As I come to this last day of this study on prayer, God impresses me with the connection of prayer to power in ministering to others. Another book, Power through Prayer by Edward M. Bounds, calls this power divine unction.
Unction is an anointing from God that is difficult to describe. However, as Bounds says, without it those who preach the gospel have no more power to propagate it than any other system of truth. This anointing is the seal of its divinity and puts God in the gospel. Without it, God seems absent and the gospel can only be delivered by the “unsatisfactory forces that the ingenuity, interest, or talents of men can devise.” Simply put, without unction God’s Word fails to make any difference to those who hear it.
This anointing on the preacher can stir and even create friction in a congregation for the power of God can both bless and discomfort. Yet in contrast, truth can be told strictly to the letter and no ruffle is seen, no pain felt. Bounds says, “All is quiet as a graveyard” without unction, the preaching is hard, dry and dead and so are the people. But when one speaks with this mysterious anointing on him, the letter of the Word becomes fired by the Holy Spirit and a mighty movement is felt. The hearers are stirred, their hearts broken to God.
Does God anoint His people randomly? I don’t think so. Bounds says unction is not an inalienable gift, but conditional. It is given to Spirit-filled people who offer unceasing prayer to God, people whose hearts passionately desire Him and who seek Him tirelessly, deeming all else loss and failure. This gift of God’s anointing is then perpetuated and increased by the same process by which it was at first secured.
Jesus used different words than unction and anointing, but He asked for both as He lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . .” (John 17:1)
He also sought it in Gethsemane when He said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter, James and John, and deeply troubled He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” As He went a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36–41)
Jesus sought the anointing of God on the greatest ministry of all. He sought grace and the strength to go to the cross and die for sinners. He went to the extreme to minister to humanity. To receive the unction needed for this ministry, He prayed with such fervor that He sweat great drops of blood.
Bounds says that only praying hearts are filled with holy oil. Much prayer is the price of this unction and the condition of keeping divine anointing. For anyone who ministers to others, prayer is critical, not just prayer for those others, but for the one who seeks to minister to them. Even those whose main ministry is prayer, God’s anointing is needed. We must seek it for ourselves even as we pray so we are effective in praying for others who need God or who serve in other ways.
Bounds adds that this unction or anointing is also like Old Testament manna. That is, it requires more than a one-time gathering. Serving God calls for perseverance and continual reliance on the God who supplies. Otherwise our ministry to others will be like over-kept manna that dries up, breeds worms, and is good for nothing.