Friday, August 07, 2009


But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:20)


It sounds so spiritual, doesn't it? After all, we know the biblical history of the word. From its first use in Genesis to its last in 1 John, "anointed" is used in contexts involving priesthood, holy oil, worship - all things we associate with "religion". But "anointed" is also used of kings - most famously Saul and of course David. Sometimes we have a little harder time figuring out how to translate those references into our modern-day culture.

I've found that in the church we tend to either ignore the concept of "anointing", relegate it to academic study and compartmentalize it to history, or spiritualize it. We tend to characterize an emotional service or powerful message as "anointed" - which it can be. Some even go so far as to abuse the biblical meaning of the word, adopting a hierarchical perspective of anointing to indicate that God has anointed this prophet or that leader in a way that makes him or her super-spiritual, above everyone else ... sometimes even above question.

I've been studying the concept lately because that's what I do when something is confusing to me. And while I'm far from having a comprehensive study complete, one thing I have grasped easily is that "anointing" is a concept understood less by parsing Greek and Hebrew words and more by observing God's hand in the lives of His people. This "narrative theology" is yielding far more insight into how God's anointing works in his people's lives than I had previously uncovered through a verse-by-verse analysis of crisma, the Greek word translated "anointing" above.

What I have seen is that our use of "anointing" is compartmentalized - but God doesn't limit His anointing to "spiritual" circles. When I look at God's hand in the lives of His people, I see individuals empowered to store food (Joseph), lead nations (Saul, David), save lives (Esther), travel with refugees (Ezra), rebuild walls (Nehemiah) ... the list goes on and on. You can think of many examples.

There are warnings in Scripture as well - of individuals who tried to do something outside God's "anointing" or favor. Josiah went to battle in a war that wasn't given him to fight - and was mortally wounded. A prophet went back to Judah apart from the way God had prescribed and ended up deceived - and dead. David stayed home when he was supposed to be fighting - and fell into sin with Bathsheba.

My study thus far has yielded a basic understanding of "anointing" from a biblical perspective: We are anointed for a task when we have God's hand on us for a task He wants to complete (Neh. 2:18). Our part is to be in the place we are supposed to be, fully yielded to His Holy Spirit. He will then provide the "crisma" - the gift, the unction, the anointing - for His task.

Here's the kicker: It doesn't have to feel "spiritual". Today I spent the day pouring out weeks of preparation to train student workers at my job. God put on my heart that after all that preparation, I should just focus on loving them. The day was challenging, since I'm an introvert by nature and being "up front" all day, in a room with 6 other people, tires me. But God so filled me with love for these students and the conviction that this was where I needed to be, that the day was a joy. I felt His anointing for what might seem to the outside a quite non-spiritual task.

Eric Liddell, the runner made famous in "Chariots of Fire", said, "When I run I feel His pleasure." Eric understood something evangelicalism has lost: The doctrine of vocation. Eric was anointed for God's task because His focus was God's glory. Not because at the end of the run he would preach a sermon ... but because in the middle of the run he depended on God and didn't care who knew it.

The Biblical reality is that everything we do is spiritual. Believers in Christ don't have the right to compartmentalize. We are to live for Him fully in all corners of our lives. We are to be the best (chemist, computer tech, administrative assistant, runner) we can be - for His glory, not our selfish ambition. When we depend on Him ... when we know we make it through because of the gifts He provides ... when we worship Him before, during, and after our task ... when the quality of our work honors Him ... when we are where we need to be ... then His Spirit will empower us for His purposes. Those won't necessarily be our own purposes. But that's really the point anyway. Because it's not about us. It never was.

Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people (Col. 3:23)

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)