“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” ~James 5:13-15
I’ve sometimes heard about churches and elders who take these words of the New Testament literally. And seriously. I’ve always admired that in a group of church leaders. It’s certainly outside our normal box. It’s stepping away from our cultural comfort zone. And I’ve been curious. I’ve wondered. What does that look like? How much oil does one use? And where do you buy the oil?
The anointing with oil is certainly a cultural and contextual thing in Scripture. It probably had something to do with perceived medicinal beliefs. It could have even just been superstitious. But I’ve always thought that the wisdom of actually anointing a sick person with oil today is in the human touch it requires. In the closeness it demands. The intimacy and relationship that’s necessary. In other ways — and I hope I’m not stretching this too far — I can see how this anointing with oil can function in a sacramental way. The touch and the oil can certainly represent in a physical way what our God is doing in a way that can’t be seen or smelled. It can point to that healing. It can signify the compassion and care that God feels and the provision and protection he promises.
For a long time I’ve thought it would be good to belong to a church and serve with a group of shepherds who practiced this praying and anointing with oil. And now I do.
Yesterday we prayed with and for Judy Newton.
Judy has been diagnosed with cancerous tumors in her brain. It just happened three weeks ago. The doctors are giving her little hope. Nothing but bad news. She’s endured one surgery and is bracing now for weeks of grueling treatments. She and her husband Lanny are beloved members of this Body of Believers at Central. Their faith is inspiring. Their commitment to God and to one another is powerful. Their belief that he is doing something great with them and through them is real.
But they’re hurting. They’re devastated. They’ve had the rug ripped out from under them and they’re not sure what’s coming next.
Judy and Lanny are in Houston tonight — they flew out early this afternoon — in line for a full week’s worth of tests and evaluations and treatments at M. D. Anderson. And yesterday they asked the elders to pray for Judy and to anoint her with oil.
So we went to her house and prayed. Several of us, a bunch of us, I’m not really sure how many of us, showed up at Lanny and Judy’s house to lift her up to our Father in prayer. Ministers and shepherds and all our spouses.
Tim explained to Judy that we don’t really understand fully the significance behind the oil. But, at the same time, we take it seriously. And literally. He told Judy that there is something to the physical touch that goes along with the prayer. There’s something about faithful obedience. There’s something about symbolizing what God is doing, how he is active, in our prayers. And then he took the oil and gently applied a couple of drops to Judy’s forehead.
And we prayed.
All of us. On our knees. Hands on Judy and Lanny. Arms around one another. With tears and tight throats. Eloquently and, at times, haltingly. At once feeling wholly inadequate for the task and perfectly at peace that God’s Spirit is doing all the work. All of us. Begging God to heal her. Confessing to God that we don’t understand. Wrestling with God. Praising God. On our knees before the Creator of heaven and earth, praying for his daughter Judy.
E. M. Bounds once said that prayer does not prepare us for greater works; it IS the greater work. I believe that. And so does the church family at Central. We believe in the power of prayer. We believe our God hears the faithful cries of his children. And we continue to lift up to him our sweet sister Judy.
I would ask you to please pray for Judy, too. Pray for healing. Pray for comfort and peace. Pray that our God would remove from Judy’s body all the horrible things that would cause her pain and do her harm. Pray that God’s name would be glorified in Lanny and Judy through this dark trial. And pray that our Lord’s holy will be done in her life just as it is in heaven.
Their precious daughter, Aleisha, is updating Judy’s battle every day on a blog. You can get to it by clicking here.