5:14). This is a special request with a unique, focused praying, noted by the anointing with oil. There is also a second level of praying, which undergirds this more intensive intercessory prayer, and that is the kind of confessing and praying we do with “one another” as we live life together as brothers and sisters in the Lord, in the family of God in the church. Living the Christian life together is evidenced in how we “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jms. 5:16). Living life with one another of confessing sins and praying for one another is, like above, a mark of God’s grace and a God-ordained means to spiritual health. This is the accountability with fellow believers you mention.

  4. Warren E. Anderson February 17, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Greg,

    In writing my thesis at TEDS more than twenty years ago, I came across this concept from J. Wilkinson in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology.
    He identifies three models of physical healing in the New Testament. The Aeneas model (Acts 9:32-34) represents the miracle: Peter comes across a lame man and heals him in the name of Jesus. Miracles are rare today. I have seen one or two definite miracles in my years as a physician.
    The second type is the Timothy model (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul prescribed a little wine for Timothy’s ailments. This is the equivalent of us today using current medical means for managing our illnesses.
    Third is the Pauline model (2 Cor. 12:7). In this familiar passage, Paul had some ailment that was chronic. He had prayed three times for healing, but to no avail. God responded to Paul’s thorn in the flesh with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power . . . is made perfect in weakness.”
    In prayer for the sick, I like to remind people of the biblical definition for health. It is—according to some scholars—Shalom/Peace. So the outcome we seek is to eventually obtain the perfect Peace that God promises. As Paul opens his epistles wishing Grace and Peace for his readers, this greeting especially applies to the sick among us.
    So if I am an elder praying for someone’s healing, I like to remind them to think along these lines, letting God define what form of healing will occur.

    • Thank you for your comment, Warren, and your good word. The biblical taxonomy provided by Wilkinson is insightful.

      Additionally, the biblical notion of health as it relates to shalom is an important eschatological concept that is reflective of life in the kingdom today, which is both now and not-yet. This explains why physically healing can and does occur, since the kingdom was ushered in with Jesus, but not always. However, there will be a day when true and lasting shalom will become a reality, when there will be no more sickness or sorrow, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns.

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