What the Anointing is Not
Tony Cooke

Duke Ellington, the late jazz musician, composer and renowned band leader, was once asked to provide a definition of rhythm. “If you got it,” he replied, “you don’t need no definition. And if you don’t have it, ain’t no definition gonna help.” I think that same statement could apply to the anointing as well!

Sometimes, though, it’s helpful to use the process of elimination in defining something. In other words, to define what it is not. For example, one individual had carved an elephant out of a block of wood. Someone asked him how he had done it. He said: “I simply carved off everything that didn’t look like an elephant.” Maybe we can “carve off” a few things—misconceptions—regarding the anointing. 

1. The Anointing is not a SUBSTITUTE FOR PREPARATION.

Some preachers have relied upon Psalm 81:10 when it comes to ministry: “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” In doing so, they neglected 2 Timothy 2:15, where Paul told his young protégé: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Spontaneity can certainly have its place, but so does study.

Ministers must not only prepare messages; they must prepare themselves to minister the Word of God. I believe that the anointing (the presence and working of God’s Spirit) can be just as much a part of the preparation process as He is a part of the delivery process.

One minister noted that information and inspiration do not need to be in competition with each other. Donald S. Whitney said, “Why do we seem to think we must choose between the two? Why do so many Christians live as though they’ve been told, ‘choose you this day whom you will serve: scholarship or devotion’? I maintain that a biblically balanced Christian has both a full head and a full heart, radiating both spiritual light and heat.” 

To be negligent in preparation, while expecting the anointing to bail you out at the last minute, is presumptuous. It will be evidenced by shallow preaching and results that are less than optimal. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be so confident in what we have prepared that we are not trusting in the Holy Spirit or yielding to His influence when we do minister.

2. The Anointing is not a SHORT-CUT TO SUCCESS.

Some ministers (especially young ones) think: “If I could just get this great anointing, then I’d have it made. The anointing would propel me into great success.” However, without other parts of their life and ministry being developed and matured properly, too much success could be ultimately detrimental. Countless ministers have experienced a sudden burst of (seeming) success due to a unique or strong anointing, only to have their ministry shipwrecked because of a lack of development in other areas.

Someone wisely said, “Your charisma can take you where your character can’t keep you.”

There are no short-cuts (or substitutes) in ministry. Having an “anointing” doesn’t take the place of endurance, character development, growth in the fruit of the Spirit, honesty, humility, and possessing a servant’s heart. It would seem that some ministers have had the idea that because they have a certain type of “anointing” that they are somehow exempt from such biblical mandates as walking in kindness, holiness, integrity, etc.

3. The Anointing is not a STAMP OF APPROVAL

A minister being anointed (or seeming to be anointed) is not a blanket endorsement of that person by God. It doesn’t mean they are accurate or correct in everything they do or say. Nor does it mean that they are necessarily even living right.

You may recall the story of the uneducated minister who preached about Paul and his wife, Silas, in jail, while their poor son, Timothy was walking up and down the streets crying because his Mom and Dad were in jail. People were saved in that service, not because his sermon was 100% accurate, but because there was enough truth about Jesus presented. The anointing of the Holy Spirit convicted people and drew people to Jesus that night, not because of his doctrinal accuracy, but in spite of it.

Some ministers have lived in great sin, yet all the while their messages were anointed and people were getting saved and healed. Eventually, though, that sin will catch up with them. Jesus one time referred to giving an erroneous minister “space to repent” (Revelation 3:21). Some, in their deception and pride, have made the mistake of assuming that God is making some type of exception for them because their ministry is so important. They misconstrue His mercy as an endorsement, and then judgment comes.


1 Peter 4:10 refers to, “…the manifold grace of God.” It’s important to realize that there are different expressions of God’s Spirit. People naturally have preferences. Some people love nothing but systematic teaching, while others would much rather hear inspirational preaching. Still others would like nothing but prophesying and other “spiritual” demonstrations. Some are blessed by soft, quiet music, while others are inspired by loud, energetic music.

Even though we may all have our personal preferences, it’s important not to become closed-minded, assuming that God can only work or move through that type or style of ministry (specifically, the one we enjoy and benefit from). We limit God by thinking He can only move through one style or one method. What is not “anointed” to you is exactly what God will use to reach certain people, and what is “anointed” to you may not be effective in reaching others.

I love the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:11-13). There were four different manifestations that took place: a powerful wind, an earthquake, a fire, and a still small voice. There have been times when God was in a powerful wind (such as on the day of Pentecost), but He wasn’t in this wind. There have been times when God was in an earthquake (such as when Paul and Silas were in jail), but God wasn’t in this earthquake. There have been times when God was in the fire (such as when Moses stood before the burning bush), but God wasn’t in this fire. This time, God was in the still small voice.

We’ve got to be careful about making automatic associations with the external—with stylistic issues or even with certain types of manifestations (especially those that can be imitated in the flesh)—and truly be sensitive to Him!

When we are sensitive to Him and His leadership, we won’t get locked into a rigid form that we just automatically repeat all the time. It’s interesting to me that the next-to-last verse of Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” While the very first verse of Psalm 47 says, “Shout unto God with a voice of triumph.” God can be in both the shout and in the silence!

Many people have assumed that if someone is saying, “Yea,” “Thus saith the Lord,” “My little children,” etc., that there must be a prophecy taking place. Maybe there is. But nowhere does the Bible say that such phrases have to be used in order to qualify an utterance as prophetic. Those phrases can be nothing more than “wrapping paper” that we, in our minds, associate with the gift. Someone could be using all those religious-sounding phrases, and yet what is being said has been totally conjured up from the person’s own mind. On the other hand, someone could be truly speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without using any of those catch phrases.

5. The Anointing is not a SOURCE OF SUPERIORITY.

Gordon Lindsay wrote, “Some spiritual moves have been blessed of God, and then suddenly have faded away because of the presumptuous and erratic conduct of certain leaders. One such move occurred some years ago in America. At first we rejoiced in this outpouring of the Spirit. But very soon we saw something develop that alarmed us. Some of the leaders were claiming that they were the ‘Powerhouse’ and all other churches were ‘dried up.’ They said that people should come to them to get recharged. When we saw such bold pretensions, we realized that the usefulness of such leaders could not last long.”

Unfortunately, when some ministers begin to experience success or to flow effectively in a particular anointing, they begin to think more highly of themselves than they ought. Other people sometimes put them on a pedestal. Pride may begin to infect their life. One person said, “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.”

It’s important to remember that the anointing of the Holy Spirit does not come upon a person to exalt that individual into some type of superior status. The anointing is given so that others can be blessed. The anointing is not given to exalt a celebrity, but to empower a servant!

  • If God allows you to flow in gifts of healings, it’s because He loves and wants to help sick people.
  • If God allows you to have an anointing to teach, it’s because He wants His people to have the knowledge of Himself.
  • If God allows you to be anointed as an evangelist, it’s because He loves lost people and wants to see them reached.

None of these things are done merely for the exaltation of the minister, but for the rendering of effective service to God’s people and to the lost. Ministers who forget the purpose of the anointing and begin to exploit the ministry as an opportunity for self-promotion may experience a season of apparent success, but they will ultimately end up on the spiritual junk-heap.


In the natural, there are certain entertainers and political figures that have very strong and captivating personalities. Such leaders are often described as “charismatic.” Such personalities can be dominant, persuasive, charming, and even intimidating.

Sometimes, there is even an element of demonic influence that will come over a person, enabling him to exert incredible control and influence over large groups of people. Hitler would be an extreme example of this. Certain unsaved rock stars and entertainers have commented about “something that comes over them” when they get on stage.

Christian leaders who tend to have strong personalities should use caution to not confuse their own personality with the anointing. The anointing is not given to enable us to dominate, dictate, or to push our own agenda, but to lead and to guide in the Spirit of Christ.

Paul referred to, “…the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.” (2 Corinthians 13:10). Paul certainly had a strong personality, but he was careful to keep his motives and methods right as he sought godly results.


Jesus said (John 7:24), “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Paul asked (2 Corinthians 10:7), “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” 

Ministers sometimes have the tendency to evaluate the level of anointing by nothing more than the external response (or reaction) of those listening. We might assume if a group is verbally responsive, that automatically means we’re really anointed, but if they’re quiet that means they’re not receiving anything. In reality, a quiet person might be absorbing much, while the more vocal person could be responding that way merely as a learned or conditioned response. We all like to be enthusiastically received, but we need to remember that we’re not preaching to have our ego stroked. We are ministering to impart life. As a matter of balance, I heard one minister say, “The only time people say ‘amen’ is when you’re saying something they already know and agree with.”

Others might assume that if people fall in a prayer line that automatically means there is a strong anointing. This has led some ministers (consciously or subconsciously) to push people in prayer lines. We need to keep in mind that it’s faith, not falling, that brings healing and blessing. I’ve actually had people tell me that they “faked” a fall in a prayer line because they knew the minister wouldn’t move on until they fell. That’s sad!

Can there be outward (and genuine) results when the anointing is strong and people are cooperating with the Holy Spirit? Certainly! But I don’t believe that Jesus was any more anointed in John 6:2 when “a great multitude followed Him” than He was in John 6:66 when “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” I don’t believe that Paul was necessarily more anointed when revival broke out than he was when a riot erupted.


Some preachers tend to focus exclusively on the side of the anointing that has to do with pulpit ministry, while neglecting the side of the anointing that has to do with the ministry of helps or with the anointing that resides in every believer.

Paul and John were talking to all believers when they said:

“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (1 John 2:27).

It’s certainly appropriate to teach about the anointing associated with ministry gifts, but if believers end up thinking that preachers are the only ones that have any kind of anointing, then something very significant has been omitted. The function of five-fold ministry gifts is important, but so is the priesthood of the believer. The same Holy Spirit that empowers preachers is the same Holy Spirit who indwells believers!

There is not merely an anointing that distinguishes five-fold ministers from the laity, but there is also an anointing that unifies every believer, regardless of office or calling. Our job is not to use our anointing to subjugate people or to cultivate their dependence upon ourselves, but to liberate and release them into a full relationship with God—to empower their priesthood. In other words, my job as a teacher is not to make a believer more dependent upon me, but to make that believer more dependent on the Word and on Jesus.


Our prayer is that this information will help you have greater understanding and be more discerning, and that it will also help you cooperate more fully with the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that the anointing is not:

  • A substitute for preparation
  • A short-cut to success
  • A stamp of approval
  • Exclusively synonymous with a specific style
  • A source of superiority
  • Synonymous with a strong personality
  • To be measured by the external response of people
  • Something that belongs exclusively to the five-fold ministry

Let me close with a statement about what the anointing is…

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “John’s words ‘unction’ and ‘anointing’ are just a very graphic way of describing the influence and the effect of the Holy Spirit upon the believer.”

Jesus was anointed (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and He even said, “I can of Myself do nothing” and “…the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 5:30; 14:10). Paul understood the anointing also and said that he conducted his work in ministry by, “…striving with all the superhuman energy which He so mightily enkindles and works within me.”

(Colossians 1:29, AMP).