Never underestimate the intuition of those who are sick. They can usually tell if we are visiting out of a sense of duty or obligation or out of genuine love. Before anything else, this is the first heart issue we must honestly assess.
One: Prepare Your Heart
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for pastors! We begin to think that visiting is just part of the job we’ve been hired to do. Pastors and paid staff must make a special effort to ensure they are visiting the sick out of love and care, not just out of a sense of obligation.
We also need to prepare our hearts for what we might see and experience. You may be visiting someone who is close to dying — and there are disturbing realities that accompany death. You may see blood or tubes and needles placed into unthinkable places… Yet these circumstances are not reasons to avoid caring for that person. In fact, these scenarios can be gifts that God gives to us that force us to prepare our hearts so we rely completely on the Holy Spirit for strength.
We must prepare our hearts, not just to avoid passing out, but so we are spiritually prepared as well. Before we come face-to-face with the person we are visiting, we should have in mind the Scriptures we want to read. We should think through the words of encouragement and hope we intend to bring. Whatever promises of God we choose to share, we should remind ourselves of them, believe them, and allow them to fill our hearts with joy. If we know and believe the truth we share with others, they are more likely to receive these words as truth from someone whose hope and confidence are evident as well.
Two: Watch Your Time
How long should we stay when we visit someone? Does it differ, depending on whom and where we visit? A helpful starting place can be found in the wise words of Alistair Begg: “It is always better that people should feel our visit is too short than too long.” (Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work [Chicago: Moody, 2004], 175.) With this in mind, I recommend planning to stay no more than five to ten minutes in a hospital or nursing home setting… A home situation can be a little more flexible. Depending on the level of sickness and the pain of the individuals you are visiting, twenty to thirty minutes may be appropriate…
Three: Listen; Don’t Solve
Visiting the sick is one of those times when it is best to suppress this urge [to fix things]. In the discomfort of the moment, you may find yourself wanting to explain (with a thoughtful three-part thesis) to a precious soul lying in a hospital bed how God is going to use this affliction in his or her life. This is neither loving nor pastoral…
We need to simply listen and love. Fewer words can be more profitable in these scenarios than too many. Those suffering from affliction and sickness will feel more loved if we sympathize, not rationalize, with them in their illness. Listen; don’t solve.
Four: Leave a Note When Necessary
When I first started doing hospital visitations, I often found my efforts and time produced little in the way of results. This was not because the visits were bad; it was because I didn’t even get to see the sick person! … There are countless reasons that a person may not be able to receive your visit.
Leaving a note is a simple way to communicate your care, and it accomplishes several things you would have done if you had been able to see them. Here is an example of a simple handwritten note I might leave for them:
Dear ___________, Sorry I [we] missed you. Know that I am praying for you and trusting God’s sovereign plans and purposes for you in this difficult time. I talked with the nurse and will let the congregation know of your updated circumstances. Please let me know if there is any way I can serve you or your family through this time. You can reach me day or night at this number: ______________________.
Grateful for you,
Brian [and any others who may have been with you]
Five: Enjoy the Moment
The stress and anxiety many experience in visiting the sick can sometimes cause them to miss the joy of this ministry. As you visit people, be mindful to enjoy all that God wants to accomplish for his glory.
Our hearts are wired to become so preoccupied with the affairs of life that we forget that death and sickness will one day fall on each of us. At any moment our lives can end. In caring for the sick and afflicted, we are reminded of the fragility of life and our closeness to eternity. We should enjoy these experiences that God gives us by his grace because they keep us mindful of the eternal — the things that are of lasting value [see Colossians 3:1-2].
The truth is that you don’t have to be a pastor to think pastorally. Pondering these kinds of considerations will help you build a bridge from the theological convictions you have about sickness, the sovereignty of God, and caring for those in need so that you can minister to them.
How to Use This Book
This book will equip pastors, church leaders, and caregivers to bring hope and encouragement to those struggling with serious illnesses. Visit the Sick will give you the tools – pastoral, practical, theological, and biblical tools – that you need to navigate through both the spiritual and physical care of the sick and dying.
by Brian Croft. Adapted from Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness
Visit the Sick
Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness