You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Summer sunshine brings life with its warmth. Plants and trees flourish, fruit ripens, crops mature. And insects multiply.
Fly swatters stay busy during picnics and barbecues. Spray covers skin to keep bugs at bay. We do just about anything to avoid the nuisance of tiny, flying critters that drive us crazy.
As do shepherds.
Up on that table, the mesa in the mountains, wolves and bobcats are not the only enemies of a shepherd’s flock. Flying pests can make a sheep mad (in every sense of the word)–especially the nasal fly, whose eggs hatch in the mucousy membranes of an unsuspecting sheep’s nose (Keller, 138). This is so hard to write because my vivid imagination goes wild. But, the truth is important to grasp. Sheep bang their heads on anything trying to rid themselves of such affliction, causing damage–and even death–to themselves and chaos for the flock.
To prevent such madness, a shepherd applies the bug spray–or in his case, linseed oil mixed with sulfur and other such smelly, stickiness–so the flies stay away.
Another hidden enemy is a skin parasite called scab. All it takes is one sheep with some scab to quickly infect the entire flock. Sheep frequently rub their heads together in affection, which becomes the means for a scab spread.
Left unattended, scab can lead to secondary infection, hypothermia, and eventual death. So, a shepherd is quick to coat his sheep with a linseed oil mixture to kill the enemy, taking great care to cover each head by hand (p.142).
Quite literally, a shepherd frequently anoints the head of his sheep–as protection from all that would inflict insanity and as purification from all that would infect.
In much the same way, our Good Shepherd anoints our heads with the oil of His Spirit. His frequent application pours over our minds, helping us overcome irritants and distractions, contamination and bad attitudes. As we receive such anointing, we’ll have a life that overflows with all the goodness He has to offer us.
Authority and Power
According to Luke, the first thing Jesus does after His forty days of testing in the wilderness is head home to Galilee to teach. One Sabbath, He stands in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth to read a portion of Isaiah’s scroll, declaring it fulfilled in His presence:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus, the Messiah–the Anointed One–claims His anointing by the Spirit of God.
Much like David’s royal oil treatment (1 Samuel 16:13), Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit becomes a sign of authority from God. And, with that authority comes power–power to heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead to life (Acts 10:38).
The moment each of us steps into a relationship with Jesus, we are anointed–God “sets his seal of ownership on us, and puts his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit” (2 Corinthians 1:20-21). Two thousand years later, the winds and flaming tongues of Pentecost fire continue to blow, filling every single believer with the Holy Spirit’s anointing of authority and power (Acts 2:1-4).
Friends, this is you! And me! Holy oil flows over our heads, anointing us SO THAT we can go into the world in God’s authority and the Spirit’s power to fulfill what He has called us to do. Our Good Shepherd anoints our heads with oil so that His Spirit will abide in us for all our days.
Heads and Minds
The disciple John writes a letter to the burgeoning church decades after the Holy Spirit’s anointing at Pentecost. John’s flock has a most insidious enemy: false teachers within the church. He encourages them:
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.”1 John 2:20-21
John, the shepherd of this flock, makes sure his sheep know “the anointing you received from Him remains in you” (1 John 2:27). This anointing of truth becomes a seed within every believer, that when cared for and nurtured, takes root and grows. This anointing of truth remains, or abides, in us. But it must be guarded.
Too easily we are distracted by our devices and the world’s enticements. Too frequently our minds are bombarded by subtle untruths about who Jesus is, about who we are. Too many times a day, our minds are tempted to stray from the truth.
Like the time a bug got in my head, telling me that my mom wouldn’t be with me for another Christmas. Over and over I swatted at that pest, trying to squash what felt like truth. Fear overtook me. My anticipation of her ‘coming death’ distracted me from all the life happening around me. Till I finally told my husband, who compassionately leaned in, telling me that whenever that moment came, he’d be with me through it. He reminded me we never know the number of our days–that we shouldn’t live in fear of death. Bug smashed. Lie squashed.
I don’t know where that buzz of untruth came, but I needed help to name it for what it was. I needed truth to break through the haze the lie had created.
Which is precisely the reason our Good Shepherd has prepared a table for us–to feast on His Word, its truth aligning us with His heart and mind. It’s why He has anointed our heads with oil–to fill us with His Spirit SO THAT we’ll keep our minds on Him.
It’s why Paul exhorts his flock (and us):
“…you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”Philippians 4:8-9, MSG
Imagine with me the oil of anointing pouring over our minds, filling our thoughts with its purifying, protective goodness. Our Good Shepherd doesn’t want us to be pestered by the annoyances around us. Rather, He desires our attitudes to be anchored in His grace and goodness. He doesn’t want the pestilence of untruths to settle into our minds, to guide our beliefs and actions. He wants to be our grace and truth, filling every crevice of our minds with His holy oil of presence.
Jesus models for us this way of living in the overflow of our anointing. He consistently gets away to be alone with His Father. He draws on every word of Scripture in order to remain in truth–as He teaches others and as He stands firm in the face of His enemies. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, His anointing is steadfast, giving Him an anchored place from which to do God’s work.
Even as He kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of His arrest to pray, He demonstrates to us how to face our enemies with anointing. Having asked for the cup to pass from Him, He chooses, instead, to let go of fear and embrace God’s will. At that moment, His cup fills with life. His life. The life He graciously pours out on our behalf.
No matter what we face–the irritations of pests or the infections of parasites–we have a Savior who pours His life into us. No matter how we feel–discouraged by the distractions or defeated by the droning of flies–we have a Shepherd who, drawing ever so close, has anointed us with His Spirit. We can look into His face as He rubs that oil on our heads and say with confidence, our cups overflow!
- Rhythms: We rest in rhythms–what Eugene Peterson calls “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29). They’re not meant to be striving-based edicts, but a source of true rest. A means of entering God’s presence and aligning ourselves completely with Him. As we do, He bears our burdens, fills us with hope and joy, and covers us in His perfect peace. This week, move your body toward your Good Shepherd, allowing His holy oil to drench You–inviting the Holy Spirit to pull you into His overflow!
- We add Psalm 23:5b to our memorization this week. Only one verse to go, and we’ll have an entire chapter of Scripture put to memory. I sway even as I begin repeating this Psalm’s words–as if they’ve invited me into a dance.
- Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- A song poised near the top of our playlist reminds us of a truth we learned at the beginning of the journey, “I Shall Not Want.” And so that refrain continues as we near the end of this psalm. Chandler Moore, singing with Elevation Worship, croons, “I shall not want. ‘Cause my cup’s running over, running over and I shall not want.” He praises with gusto, “And He anoints me, anoints me with His oil, glory hallelujah! Now my cup is running over. Glory hallelujah!”
- Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,* informs this exploration of the shepherd’s life, connecting dots as only a man-of-God-and-shepherd can.
- We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
- As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
- I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.