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The Oil in My Pocket

Today I began carrying a small vial of anointing oil in my pocket. The last time I did so was in December 2002: my last month in the pastorate. As part of my duties as “Minister of Pastoral Care” during my pastor’s sabbatical, I am expected to visit folks in hospitals and nursing homes, pray with them, and show them something of the love of Christ. Baptists don’t usually ask to be anointed with oil when someone prays for them. That doesn’t mean I can’t offer if it seems appropriate. But even if the little vial stays snugly in my pocket for the next five weeks, I’ll know it is there. It is my reminder that I am undertaking holy work, and that I can’t do it without the Holy Spirit giving me the strength.

I was corresponding with a friend a while back who has found himself in a new church where very little is said about the Holy Spirit. He was wondering why that might be so. I told him that at least part of it is that many free-church denominations got very nervous, even hostile, about the rise of Pentecostalism 100 years ago. This anxiety reached a fever pitch back in the 60’s and 70’s when a lot of Baptists and similar “low-church” Protestants started looking into tongues-speaking and other Pentecostal phenonema and trying to import them back into their more traditional churches.

I suspect the neglect of the Holy Spirit Bob has observed in his new church owes a lot to that history. Also, this church is part of a faith tradition that—in my limited experience—doesn’t always have a strong doctrine of the Trinity. In that situation, the Spirit becomes kind of a question mark.

More generally, you just can’t control the Holy Spirit. He will always rip open any boxes we try to put him in. That makes many Christians wary of getting too close, especially Christians who value an orderly, rational, and top-down approach to spirituality. After all, if we let people know about the Spirit, they might start bypassing the clergy and experiencing God on their own! (Obviously, there are offenders in this regard across the entire theological spectrum.)

We Christians sometimes make living in the power of the Spirit sound harder than it is by wrapping it up in unusual behaviors and arcane buzzwords. That’s not to say that life in the Spirit is easy. It is often hard; it is never mundane. It may even result in unusual behaviors (like loving your enemies) and arcane buzzwords (like “Jesus is Lord!”).

It is difficult to live in the Spirit’s power, but for reasons that have little to do with the ecclesiastical or experiential hoops some brothers and sisters want us to jump through. It is difficult mostly because it involves giving up control.

Think about it: If all it takes to live faithfully before God is holding the right doctrine, going to the right church (where, of course, we worship the right way and ordain the right leaders), and embracing the right causes, it’s pretty easy to get comfortable or even complacent about the things of God. The Spirit, however, blows where he chooses; we don’t know where he is coming from or where he is going (Jn 3:8). For people whose sense of the sacred is wrapped up in feelings of security based on order and predictability, getting too close to the Spirit may be asking too much. If you’re invested in the status quo, the last thing you want is for God to show up and tell you to do something different!

The oil in my pocket is there for others and for me. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of Who is in control and in Whose name I am called to serve.

Filled with the Spirit
Ancient Christian Worship: Keva and Kavvanah
The Convergence Movement: The Charismatic Stream

technorati tags: anointing, charismatic, healing, holy spirit, pentecostal, spirit



  1. PS says:

    We had a pastor for just a year who had something like oil or salve or something that he used when he made the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads. I didn’t ask him about this, but I’ve also not heard of it being discussed in our denomination. Do you know if that would be similar? Or is the oil just for healing prayer?


  2. D. P. says:

    I imagine different traditions would do different things and, in your setting (I believe I remember you’re Lutheran) pastors probably look to denominational higher-ups for guidance on the issue. Then again, it could just be that pastor’s personal preference. You might want to ask your current pastor of he/she knows if this is a growing thing in your circles.

    Baptists don’t have making the sign of the cross in our shared repertoire of sacred gestures, but when I pray for someone and anoint with oil, I trace the sign of the cross on their forehead in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As with all things Baptist, your mileage may vary! Also, I would hasten to add that I interpret the purpose of such a “prayer for healing” rather broadly. It’s not just about physical ailments but wherever and however the person needs Jesus to touch them at their point of need.


  3. SingingOwl says:

    Good post! “Losing control” that is the tough part, isn’t it?

    As for anointing, P.S. I do pretty much what Dr. P. said, tracing the sign of the cross on the forehead, etc. I also concur with what he said about considering such prayers and such “anointing” to be for whatever the need it…and only God really knows.

    However, I do know of some mainline pastors in my area who would just use it for “healing” prayer, meaning physical healing.

    For me, and hopefully for the recipient, it is just a reminder of who is the One who is in control of the situation, and who can do all things.


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