The Rule of Faith

The following article is condensed and adapted from The Truest Mercy, an upcoming book.


Jesus, the greatest healer of all time, said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Although He wasn’t making a point about doctors but responding to the Pharisees’ criticism that He was spending too much time with sinners, it’s important to note that Jesus did not belittle doctors.

I’m convinced that God wants people to practice medicine. Otherwise, He would not have been so generous in giving mankind knowledge about the human body, health and disease or the ability to develop increasingly sophisticated medical techniques. The world’s medical knowledge continues to grow exponentially because of two things: God created us with the intelligence to understand complex truths and create technology, and God is generous with His knowledge.

But God never intended for the knowledge He gives us to replace faith in Him. Today, most of the medicine practiced in the world is entirely godless. Our educational systems teach that the sick have no need for God, unless it is to comfort them with a useful lie. Prayer is tolerated for its psychological benefits, not because of God’s power to heal.

Prayer Helpers

The worldwide spread of secular medicine would not be a serious problem if Christian caregivers themselves didn’t also seem to believe that prayer is useless. Why do Christian physicians pray for their patients so rarely? Some Christian health workers are embarrassed when their colleagues pray for patients in the office, the operating room, hospital wards or the ICU. Some even speak against it.

But there is far more to this attitude than meets the eye. When we act without prayer on behalf of our patients, we are saying: Healing depends entirely on our knowledge, skill and resources and whatever ability the patient has to heal himself. This means that a patient seeking help must place his faith entirely in himself and in his physician. God is irrelevant. The same is true for relief workers or those offering any other kind of mercy. Without prayer, the outcome depends entirely on the people in charge and those being helped.

In contrast, the caregiver who prays invites God’s direct involvement. If the patient agrees, God is free to intervene powerfully in the sick person’s body, soul and spirit. In the same way, program directors for relief or development projects who pray for the people they help and, whenever possible, enlist them in praying open the door for God to work.

God’s plan for sick or suffering people is not simply to enable them to live for another week or month or even five years. His plan is to help them and then adopt them into His own family (Eph. 1:5). He wants people to be healthy and to have their needs met on earth and then to live with Him forever!

Caregivers who pray for their patients are saying that they need and want God’s help. God wants to work in partnership to help alleviate human suffering. He wants to build our faith to dizzying heights and multiply our efforts a thousandfold. But He wants to do that only if we follow His lead and example.

How Can It Work?

How do we—medical practitioners caring for desperately ill patients and relief and development workers helping those who suffer—enlist the finger of God for our patients? The answer is simple: we must ask, and we must keep on asking. How often do we pray for those we are helping? Out loud? In their presence? Or even silently as we help them?

Let’s assume that you work at a Christian hospital somewhere in the developing world. You are called to the emergency room to see a 28-year-old man who has just vomited a large amount of blood. The young man has been a heavy drinker for 10 years and first vomited blood two weeks ago. A doctor told him to stop drinking alcohol, so he did. He assures you that he has not touched it for two weeks. As he says this, you notice that his mother looks out the window and his father looks at the floor.

On examining the patient, you discover that his abdomen is full of fluid. This is not good, because it probably means that he has cirrhosis of the liver. In America and Europe, there would be a wide selection of procedures to help the young man. In Africa, there are only a few, and they are not very good.

You explain all this to the family members and the young man. He could bleed again at any time, and the next time, it could be fatal. You want to transfuse blood so he has some reserves and do flexible endoscopy to confirm the source of the bleeding. The cost will be $100. The family members blink back a few tears and say “OK.”

You have just demonstrated that:

  1. You are a well-trained, Western doctor, perhaps nicer than most.
  2. The patient’s problem is serious, but you are able to deal with it.
  3. The patient should have confidence in you and your team.
  4. If the family pays up front, you’ll go ahead with the plan. If not . . .
  5. The patient may die during the night.
  6. Nobody is expecting God to help you.

Are you uncomfortable with this? If you don’t like it, you will need to do some things differently. Explain God’s role, pray and expect God to act! So let’s try again.

You explain to the family members and the young man that he has a very serious problem caused by years of heavy drinking. He could hemorrhage again at any time, with a possibly fatal result. He needs a transfusion and a flexible endoscopy to see where the bleeding originates. Before any of that, however, you would like to ask God to help. The family and the young man agree readily.

As the doctor in charge, you lay your hand on the patient’s arm and pray as clearly as you can so that he and everyone else can understand. You thank God for keeping the young man alive and ask God to keep him from bleeding again. Then you ask the Lord to give the team wisdom to provide the best treatment. You ask God to help the family find the blood the young man needs and the funds to help you to do everything possible. Then you pray that God will help the patient and his family to understand how much He loves them—that He sent His Son to earth to die for their sins and that He very much wants for them to believe in Him and become His own children. Finally, you pray that the Lord will comfort them at the hospital and protect them from evil spirits that want to harm them (a very big deal in animistic Africa!). You close by asking this in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Then you ask the young man if he prays to God. He shakes his head but does not seem offended by the question. So you tell him that during his stay, you and others on your team will tell him all about Jesus, the One who told you to build this hospital and help the sick. You encourage him to talk to Jesus every day about his illness, and you tell him that a chaplain will come by his room to welcome him, pray for him and answer his questions.

Finally, you talk to the family about the cost. You explain that the hospital charges for actual cost only, because the church wants to provide health care as a service and not to make a profit. You encourage them to pay up front but offer options if they can’t. However, they will have to pay everything before their son is discharged.

All of that took less than three additional minutes and demonstrated that:

  1. You are a well-trained doctor who relies on God.
  2. The patient’s problem is serious. You have a treatment plan, you’re asking God to intervene and you expect God to help both you and the patient.
  3. The patient should place his confidence in God, since He is always the one who heals and decides the outcome.
  4. The family should pay the hospital charges. You will be as accommodating as possible if they do not pay up front (totally refusing treatment because the patient cannot pay is not biblical).
  5. You are concerned about the patient’s spiritual state and sincerely want him to become one of God’s children.
  6. You are asking God to guide you, heal your patient, comfort and encourage the patient and his family and protect them from evil.

Which one of these two individuals represents you?

The principle is simple: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Abandon that principle as you help the sick or those who are suffering, and you’re on your own.

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