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Oil and Prayer

Weekly Devotional for Preachers
Oil and Prayer
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty

My Dear Shepherds,

The best gifts pastors get don’t come under the Christmas tree or during Pastor Appreciation Month. These came with oil and prayer.

Bill, a seminary friend and member of our church, began suffering from a severe case of acid reflux disease. He could only sleep sitting up which meant he was never rested. No tests or specialists revealed a remedy. When he called me, he was scheduled for three days of tests at the University of Chicago Hospital later that week.

Bill had read James 5:14-16 and called to see if I would gather the deacons to anoint and pray for his healing. I was a young Assistant Pastor and I’d never heard of anyone doing that. I swallowed hard, called our deacons, and they agreed.

We gathered at Bill and Carol’s apartment on a Sunday afternoon. I’d brought a little olive oil from our pantry, but I really didn’t know how to proceed. We simply read James 5. I made a cross with the oil on Bill’s forehead and we gathered around him and prayed. Nothing seemed to happen.

A few nights later Bill awoke to a kind of music. “Lord, is that you?” he asked. He felt a warmth come over his stomach. At the hospital, test after test came back normal. Bill explained to the baffled specialist how we’d prayed to the Lord. To this day, even with the physical rigors and diet of missionary travel, Bill has never had a serious recurrence.

Then there was this story. One evening some years ago Cathy called me. When I first met her some 20 years before, she’d told me about her profoundly mentally handicapped son, Nicholas. He was in a care facility near her, and she visited him every week.

When Nicholas was about eight, Cathy told me she felt God wanted her to follow the James 5 passage, asking our elders to anoint and pray for Nicholas. She explained that she wasn’t necessarily expecting his healing, but she simply felt that God wanted her to take this step. So, one Sunday she brought Nicholas to church in his wheelchair. After the service we all gathered in my office. None of us knew what to expect, nor what faith required of us, but I touched the oil to Nicholas’s head, and we all laid our hands on him and prayed for God’s healing.

When Cathy called me nearly twenty years later Nicholas was 25-years-old. Every week Cathy had visited him and in all those visits Nicholas never communicated with her except for laughing sometimes as she entered the room. Nothing ever changed. But Cathy just had a consultation with the team of professionals who cared for Nicholas. The speech therapist said, “I think Nicholas is making some progress. We’ve been teaching him to answer simple questions by pointing to red and green cards for Yes and No. Would you like to see?”

“Of course,” Cathy replied, her heart pounding.

In the room, the therapist held up the green and red cards, and asked, “Nicholas, is your mom with us today?” In his halting way, Nicholas pointed at the green card. Cathy could hardly believe it. Other questions convinced her that it was no accident; he really understood.

She called me in tears to tell me her good news. “All these years I’d visit him,” she said, “and I never knew if he even knew who I was. And now I know. He knows I’m his mother. And he is excited to see me.” Then Cathy asked, “Do you remember when the elders prayed for Nicholas? This is God’s answer.”

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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