Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Anointing of God's Gracious Spirit

I have to admit. I never thought that I would get so much out of one Scripture verse as I now have from reading chapter 10 in Phillip Keller's "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23". The chapter is entitled, "Thou Anointest My Head With Oil...".

At first glance, we might see this as a type of ritual done for a certain religious purpose. In my Catholic upbringing, I remember that there was a definite significance to it. If I recall correctly, it was often done by a priest in the performance of "Last Rites" at the bedside of a dying person.

But now, after reading that the poet was recounting the salient events of a full year in a sheep's life, this verse now has so much more meaning than I could ever have imagined! For me, a verse that I formerly might have just skipped through, has now become one of the most beloved verses of the entire Psalm!

In this post, I will attempt to summarize some parts, but there are way to many great paragraphs that need to be quoted directly. I hope and pray that this blogpost will speak to your heart as greatly as it has spoken to mine!



Keller starts out the chapter informing us about over half a dozen different kinds of flies or parasites that can make the lives of the sheep that a shepherd tends absolutely miserable. In particular, the nose fly can deposit their eggs and the hatched larvae would work their way up into the sheep's head causing severe irritation, inflammation, and agonizing annoyance for the sheep. Such infestation can cause a sheep to beat their heads against trees, rocks or brush. It may even end up killing itself in it's frenzied effort to get away from the aggravation. In some cases, it can lead to blindness.

The author tells us that even just the hovering of such flies around the flock can cause fear and panic in an attempt to excape their tormentors. They tend to toss their heads up and down, race from place to place, stamp their feet, hide anywhere they could find some shelter and relief.

This all causes so much excitement and distraction, that it has devastating effects upon the entire flock; includes the ewes and lambs.

Keller writes:

Only the strictest attention to the behavior of the sheep by the shepherd can forestall the difficulties of "fly time." At the very first sign of flies among the flock he will apply an antidote to their heads. [Keller applied a combo of linseed oil, sulphur and tar which was smeared over the sheep's nose and head.]

What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep's head there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation; gone the frenzy; gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.

[J]ust as with the sheep there must be continuous and renewed application of oil to forestall the "flies" in my life, there must be a continuous anointing of God's gracious Spirit to counteract the ever-present aggravations of personality conflicts. Only one application of oil, sulphur and tar was not enough for the entire summer. It was a process that had to be repeated. The fresh application was the effective antidote.

There are those who contend that in the Christian life one need only have a single, initial anointing of God's Spirit. Yet the frustrations of daily dilemmas demonstrate that one must have Him come continuously to the troubled mind and heart to counteract the attacks of one's tormentor.

This is a practical and intimate matter between myself and my Master. In Luke 11:13 Christ Himself, our Shepherd, urges us to ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to us by the Father.

It is both a logical and legitimate desire for us to have the daily anointing of God's gracious Spirit upon our minds. God alone can form in us the mind of Christ. The Holy Spirit alone can give to us the attitudes of Christ. He alone makes it possible for us to react to aggravations and annoyances with quietness and calmness.

When people or circumstance or events beyond our control tend to "bug" us, it is possible to be content and serene when these "outside" forces are counteracted by the presence of God's Spirit. In Romans 8:1-2, we are told plainly it is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that makes us free from the law of sin and death.

It is this daily anointing of God's gracious Spirit upon my mind which produces in my life such personality traits as joy, contentment, love, patience, gentleness and peace. What a contrast this is to the tempers, frustrations and irritableness which mars the daily conduct of so many of God's children.

What I do in any given situation is to expose it to my Master, my Owner, Christ Jesus, and say simply, "O Lord, I can't cope with these petty, annoying, peevish problems. Please apply the oil of Your Spirit to my mind. Both at the conscious and sub-conscious levels of my thought-life enable me to act and react just as You would." And He will. It will surprise you how promptly He complies with such a request made in deadly earnest.

Keller goes on to discuss and describe the irritating and highly contagious disease called "scab," which is common to sheep the world over. He mentions how sheep tend to rub heads together in a friendly, affectionate manner. However, when one has the "scab," this terrible disease spreads easily from one to the other.

Keller writes:

In the Old Testament when it was declared that the sacrificial lambs should be without blemish, the thought uppermost in the writer's mind was that the animal should be free of scab. In a very real and direct sense scab is significant of contamination, of sin, of evil.

Again as with flies, the only effective antidote is to apply linseed oil, sulphur and other chemicals that can control this disease. In many sheep-rearing countries dips are built and the entire flock is put through the dip. Each animal is completely submerged in the solution until its entire body is soaked. The most dificult part to do is the head. The head has to be plunged under repeatedly to ensure that scab there will be controlled. Some sheepmen take great care to treat the head by hand.

[S]o I know precisely what David meant when he wrote, "Thou anointest my head with oil." Again it was the only antidote for scab. [Keller adds that an old remedy is olive oil, sulphur and spices.]

In the Christian life, most of our contamination by the world, by sin, by that which would defile and disease us spiritually comes through our minds. It is a case of mind meeting mind to transmit ideas, concepts and attitudes which may be damaging.

Often it is when we "get our heads together" with someone else who may not necessarily have the mind of Christ, that we come away imbued with concepts that are not Christian.

Our thoughts, our ideas, our emotions, our choices, our impulses, drives and desires are all shaped and molded through the exposure of our minds to other people's minds. In our modern era of mass communication, the danger of the "mass mind" grows increasingly grave. Young people in particular, whose minds are so malleable, find themselves being molded under the subtle pressures and impacts made on them by television, radio, magazines, newspapers, [Christine adds: the internet!] and fellow classmates, to say nothing of their parents and teachers.

Often the mass media which are largely responsible for shaping our minds are in the control of men whose characters are not Christlike: who in some cases are actually anti-Christian.

One cannot be exposed to such contacts without coming away contaminated. The thought patterns of people are becoming increasingly abhorrent. Today we find more tendency to violence, hatred, prejudice, greed, cynicism and increasing disrespect for that which is noble, fine, pure or beautiful.

This is precisely the opposite of what Scripture teaches us. In Phillipians 4:8 we are instructed emphatically in this matter, "...whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things"! Here again, the only possible, practical path to attaining such a mind free of the world's contamination is to be conscious daily, hourly of the purging presence of God's Holy Spirit, applying Himself to my mind.

There are those who seem unable to realize His control of their minds and thoughts. It is a simple matter of faith and acceptance. Just as one asks Chtist to come into the life initially to assure complete control of one's conduct, so one invites the Holy Spirit to come into one's conscious and subconscious mind to monitor one's thought-life.

Just as by faith we believe and know and accept and thank Christ for coming into our lives, so by simple faith and confidence in the same Christ, we believe and know and accept with thanks the coming (or anointing) of His gracious Spirit upon our minds. Then having done this, we simply proceed to live and act and think as He directs us.

The difficulty is that some of us are not in dead earnest about it. Like a stubborn sheep we will struggle, kick and protest when the Master puts His hand upon us for this purpose. Even if it is for our own good, we still rebel and refuse to have Him help us when we need it so desperately.

In a sense we are a stiff-necked lot and were it not for Christ's continuing compassion and concern for us, most of us would be beyond hope or help. Sometimes I am quite sure Christ comes to us and applies the oil of His own Spirit to our minds in spite of our own objections. Were this not so, where would most of us be? Surely every gracious thought that enters my mind had its origin in Him.

Wow!! Is that some powerful truth or what??!!

So that this post doesn't get to long, I will just mention that Keller discusses the unfortunate practice of Christians "butting heads" with each other on trivial issues.

Some here might regard my last post as an example of this. But I don't. I see it as something that isn't just an "agree to disagree" issue, but one that can lead some of Christ's sheep astray through heresy and apostasy, just as the book of Jude describes in great detail. However, I also believe that such issues can be discussed in a civil manner so as not to intentionally injure or batter the other side.

Keeping in mind that all Christians have this one, solid, belief in agreement: "teaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified" is the Gospel message that binds us all together. That is why I share this fact often; so that my fellow Christians who are in disagreement with certain social issues will realize that I am not dismissing them from the family of Jesus Christ. Only God knows, for certain who is truly saved and who isn't.

As Christians, we are only here to plant seeds of faith. Jesus gave us the commandment to "go and teach the Gospel to everyone, all over the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." That's our job. The rest of the work is His and the results belong to Jesus Christ, lest "any man should boast."

At this point, Keller says:

To forestall and prevent this sort of thing from happening among His people our Shepherd love to apply the precious ointment of the presence of His gracious Spirit to our lives. It will be recalled that just before His crucifixion, our Lord in dealing with His twelve disciples, who, even then, were caught up in jealous bickering and rivalry for prestige, told of the coming of the Comforter- the Spirit of Truth. Because of His being sent to them, He said, they would know peace. He went on to say that His people would be known everywhere for their love for one another.

There is a lot more that I could add to this section, but perhaps I can add more later. Keller brings up the important point that we should not get involved in petty bickering, jealousies, and rivalry. I think that we all could admit to some guilt in that area (including me!!). However, Keller shares the fact that we should be the most contented people on earth! As the children of God, a quiet, restful contentment should be the hallmark of those who call Christ their Master.

In a side note, yesterday, I admitted to my current Bible study leader that I was worried about the election results last night. I told her that I know I shouldn't be matter what happens! But sometimes isn't this easier said than done? I told her that I know that I am acting like "Martha" rather than "Mary." You can read about that account here.

In Luke 10:41, "And Jesus* answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things." Then in Luke 10:42, Jesus added, "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."

Both Tammy (my friend and Bible study leader) and I have our "Martha" and "Mary" moments in life. It's so cool when we can lift eachother up when we are worried about something. In the parking lot after the study, I said, "But Tammy, you don't understand the dire circumstances in this election...Nancy Pelosi, the most radical, left-wing, San Francisco type liberal Democrat may become speaker of the house!!"

She doesn't even know who Nancy Pelosi is!! Bless her heart... but she did say, "In 100 years, it isn't even going to matter!"

Amen!! Ha ha...I needed to hear that!

Back to Keller's book.

[T]his is the overcoming Christian life. It is the life in which a Christian can be content with whatever comes his way - even trouble (Hebrews 13:5). Most of us are glad when things go well. How many of us can give thanks and praise when things go wrong?

The author then describes how unexpected blizzards can blow up or sleet storms suddenly shroud the hills. The flock and their owner can pass through appalling suffering together.

[I]t is here that I grasp another aspect altogether of the meaning of a cup that overflows. There is in every life a cup of suffering. Jesus Christ referred to His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary as His cup. And had it not overflowed with His life poured out for men, we would have perished.

What an awesome realization! But there's more:

Keller mentioned bringing a mixture of brandy and water in case a lamb or ewe was chilled from cold weather. Even though they had heavy fleece, if they laid down in distress, they could freeze to death. It was then that his mixture of brandy and water came to the rescue. He mentions that the Palestinian shepherds most likely shared their wine with their chilled and frozen sheep.

[W]hat a picture of my Master, sharing the wine, the very life blood of His own suffering from His overflowing cup, poured out at Calvary for me. He is there with me in every storm. My Shepherd is alert to every approaching disaster that threatens His people. He has been through the storms of suffering before. He bore our sorrows and was acquainted with our grief.

And now, no matter what storms I face, His very life and strength and vitality is poured into mine. It overflows so the cup of my life runs over with His life...often with great blessing and benefit to others who see me stand up so well in the midst of trials and suffering.

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name O most high. Psalm 9:2


ebsfwan said...

It just goes to show what a great psalm it is.

I have to agree with your Bible study leader that in 100 years it won't matter.

A few hundred years ago it was the Protestants who were the liberals and they were fighting the Roman Catholic Church. Then it was slavery. Next thing you know black people are people too. Did you know that they are even letting women speak in church now? And now the gays want their day in church.

I'm interested in seeing what is next. :)

Christinewjc said...

What's next?

This nightmare!

ebsfwan said...

Why is this a nightmare?

Should we rather not talk about these things with our kids?

By pretending that things are not the way they are you get nowhere.

Is it true that in some places in the states that they won't even let science teachers teach anything that contradicts the Bible?