Tough Questions - (All answers are directly from the book)
Why Healing Prayer on Holy Ground?
One of my patients’s named Kasey, who had had a near death experience, believes that she was restored because of the prayers of the faithful. In her visions, she remembered me hovering over her wearing my surgical mask. She recalled that I had inserted one catheter into her neck and another catheter into her groin. Eventually she had seen me take off my mask, brush the bloody hair from her face, and said: “I’ve done all I can do. The rest is up to you, Lord.” She later said this gesture had struck her as being tender, remembering that she had been bothered about how dirty her hair had been. I confirmed that all these physical details had taken place exactly as she remembered. In another letter Kasey shared with me a verse that she believed God had directed her to give to me, which has become a special verse to me, which opens chapter 1 of this book, from Jeremiah 29: 11-13. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” Kasey also told me that after our meeting she felt that the burden on her heart had been lifted. I responded that I now felt that burden had passed on to me. That burden took the form of a need to share Kasey’s story, and also my beliefs in the power of prayer in general, with other people. She would specifically point her finger in my face and say “You Need to Pray for Each of Your Patients.”
When stepping inside the room of a dying patient, I almost feel as if I should remove my shoes, for I consider it to be Holy Ground. God’s presence is strong there. As always, He is seeking to develop or maintain relationships with everyone in the room, but especially the patients whose souls hang in the balance. People are never more concerned about their relationship with God than when they are near death; it is understandably a setting for intense suffering, soul searching, and prayer.
What is Prayer?
Christians believe that there is a God, that He is a personal God, that He speaks with us, and that He wants to have a relationship with us. Prayer is the means by which people communicate with God; an instant, unfailing lifeline to the most important relationship we will ever have. . But prayer is not simply words; it’s also our connection with God. It is an attitude or a posture. It’s an attitude of thankfulness, of openness, of being connected. Other pastors I spoke with confirmed that prayer can be an attitude and is not limited to spoken words or telepathic messages. Mother Theresa, in her book “Everything Starts with Prayer,” acknowledges that she prays on the move. She says:
"You can pray while you work. Small lifting’s of the mind like, ‘I love you, God. I trust you, I believe in you, I need you now.’ Those are wonderful prayers."
Prayer is first and foremost an exercise in trust and dependence upon God. Saying that, ‘We do need you. Life is hard.’ Secondly, prayer is a communion with God, where we abide with him, we’re in a relationship with him, and we can enjoy his presence.
I sometimes direct my own prayers to the name of Yahweh-rophe, especially on behalf of my patients, since this aspect of God’s nature is so central in the context of patient care. There are times when I can’t pray; there are many reasons for that, sometimes I just don’t feel Him. Maybe I’m having a bad day, I’m feeling disappointment, or my connection just seems cold; there are seasons like that. Dr. Newman goes to on to make a crucial point too often ignored. “Prayer is not just powerful in itself. Prayer is powerful because of whom it is connected to; it is connected to God.” When I think of prayer, I think of a dependent person before the throne of grace, before the throne of God, communicating and asking for guidance and help. This would be an exercise in humility, among other things. As E.M. Bounds wrote in his book, Power through Prayer, “the pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer”. For someone like me, who once prided himself in knowing all the answers (and who occasionally still falls into that trap), the humbling effects of prayer have been essential to my development as a husband, father, and doctor. This is not meant to belittle the importance of man. According to Bounds, “God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than anything else. Men are God’s method”. Prayer has certainly made me a better man. My hope is that this book renews your prayer life or begins one if you’ve never had it. I also pray that you be convinced that God has a plan for you, and that this certainty floods you with hope.
What is this Ultimate Healing, and what is the purpose of Prayer?
That relationship with God is the ultimate issue. The ultimate issue is not us getting better. That’s idolatry. God’s healing is not always done in this life. Often people pray for healing in this life. The ultimate healing is when we die and we go into the presence of the Lord and we get the resurrection body. Often we pray for short term stuff. Sometimes I tell people that God may heal you by bringing you into His presence. I don’t know if a nonbeliever will believe that. What’s fundamental is that we pray in a spirit of dependent humility, sincere in our desire to know God better. We should not be shy about sharing our innermost thoughts and requests, but we should be careful that we pray so that His will be done, and not ours. Our relationship with God is the ultimate issue.
How does your book talk about the Reality of Scripture?
Unlike many Christians and nonbelievers who struggle with doubts over the literal and symbolic meanings in the Bible, Kasey heard the prayers of her friends, she stood before the risen city of Jerusalem, and she stood before the very presence of God. In Kasey’s testimony regarding the city, she recalls that “the ground shone like transparent glass, but when I looked closely, it wasn’t glass.” In Revelation 21 the Bible reads: “the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.” She describes seeing “greens and yellows and blues and reds . . . and the highest level I could see shone like topaz; yet I knew I wasn’t seeing the top of this structure.” Among the 12 foundations of the city described in Revelation are jasper, which is an opaque red, yellow, or brown; sapphire, which is blue; emerald, which is often green; chalcedony, which can be blue or red; chrysoprasus, which is green; beryl, which can be yellow or yellow-green; and topaz. Topaz is yellow and made up one of the higher foundations in the Revelation account of the city, though not the highest, as Kasey observed. It seems unbelievable that Kasey would describe all the colors of the City of God without having read Revelation previously, but I have no reason to doubt her.
Prayer, Audible or Silent?
Kasey's testimony reminds us that God hears silent as well as audible prayers, and it suggests that some people’s prayers are particularly powerful. Kasey was able to hear a chorus of prayers when she stood before the Lord, and when she listened carefully she could distinguish between the voices. The two pastors who had visited her, Pastor Thompson and Pastor Kelleher, had prayed audibly by her side. She heard their words clearly. Her friend David admitted to her that he had prayed for her silently, in the spirit, but when she was standing before God his prayers had also been audible. Her friend Stan’s prayers had seemed “booming” in relation to the others. It makes me think of him as a prayer warrior, meaning one whose prayers are particularly strong.
Dr. Tom Neuman states “It reminds me not to get in the way of whatever Jesus is trying to do. When I am praying with patients, or I’m praying with others, it is uncommon for me to pray out loud -- unless there’s a specific reason to -- because praying out loud is so often a distraction. If somebody prays out loud around me, I end up listening. Partly the distraction comes from people’s reaction to prayers that are sermons, or what I call sermon-prayers, which are so common. Many people don’t like sermon- prayers, and it makes them break off their own connection with God. So I’ve found that when I’m praying silently, there’s no problem.
When I pray, sometimes I tell patients what I’d like them to focus on. I say, “Just picture Jesus. Tell him your problems; tell him how you feel.” I use the word “feel” because I want it to be from the heart. That way, in the silence of their hearts, with privacy from the outside world, they can honestly tell Him whatever they want. Meanwhile I’m praying silently too. I may be asking specifically for what they want but I’m also asking for guidance. I’m also praying: “Jesus, let them palpably feel your presence, your love, and your peace.”
So it’s all silent. And what’s remarkable is that He does a better job of letting them know who He is than what I could say. He simply enters into it His way for that person. I have no question that He responds to every prayer in His way.”
Who is In Charge of life and death, the medical profession or GOD?
A jarring encounter with a patient brought me down from my pedestal. One day while making rounds on a 55-year-old man at the Ben Taub General Hospital, the patient informed me that he was going to die that day. I reassured him that his vital signs were stable and that his lab tests were all in order, and that in fact I was considering discharging him from the hospital that day. That afternoon the patient had a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest and died. I was shaken. We performed a post-mortem examination on the patient and determined that he had developed a sudden unexpected retroperitoneal bleed (bleeding in the back of the abdomen) and had died from shock. His awareness of his impending death raised new questions in my mind. How did he know he was going to die? To what extent do I control the power over life and death? Who’s in charge? Was God trying to tell me something? These early signs of my undeveloped worldview would lead to more intense questioning later on. When I reflect back now on my post-graduate experience, I realize that many of my most critical lessons came from my patients, including one of the answers to the above question, which is that God is in control. Accepting that truth helps me keep a rein on the arrogance that doctors are so vulnerable to. A good physician should be both confident in his abilities and humble about his limitations. As 1 Corinthians 1:31 says: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”(NIV)
Should Physicians pray for their patients?
Doctors are often pressured to avoid bringing up the subject of prayer. Some people in Administrative Medicine set rules against praying audibly with patients – even when patients give explicit permission. Some of them even make rules about broaching the subject. Even when explicit rules aren’t set, such activities are often frowned upon as violating patient boundaries and risking lawsuits. However, when patients are known to have a faith, and ask to be prayed for, shouldn’t doctors who share this faith be allowed to participate in an activity that they believe yields such benefits, provides such hope, and increases doctor-patient intimacy? As Dr. Newman says: “There are God’s Rules and there are Man’s Rules. Sometimes those rules conflict. God would have you pray. It can always be done silently.” I agree with him. If a physician is sensitive enough, he can usually determine when patients are comfortable and eager to be prayed for or with. In more delicate situations, prayer can be done silently. Larry Dossey, best-selling author of several books concerning prayer, claims in his book, Healing Words: “The most important reason to examine prayer in healing is simply that, at least some of the time, it works. The evidence is simply overwhelming that prayer functions at a distance to change physical processes. . .] these data. . .are so impressive that I have come to regard them as among the best kept secrets in medical science.
Does the Lord still appear to us today?
Sometimes the Divine Spirit or angelic beings reveal themselves to people in everyday life. While these occurrences don’t happen to everyone, and don’t happen all the time, I firmly believe that they do happen. Some of my patients have had divine experiences, as have some of my friends and medical associates. I believe the purpose of divine experiences is to comfort people, give them hope, and remind them that God wants a relationship with them, and that His grace is available to everyone. At the same time, we should be cautious about accepting every account of a divine experience as an actual visitation by God or one of His angels. This is because many Christian thinkers believe that the Devil also reveals himself to people, to deceive them, tempt them, and lead them astray; he masquerades as an agent of the Light. Of course, some people’s accounts of divine experiences are only hallucinations, or lies, or visions produced by altered states. Merl’s account “You turned around and told your assistant to get a different brand of stent. Meanwhile I was lying there praying, and I suddenly saw this ‘being’ standing over your left shoulder, just observing what was going on. He was only there for a few moments. As you worked, suddenly he reached out and put his hand on your shoulder. At that instant I remember you said ‘I just inserted the last stent.’ Immediately the figure vanished. “Merl’s story also reveals how God frequently reveals himself to those of humble background. God often works among the fringes of society, not among the church authorities and leaders. Dr. Bob relates “The Mass was over and I went by myself to my room and tried to figure out what had just happened. So I was in my room alone, and then I felt the presence of God enter again. There was nothing I could see or anything but I knew what it was. This time His presence felt so intense that I thought I would surely die, yet die willingly. I thought that I’d be vaporized on the spot. There was no questioning it or resisting it, it was just too big. I did feel that something was burned away, maybe my ego. I can’t come up with a good comparison of this experience except that maybe it was like standing too close to the sun; it was just like being consumed. The night before this experience I had prayed to God for help, since I felt separated from Him. Maybe next time I’ll pray for something safer, like a Mercedes!” Bob’s experiences remind us that Jesus seeks out people regardless of their religious background. These experiences are not rare, and can happen among large populations. In the last 20-30 years in the Middle East, divine visions and dreams, often involving Jesus, have occurred so frequently that an unprecedented number of Muslims have converted to Christianity. Many of these young people had a direct conversion experience; their dreams and visions led directly to them developing a faith in Christ, without needing to go to church first. The Bible makes it clear that God does reveal Himself to people by appearing Himself, sending angels, or performing miraculous signs. These divine experiences transform lives. God wants to inspire us, comfort, and renew our hope and faith during the crises of our lives, and divine experiences are just one of His many tools.
Why do only 40-60% of Physicians have a faith, but over 95% of our patients and nurses have a faith?
According to a Gallup poll from 2005, 94% of Americans believe in God or a Universal Spirit, which is the same figure as the Gallup polls from 1976 revealed. Over the last 50 years, belief in God has hovered around the mid-90th percentile. Polls have shown that the numbers of Americans who believe in life after death are also high, and generally increasing. Today, 80% of Americans believe in life after death, compared to 67% in 1982. The belief in God among doctors isn’t nearly as high. I did my own survey on various health care professionals in 1993 and found that only 66% of physicians believed in God. That number matches the findings of Dr. Maurice Rawlings in his book, Beyond Death’s Door. He reports that 66% of physicians answered “yes” to the questions “Is there a God?” and “Do you believe in an afterlife?” A survey published in the Journal of Family Practice found that only 64% of doctors claimed to have a belief in God. Interestingly, these figures are similar to first year medical students. Since 1993 I’ve delivered many lectures to physicians, nurses, and other health care workers. I’ve surveyed these audiences many times, and found that 95% of nurses consistently claimed to believe in both the existence of God and in an afterlife. Why is it that people with more advanced degrees, particularly those studying science and medicine, like physicians, psychiatrists, and scientists, display such a significant lack of faith in religion? One of the reasons is that Darwinism dominates scientific education.
Darwinists shouldn’t be so confident. There are still major question marks about the way evolution works, and plenty of scientists and physicians believe that the evidence supports the idea of an Intelligent Designer. I believe that science is a gift from God. Through science God’s existence and His glory are revealed. Contrary to the opinions of many godless scientists, science and faith are not antagonistic. The more I study the science the more my faith is strengthened. Furthermore, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” When I look back on my undergraduate medical training, I feel misled by some of my instruction, and it doesn’t surprise me that so many students of science become skeptical about God. Let’s discuss another reason why so many of those with advanced degrees try to live their lives without God: pride and the attractions of self-sufficiency. I do believe there is a natural temptation among those with advanced degrees to feel self-sufficient because of their abilities. The more the Bible is removed from the center of our moral education, the more we are convinced that we don’t need God, that we can construct our own rules and morality, that science has given us the power to be self-sufficient. I believe this attitude ignores the limitations of science and pulls us away from God’s plan for our lives. In 1864, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was given a Bible by a group of black abolitionists to thank him for his struggle to free the slaves. Lincoln made the following comments about the Bible. “In regard to this great book, I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” How surprising that only 66% of doctors believe in God, and only 43% of psychiatrists, versus 95% of the general population, and yet just as many people with graduate degrees pray on a daily basis as the general population! Evidently this highly skeptical population still feels a strong desire to pray. Perhaps their inner longing for God overcomes intellectual obstacles. Perhaps the saying “Everybody in a foxhole needs God,” extends to this situation. In the face of life’s worst calamities, in the face of the humbling and terrifying experiences we all go through, we are all reminded of the puny limitations of our self-reliance; this “special kind of brokenness” reminds us we are only able to convince ourselves that we don’t need God when life is exceptionally safe and comfortable.
Who are patient Advocates?
A patient advocate is anyone who looks out for the well-being of a patient and acts in accordance with the patient’s interests, encouraging them, defending them, and helping them secure the best possible care. Patient advocates may act as a spokesperson for the patient, explaining their needs and concerns to caregivers, or demanding action when those needs aren’t met. These advocates are key figures in the Caring Profession. The word “caring” does not simply mean to be concerned or interested in someone else’s well-being. Caring implies that a burden is being taken on, that a responsibility has been accepted. This burden does not end on a predictable schedule; it is one reason why doctors do not work 9 to 5 jobs. They should not go home until the essential work is done. As one hospital administrator told me, caring for patients is “not like selling shoes. It’s so much more than that. It’s a sacred calling.” Cutting corners and rushing through patient questions dishonors this calling. I spoke to a number of nurses, administrators, and physician assistants and nearly all of them repeated this idea, that their work is a privilege and a sacred calling. The many members of the Caring Profession function like the various cells in the human body. All are important and interdependent. “The good physician knows his patients through and through and his knowledge is bought dearly. Time, sympathy, and understanding must be lavishly dispensed but the reward is to be found in that personal bond which forms the greatest satisfaction of the practice of medicine. One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient. As it says in Romans 8:26: The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. This Holy Spirit, the very presence of God, is our ultimate advocate and our strongest advocate. God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us.