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.
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.