Bible Reading and Prayer in the Sickroom

The presence of the minister in the sickroom should make the patient conscious of the presence of the Great Physician.

CHARLES M. MELLOR, Pastor, East Oakland Church, Californi

The presence of the minister in the sickroom should make the patient conscious of the presence of the Great Physician. This is most effectually achieved when the minister leaves with the suffering one brief spiritual prescrip­tions from the Bible, and personally seeks to connect him with the healing power of God in prayer. The therapeutic power of the Scriptures and of prayer are the minister's two greatest re­sources of help and comfort to the hospital patient.

We mortals may sympathize with the infir­mities of our fellow men, but the source of all true comfort comes from the inspiration of God. The Scriptures are rich in examples of those who have walked "through the valley of the shadow of death," and who have been sustained by the mighty arm of the everlasting Father.

In every case the Scripture selection should be brief and applicable to the situation. This is no time for a doctrinal Bible study or a whole­sale use of the Bible. Inexhaustible spiritual resources with an amazing relevance to all hu­man needs are found in the Bible. Brief sen­tences of inspiration, the significant content of treasured verses, often provide just the spiritual prescription needed. A striking sentence promise from God's Holy Word can be remem­bered even by a sick mind and may balance the scales in favor of hope and health.

It must be remembered that minds dulled with pain and wearied by struggles with disease and anxiety are incapable of remembering long and difficult scriptural passages. Sometimes one can write a little passage and leave it with the patient as a spiritual prescription to help in his recovery.

Each passage should be read well in a con­versational voice. Avoid reading too rapidly, since most sick people's minds do not function as efficiently as in normal times. Obviously, the time to read an appropriate portion of the Bible comes after the minister has established a satisfactory relationship with the patient. Some­times it is not wise to read the Bible to the sick one—and the minister must have good common sense and understanding of the situa­tion. In such cases a briefly quoted sentence from God's Word may suffice. The majority of patients will welcome a selection from the Word of God, if the clergyman is tactful and considerate and cultured in his approach.

There are numerous appropriate passages from the Bible that will remind the sufferer of the love and attention of God. What the patient needs most is courage and faith. The following are but a sample selection of Scriptures from which successful ministers and counselors have drawn their spiritual prescriptions for the en­couragement of the sick:

Ps. 4:1, 3-8—Commune with your heart and be still

Ps. 23:1-6— "The Lord is my shepherd"

Ps. 90:1,. 2, 4—The greatness of a personal God

Ps. 91:1-4—The Lord is our refuge

Ps. 121:1-8—Our help comes from the Lord

Isa. 41:10—"I will strengthen thee"

Isa. 43:1-5—"Fear not; for I am with thee"

Matt. 6:25-33—Be not anxious for the future

Matt. 7:7, 8—Ask, and ye shall receive

Matt. 11:28-30—There is rest for the weary

Matt. 17:19, 20—The need of faith

John 14:1-3—"Let not your heart be troubled"

John 14:27; 16:33—Peace and quietness

Rom. 8:18, 28—The glory that is to come

Rom. 8:35, 37-39—Nothing can separate us from the love of God

The Healing Power of the Word of God

God has put His healing power into His Word. His words, as the wise man has observed, "are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh" (Prov. 4:22). In the acceptance of God's promises the faith of man partakes of the divine nature, with its healing and strength­ening power (2 Peter 1:4). The author of The Ministry of Healing beautifully expresses this thought as follows:

The same power that Christ exercised when He walked visibly among men is in His word. It was by His word that Jesus healed disease and cast out demons; by His word He stilled the sea and raised the dead, and the people bore witness that His word was with power. He spoke the word of God, as He had spoken to all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament. The whole Bible is a mani­festation of Christ. . . .

So with all the promises of God's word. In them He is speaking to us individually, speaking as di­rectly as if we could listen to His voice. It is in these promises that Christ communicates to us His grace and power. They are the leaves from that tree which is "for the healing of the nations." Rev. 22:2. Received, assimilated, they are to be the strength of the character, the inspiration and sus­tenance of the life. Nothing else can have such healing power. Nothing besides can impart the courage and faith which give vital energy to the whole being.—Page 122.

Praying With the Patient

Prayer is the minister's greatest contribution to healing in the sickroom. It is not a magical rite, but it is a medium that brings to the pa­tient's stress and anxiety the quieting influence of the eternal God. It makes available the spiritual resources that bring both peace of mind and bodily strength. Even illnesses for which medical science has not as yet provided a cure have been greatly alleviated by prayer, and in some instances completely cured, as God has graciously responded to the faith of those con­cerned.

The objective results of the prayer of faith are many. Prayer relieves the inner fears of persons who are preparing for an operation, and an­esthesia is more readily induced. Prayer stimu­lates more rapid recovery, and during the time of convalescence not only relieves the after­effects of the operation or illness, but also im­plants the peace and trust that are so conducive to a complete return to health. In answer to prayer God has greatly blessed the work of Chris­tian physicians and pastors in their efforts to minister new health and new faith to their pa­tients, even to the extent of actually reversing the processes of death, and extending prolonged life to those whose condition medical science had conceded to be hopeless.

When men are bereft of strength and per­plexed in spirit, they feel their need of God. Many people feel quite secure in times of health and take their faith for granted. But when a crisis comes and they are fiat on their back in a hospital bed, they are often very anxious to have the assurance of God's personal care for them. Even those who are so confused that they won­der whether prayer really works, present a golden opportunity for the understanding pas­tor to refocus their attention on God.

The Scripture says that "men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1); and if ever there is a time when they feel their need of prayer, it is when strength fails and life itself seems slipping from their grasp. Often those who are in health forget the wonderful mercies continued to them day by day, year after year, and they render no tribute of praise to God for His benefits. But when sickness comes, God is remembered. When human strength fails, men feel their need of divine help. And never does our merciful God turn from the soul that in sincerity seeks Him for help. He is our refuge in sickness as in health.—Ibid., p. 225.

Ministers should keep in mind certain basic principles that help to make prayer more effec­tive in their ministry to the sick:

1. The minister should be relaxed and calm. There are a number of distractions that can make it difficult to pray. If the minister is nervous, hurried, or conscious of the physical condition, his praying can be tense or mechani­cal. It is important to concentrate upon the pa­tient and his personal needs. The clergyman should be as fully aware as the physician, that body, mind, and spirit act and react on one another. Much may depend upon his attitude, both in his sickroom ministry and his prayer.

2. It is important that the patient recognize that the primary purpose of prayer is submis­sion to the will of God.

In prayer for the sick, it should be remembered that "we know not what we should pray for as we ought." Romans 8:26. We do not know whether the blessing we desire will be best or not. Therefore our prayers should include this thought: "Lord, Thou knowest every secret of the soul. Thou are ac­quainted with these persons. . . . If, therefore, it is for Thy glory and the good of the afflicted ones, we ask, in the name of Jesus, that they may be restored to health. If it be not Thy will that they may be restored, we ask that Thy grace may com­fort and Thy presence sustain them in their suf­ferings."—Ibid., pp. 229, 230.

3. Those who want the minister to pray for their healing and restoration should be led to see that personal confession of sin and its for­giveness is an indispensable part of healing. Any violation of the laws of God, both physical and spiritual, is sin. God is the one who "forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases" (Ps. 103:3). This is true spiritual and mental therapy that is of greatest value to bodily res­toration. Only by turning to God in faith and penitence, and in consecration and willing obe­dience, can one come in contact with this com­plete healing power.
4. Prayers for the sick should be in a conver­sational tone of voice. One should speak audibly and clearly so that the patient can understand without having to strain his hearing. Under no circumstances should the patient be agitated by loud, emotionally charged prayers.
5. Prayer in the presence of the sick should never be long. One authority on pastoral minis­try suggests that the ideal sickroom prayer should contain "about the number of phrases that are in the twenty-third Psalm." If the sick person should become weary as a result of our much praying, then the effect of our visit would be greatly diminished.
6. The form and content of the prayer for the sick person should be consistent with the troubled one's needs and experience in the Christian life. During his visit with the patient in the hospital room or ward the alert minister will soon determine some of the most obvious spiritual needs.

7. In his hospital work the minister will oc­casionally find some who believe that prayer should take the place of the remedies prescribed by the doctor. We should make it clear that it is not a denial of faith to use the means God has provided to alleviate pain and aid nature in her work. True medical skill is a gift of God, and the Christian physician is likewise an agent of God.

8. When a patient in a ward requests prayer, the minister may tactfully offer to pray so all in the ward may hear, if they so desire, or he may continue with prayer in the same conversa­tional tone that he has been using in speaking to the patient whom he has been visiting.

In all his ministry to the sick, it is essential that the pastor strive to emulate the sympathetic understanding and tender pity that so character­ized our Lord's ministry to sin-sick man.

He who took humanity upon Himself knows how to sympathize with the sufferings of humanity. Not only does Christ know every soul, and the peculiar needs and trials of that soul, but He knows all the circumstances that chafe and perplex the spirit. His hand is outstretched in pitying tenderness to every suffering child. Those who suffer most have most of His sympathy and pity.—Ibid., p. 249.

The pastor should understand the patient's problem of pain, which has a most disturbing effect and occupies the center of attention. All else seems secondary and it temporarily en­gulfs the patient. The sufferer's outgoing in­terests are blocked and he becomes involuntarily self-centered. One thing is uppermost in his mind and that is his physical hurt. He is likely to feel rejected and cut off.

The mental turmoil in the patient is usually very acute. He is anxious and insecure as he compares his healthful days with the future, which looks so uncertain. His condition is one of dependence. Others wait upon him and tell him what to do. Perhaps never since infancy has he had such attention. This experience is con­fusing to most adults and after a few days fre­quently leads to despondency and protest. It is not uncommon for the minister to find such patients depressed.

Time hangs heavily upon many sick folks, especially if the period of illness or even con­valescence is prolonged. The majority of people living in this active age are busily employed, and if sudden illness strikes the many hours with little to do but lie and think are a bit over­whelming. The understanding minister will be able to leave some precious promise of the Word of God to occupy the mind and bless the soul. These prescriptions for inner peace and renewed spiritual life are healing medicine indeed.

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CHARLES M. MELLOR, Pastor, East Oakland Church, Californi

July 1957

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