Recently I was re-reading Brian Croft’s great little book, Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness, and thought I’d put together a few of his tips with some of my own gathered over 20 years of hospital visitation with the hope that it might encourage more of this ministry among Christians. Remember this is not something just for pastors and it also enters into our assessment at the final judgment: “I was sick and you visited me” (Matt. 25:36).
Practice self-denial: Hospital visits are not the most inviting prospects for most of us but love for suffering people must overcome love for our own comfort.
Believe in the simple power of presence: Hospitalized Christians can sometimes feel abandoned by God and very lonely. Don’t underestimate how much your mere physical presence can mean to them.
Don’t worry about what to say: That fear of “What will I say?” deters lots of people from hospital visits. But you don’t need to say a lot. In fact, silence often communicates more than our words. You can speak of Christ’s sufferings and of how He empathizes with us, and also share His care and compassion for the sick. And remember the promise of James 1:5.
Communicate with body language: Come down to their level and sit close (not on the bed) rather than at a distance. Don’t let your eyes wander all over the room but focus on the person. Use appropriate physical touch especially with older people and children.
Ask questions: Don’t ask all of these – this is not an interrogation.
- How are you feeling? What are you thinking?
- How is this affecting you? Spiritually, emotionally, socially?
- What are your fears /hopes?
- How are you struggling? Any area you would like to share?
- What are you praying for?
- Have you had any encouragements in the Word?
- How is your family?
- What good can you see coming out of this?
- Are you ready to die and meet God?
- Do you have questions for me?
- What can the church do to minister to you at this time and assist you with your needs?
- Is there anyone you would especially like to visit you?
Don’t talk about yourself: This is not the time for telling all about your medical history.
Empathize: Entering the person’s world, thinking his thoughts and feeling his feelings, is more important than questioning him all about his procedures, etc. People can tell if we are really loving them or just there out of a sense of duty.
Be Gentle: Use quiet, soothing, tender voice in all your dealings with sick people. This is not the time for your preaching voice.
Prepare to be shocked (but don’t show it): Prepare so that you will not be visibly, bodily, or audibly shocked by color, weight loss, face changes, pipes (just for Dan, I mean tubes not bagpipes), smells, sounds, etc. It’s frightening how quickly someone can change appearance through cancer and its treatments.
Respect the rules of the hospital and the family’s wishes: Observe visiting hours and don’t hinder medical staff in their work. Ask the family when best to visit and for how long. If no guidance, then assume 5-10 minutes average unless asked to stay longer and you are sure it will not tax the person.
Go hopefully: Times of sickness can be times of spiritual opening – even with people who have never received or have even opposed the Gospel message. Especially with terminal illness, this is not the time for small-talk and cracking of jokes. Keep eternity in view and approach the task with a sense of great urgency.
Go to learn: Go not just as a teacher but as a student. A Christian’s hospital bed can be like a little seminary. It is a great privilege to help saints through suffering and on to death. It sensitizes us as well as sanctifies us.
Encourage Witness: If the person is a Christian, and if she is able, encourage her to speak of Jesus to her family, her caregivers, and her fellow patients.
Remember the family: At times it may be the loved ones who you will minister to most. Remember the children especially and go out of your way to speak kindly to them.
Thanksgiving: Even when there is much suffering, always try to find reasons for thanksgiving, for small mercies along the way, for advances in medical technology, etc.
Read Scripture: Usually not a full chapter but verses from one of the following passages: Psalm 23; 28; 34; 46; 62; 103; 145; Isa. 40; John 10; John 14; Romans 5; Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 1; Hebrews 4:14-16, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Eph. 2:1-10;; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:12-19; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; Rev. 21-22.
Heaven: Keep the suffering or dying Christian’s eyes on heaven and the world where there is no sin, suffering, or death (Rev. 21:4; 22:1-2).
What other tips would you add?