“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for 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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:14–16
I was a brand new, intern pastor, fresh out of the seminary. One of the members of my flock was a very sick woman. She had been sick for years and, like the woman who touched Jesus robe, had suffered much at the hands of doctors. She had completed preparation for baptism but had decided that she would wait to be baptized until after she was well, however, a few months after I’d moved into the district she decided that she might not ever get well so she requested to be baptized and anointed on the same sabbath.
I of course agreed and my first baptism and anointing happened within minutes of one another. Her story isn’t one of instant healing but providence did show its presence. Within a month of that service, after years of tests, drugs and surgeries, a doctor was found that knew what was wrong and how to make her well again. The road to wellness took years but almost immediately she began to experience the blessing of the healing process.
Call it a slow motion miracle. We didn’t know it, but we saw our sister healed that sabbath and she has lived to marry and see her son marry as well.
While I believe that God gives his blessing to all who, through the sacrament of anointing, come to him in obedience and faith I don’t believe that it’s God’s will that every anointing results in the blessing of healing as we might expect it. If that we’re so then no Christian would ever die and immortality hasn’t been promised until the second coming of Christ. Until then we will suffer the painful separation of death.
I believe that God knows how we are as people and that sometimes, like when we’re very sick or have been sick of a long time, our faith needs a little help, something to get it moving in the right direction. So in the anointing service God has given us an action that we can in obedience do to act as a catalyst to activate our faith. There’s no magic. It’s simple faith taking hold of the blessing God in his love and wisdom is offering.
That blessing always contains acceptance and forgiveness and with it a promise of heaven for those who remain faithful. Many will find healing either immediately or through a more prolonged process. Still others will find the grace to hold to their faith in the ultimate restoration they will receive when they rise from their graves and see Jesus face to face.