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David P. Smith: Physician-Patient Prayer
Thursday, June 21, 2012 8:50 AM

In this era of healthcare reform, there are many questions floating around on many different topics.  It was encouraging to recently see on the front page of American Medical News (a newspaper published by the American Medical Association) an article entitled, “When patient visit includes request for prayer” (June 18, 2012; volume 55, number 12).  The article discusses a survey of almost 500 adults from Florida, North Carolina, and Vermont in which “one in five patients likes the idea of praying with the doctor during a routine office visit, while nearly 30% want to do so during a hospital stay.”  The article continues to note that, “75% of physicians say patients sometimes or often mention spiritual issues such as God, prayer, meditation or the Bible”.  Also, according to a May 2006 study in Medical Care of 1,200 physicians, 53% of those surveyed pray with patients when patients ask for prayer.  Only 10% of physicians have no religious affiliation and 60% of hospitals have chaplains on staff, according to the American Hospital Association.  While the article doesn’t address geographical differences, I would certainly think that the percentages are much higher in the Bible belt and lower in other areas of the country, but the general statistics reveal how important that prayer is for patients.

The article wasn’t all rosy for physician-patient prayer because it also noted that “only 6% of physicians believe religion and spirituality often help to prevent negative clinical outcomes.”  In addition, the article more greatly promoted the feelings of some that physicians should not initiate prayer with patients, but should let the patient be the initiator and the physician should be silent.  Well, I guess that I am in the 6% category because I have definitely seen with my own eyes, felt with my own hands, and heard in my own ears the positive outcomes associated with patients having faith in Jesus Christ to heal them.  Physicians who do not feel comfortable with praying with patients or initiating prayer with patients should certainly not do so, but those who do actively pray with their patients and may even initiate prayer with their patients, as I do, should not be made out to be unscientific, as one physician in the article is quoted as saying.  If everything could be explained about faith, then it would not be called faith anymore; that is where the rub is for some who want proof of everything.  God has no obligation to prove anything to anyone, as He has revealed Himself abundantly already to those who want to see Him as the Creator as He is (Romans 1). 

I have prayed for miracles with patients and have seen miracles performed by God for patients.  If someone doesn’t believe that occurs, I can’t help that unbelief, but those patients who were healed know that God worked a miracle for them because of their faith in Him and because it was His will for them.  Without getting too specific due to privacy concerns, I have all the proof I need in medical records for dramatic changes in patients’ health I have seen take place over the almost twenty years of treating patients now.  Prayer and faith are extremely important in medical practice and when physicians feel led to ask a patient about praying for them, that physician should certainly ask the patient for permission to do so.  I’ve never had one patient refuse an offer to pray for them.  In my clinic, there is a locked, private box in the waiting room for patients to write out and leave prayer requests.  Allowing patients to express their faith is great for their health and should be encouraged.

Physicians shouldn’t let the possibility of a prayer not being answered in the way that we all like to see keep them from praying for someone.  We all know that God doesn’t provide physical healing for all prayers for healing and that doesn’t mean that there was necessarily a lack of faith, but a lack of God’s will to answer that prayer for physical healing.  Even Lazarus, who was brought back from the dead by Jesus, also later died again.  God has a plan for each of our lives and when we are in step with what He wants, He will help keep us here to accomplish what He wants.  There isn’t an answer for every thing that happens we don’t understand, although.  Dr. James Dobson’s book, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense” answers many questions that we all have on this topic; the general answer is that we certainly don’t have all of the answers about why, and we don’t have to have the answers.  When we are submitted to God, we learn that it isn’t up to us anyway; it’s up to Him.  Here again, God does not answer to man and we should have no expectation of any obligation on His part to answer our questions.  Just read the book of Job to discover that. 

The Bible is clear about the great value God places upon even small faith; He doesn’t expect us to have a great faith.  Great faith starts with small faith.  Trust God in spite of what is seen and when nothing makes any sense.  He will bless you with a greater faith in Him.  Any physician who has such a faith certainly cannot keep silent and when a patient can cling to nothing else but their faith, the greatest thing a physician can then do is to point them to the Author and Finisher (Hebrews 12) of their faith through praying with them and for them.  

 

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