Our Lord's counsel in Luke 18:1, "Men ought always to pray and not to faint," is timely for all, but especially for those serving in a large medical center such as the White Memorial Hospital. We are a busy staff, with many problems pressing for attention. We could easily crumble or, as another translation of our text reads, "become disheartened." That is why Jesus said to "pray always." The need for continuous prayer is obvious, although at times we may be loath to admit it. We may judge the people's interest in prayer from the progress being made in the Dial-a-Prayer service recently begun at the White Memorial church. This reveals a deeper desire for prayer on the part of the community than we might have thought.
Dial-a-Prayer telephone service began a few years ago in Holland. Australia soon followed, and this method of helping communities became popular. In many countries today thousands of callers are dialing numbers to hear the recorded voice of an Adventist pastor offering a brief prayer.
Dial-a-Prayer now supplies the needs of many thousands of unknown callers in many cities who are reaching out for God. At this important center the telephone voices of H. M. S. Richards and Don Reynolds may be heard praying for the needs of the caller.
Prayer has power, and while some may think this a poor substitute for personal prayer, it supplies the needs of those who do not know how to pray.
One of my duties a short time ago was that of visiting our hospital patients in their rooms. Our usual discussions concerned financial interests. Behind the reason for talking on these matters one could sometimes detect a hidden fear or some deep personal problem. When I told them we would remember them especially in prayer at our morning worship in the chapel, it was a joy to see their faces light up with appreciation. These patients seemed encouraged to know that the administrator and leaders of this institution, with their staff of workers, were meeting together to pray for them that day. Sometimes someone would say, "Will you say a special little prayer for me?"
Patients expect the chaplain to pray for them. And they do not think it strange when a nurse suggests prayer before an operation. But if one connected with the business department shows interest in their spiritual welfare, that is something different. When they learn that we are a praying group, it adds a great deal to the effective services of our dedicated nurses and doctors. Prayer is what adds the power to the service we offer.
About two and a half years ago a man came to our office holding an old receipt. Somewhat apologetically he inquired if we might still have some items he left in the patients' Safe Deposit twenty-five years before! The receipt indicated that his wife had once been our patient. When she left the hospital there was 550 owing on her account. So, as security for this balance, she deposited her two rings in our safe (evidently we did things differently in those days. They were valuable rings, he said; in fact, they were his wedding gift to his wife.
We checked our safe, and sure enough, the rings were there in their little green-velvet box, just as he had described them.
You should have seen his excitement. This was amazing security, he thought.
Then we asked, "Why did you wait twenty-five years before coming to redeem your rings?" His answer was as pathetic as it was interesting. He said that after his wife had left the hospital they had lost the receipt and believed it would be useless to try to claim the rings without it. "But just last week we found the receipt in the prayer book she had with her in the hospital." He gave us his receipt and tendered the money owing—and went his way thankful, happy, and appreciative.
We too were thankful. But we also were sobered as we contemplated the circumstances. Here were people whose form of prayer life was supported by a prayer book. But those prayers had not been read for twenty-five years! If only that couple had prayed more often they might have found their lost receipt years earlier.
"Men ought always to pray," said the Master. Our medical work is called "the right arm of the message." God gave us this gift so that through this ministry the world could receive His blessing and also see a demonstration of His love. In our efforts to keep this "right arm" strong by the methods of science, we must also keep it strong by reaching up to the Source of power in prayer. The strong "right arm" may then stretch to the rim of the world to influence the lives of countless people Nvho grope for medical help. Some of these come to us. What a privilege is ours to minister to them!
Naturally, in an institution like this, we believe in prayer. And we doubtless practice our prayer life even while working. Prayer, after all, is not a posture of the body; it is an attitude of the mind. But are our patients whom we serve and those with whom we work conscious of the fact that we are a praying people, that we live on a higher spiritual plane than others in the community?
"Religion should be made prominent in a most tender, sympathetic, compassionate way. . . . Actions of purity and refinement in looks and words, and above all the sweet words of prayer, though few, yet if sincere, will be a sure anchor to the suffering ones." —Medical Ministry, p. 235.