"What Do I Say?"

            So far this year I have had an unusual amount of persons within my congregation who have and are experiencing significant health issues, especially cancer.  The church, of course, has a wonderful opportunity in such occasions to offer prayer, comfort, and encouragement.  However, oftentimes church members struggle with knowing what to say to persons going through such physical trials.  They may feel unable to truly say something helpful, so they do not say anything at all.  They might avoid going to visit someone in the hospital because they are too intimidated about the situation.  Even pastors and church leaders may feel so inadequate and small in dealing with some parishioners’ overwhelming pain and disease that they fail to say anything substantive.  This is a problem that does not really need to be a problem because we possess the words of God contained in Holy Scripture.
            Here’s the deal:  it is not really our words that bring health and healing to a person in need; it is God’s words.  Much more important than believing our speech is going to make or break a patient or victim’s health or happiness is our very presence.  Taking the time to be with someone in need and simply hold their hand and sit for a while can communicate more comfort and care than a bevy of forced words out of our mouths.  So, then, when we visit someone either at home or in the hospital our presence coupled with God’s Word are the vital tools of building encouragement into a patient’s heart. 
            Knowing the Bible is crucial to knowing what to say to a person in need.  Even the most shy among us does not need to put pressure on ourselves to come up with something to say when we are equipped with the Book of Psalms.  Whether it is reading Psalm 23 with its comforting promise of God’s provision, protection, and presence, or Psalm 91 with its grand vision of a God who shelters His people in a time of upheaval, the psalms offer us words to say that transcend anything we might come up with on our own.  More than once I have gone into a hospital room or a bedroom at home and simply spent my time reading Scripture after Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to seep down into the fearful recesses of a person or a family’s innermost soul, bringing a sliver of light into the clouds of doubt and darkness that loom within.
            Another great fear of the one who would like to comfort another is whether they will be able to answer the difficult questions brought forth by the afflicted.  And, yes, they do often have questions of life and death on their lips, like an impetuous four year old peppering his mother with inquisitions for which she becomes exhausted over.  Yet, as human beings, we are not so grandiose as to have the answers to questions that only God glories to know.  “I don’t know” is a phrase that is not only perfectly acceptable to say, it may even be the best response to a large query.  Trying to drain all the mystery out of life by claiming to know the hidden places of the universe strikes me as, at best, hubris, and, at worst, leaves a person feeling more awful than they did before their inquiry.
            The only obstacles that stand in the way of our ministering care and compassion to a hurting person is our own self-made walls of excuses and fears.  If our presence and God’s Word are truly the best companions, then we can walk with confidence into the life of another and know that we are being conduits of grace to those who need it most. 


            If you are not sure about what kind of Scripture to use in a person’s life, every pastor on planet earth enjoys suggesting portions of God’s Word to use.  If you do not want to go alone to encourage another, there is likely a genuine follower of Jesus who would jump at the chance to be with you and assist in any way possible.  Too many hurting people’s pain is compounded by a well-intentioned person who simply says and does nothing out of a misguided belief that they have nothing to offer.  To feel ill or dying is to feel discomfort; to feel ignored is to suffer a terrible agony worse than death.  May God’s people use God’s Word to edify God’s people and transform God’s creation for God’s sake.

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