Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14, 15).*
Bill and Jennifer wanted to have a child, but something was wrong. Jennifer couldn't conceive. Her doctor discovered she had a growth that needed to be removed. But the surgery might leave her unable to have any children. Wanting to let God take charge of this situation, Jennifer quickly called the pastor and elders of the church to anoint her. She asked God to allow her and her husband the joy of having children. The anointing was a powerful experience that filled all with a confidence and the peace of knowing God was indeed in charge and would bless.
The surgery went well. Two years later Jennifer and Bill had a baby boy.
This is just one experience I have had in anointing services. It is not dramatic, but the joy of experiencing God's leading and miracles is exciting. Unfortunately, many are afraid of anointing. They have misunderstood it and avoided it.
Often when I ask people facing an illness whether they have considered anointing they get a serious look on their face and respond, "Am I that bad?"
Somehow in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, at least in North America, anointing has come to be viewed as a last rite for the gravely ill rather than the first step in turning to God with our health needs. Because of this, miraculous healings are few and far between in the church. Since we wait until the last moment in most cases, we see few results. Since we see few results, we hesitate to call for anointing and our faith in anointing fades. The vicious cycle leads to less and less faith in anointing.
Even though anointing is a rare event in many churches, there are some churches today that regularly practice this "lost rite" with amazing results. These churches teach their people to come to the Lord early in their illness for anointing; to place their care in God's hand before all else has been tried.
Within the past few years I have seen or heard of healings from ailments such as a brain tumor, aneurysm, eye problems, asthma, depression, and various other ailments physical, emotional, and mental. Typically people are astonished that they can be anointed for something other than a terminal illness.
What should we be anointed for? James says if anyone is sick. "Sick" includes many areas that involve our whole being. It includes terminal diseases, but it can also be for crippling diseases, back problems, depression, and mental handicaps. God intends us to bring our problems to Him in the anointing rite.
In the early Seventh-day Adventist Church our leaders used the rite of anointing frequently. As you read the life story of Ellen White you will find that she and her family were anointed many times for all types of ailments. It was their practice rather than the exception to anoint.
A few examples follow:
1. Coughing spells of Ellen White: "I followed the direction given in James 5, and asked the brethren to pray for me" (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 97).
2. Illness of Henry Nichols White: The baby was very sick, close to death. James anointed him and prayed for him, "laying his hands upon him in the name of the Lord" (ibid., pp. 105, 106).
3. Leonard Hastings' baby: Infant about 8 weeks old cried continually. The Whites anointed the child and prayed over it and it was given peace (ibid., pp. 110, 111).
4. Sore on arm of Mrs. Temple: A large sore made her arm too tender to touch, so the Whites poured oil on it and united in prayer. The pain and soreness left the arm while they were praying (ibid., pp. 109, 110).
In churches that practice anointing the pastors and elders involved all talk about the special experience that the service is. The power of the Holy Spirit can be felt as prayers are offered for the special needs of the one being anointed. Tears often flow and each person anointed speaks of the inner sense of peace that comes. Even those who are not physically healed talk of a healing of their spiritual relationship with Christ.
Why, then, do so few choose to be anointed when they are ill?
Perhaps part of the reason is ignorance of the beauty of anointing. Most of our people don't understand what anointing is all about. Even our pastors don't understand it.
Recently a member from a district I previously served in came to me about his back problems. I told him he should go to his current pastor and request anointing. But when he approached his pastor, the pastor laughed at him and told him he wasn't bad enough to be anointed.
Pride may also have something to do with people not coming to be anointed. Many find it embarrassing to come before the leaders of the church asking for help with an illness. Perhaps they view illness as a sign of weakness, or perhaps they prefer to deal with it on their own.
I do know that some people believe that anointing isn't as necessary now as it was 100 years ago. They believe that we have such a good health system that they don't need to rely on this ancient rite. Besides, didn't God give us the health message so we could take care of ourselves? they reason. It is unfortunate that people put so much trust in health institutions and people that they lose their sense of dependence upon God.
Many intelligent people ask me, "Why do I need to be anointed? If God wants to heal me, He can respond to my prayers and the prayers of others. I don't believe that God wants me to call together the leaders of the church and take all that time to answer my prayer for healing. Is He that picky?"
I often explain that I don't have the answers, but I do know of a story in the Bible that helps me to understand why anointing is important and a key to healing. I remind the inquirer of the story in Numbers 21:4-9. There we read of the Israelites being bitten by the venomous snakes. They are dying. God tells Moses to:
"'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (verses 8, 9).
This story makes no sense from a purely rational standpoint. There is no way that the snake on the pole could cure the snakebite.
In much the same way, anointing cannot make the sick person well. The ritual itself has no power.
But, in both of these instances, trust in God is the key. If God told us to do it, why do we question? A lack of trust keeps us from enjoying the mighty blessing that God offers us. A lack of trust meant death in the desert from snakebite. A lack of trust today keeps us from finding relief from illnesses. It keeps us from asking for a simple rite instituted in the Word of God.
Are you suffering from a sickness that you need to be anointed for? Why wait any longer? Read about anointing in James 5. Read the special chapter "Prayer for the Sick" in The Ministry of Healing, by Ellen White. Arrange for an anointing and allow the Lord to work in your life.
And talk to your church body about anointing. Encourage the people to follow the instructions in James 5. (You may copy the box on the following page for your church members.) Enjoy the anointing service and watch as God works miracles in peoples' lives.
Isn't it time for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to experience the power of the Holy Spirit through anointing services?
*All texts in this article are from the New International Version.