We have a health epidemic in our country.
Healthcare, according to one U.S. Representative, is the #1 concern among Democrats in our county. From what I hear, health issues are a top concern among most adults, regardless of political affiliation.
Walk into any group of adults over the age of 50 and chances are, half the conversation will revolve around sickness and surgeries. 90% of needs mentioned on church prayer lists have something to do with health issues.
If someone answers, “How are you?” with anything other than “Fine,” it will probably have to do with their physical wellbeing. It’s a widespread malady, infiltrating every household and contaminating everyday conversation. Daily, we hear heart-wrenching stories of young moms diagnosed with cancer, children with debilitating diseases not covered by insurance companies intent on finding policy loopholes, men in their prime cut down by strokes, and older people facing rare diseases with treatment plans beyond their Social Security budget.
I’d call that an epidemic.
As a ministry couple, my husband and I feel pulled in two directions by the overwhelming healthcare needs of our flock. We care deeply about the impact of medical needs on our people. We also feel frustration that other matters of God’s Kingdom work often take a back seat to the ever-increasing demands to care for people’s physical needs, layered with their concern over the accompanying financial frustrations, and their conflict with medical personnel, insurance companies, and government paperwork, often leaving them with little reserves to participate in Church life and outreach.
The topic of physical health:
- Dominates our prayer circles.
- Detracts from overall kingdom work.
- Sucks up time, money, energy, and brain focus
- Steers our focus away from the spiritual to the physical.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Like any trial, Satan can use illness to distract us from Kingdom work. So subtle, he doesn’t deal only in the age-old fight of good vs evil. He delights to pressure us into a choice between good, better, and best. While we’d like to pray for the church’s spiritual well-being, our time is taken with the physical sicknesses of individuals. That is, after all, a good thing – right? We don’t want to leave anyone out, right?
What do we do? How do we help each other cope with the current health epidemic and healthcare crisis?
We need to find balance, be discerning, and recognize that the health epidemic is real and important
If we have the mind of Christ and the hope of Heaven, we can learn to slacken our grip on our physical health. How do I do that?
- Entrust my health needs to God so I can focus on what God would have me do for His Kingdom.
- Seek medical attention when I need it but keep the broader view of life in perspective.
- Safeguard how much mental time I spend thinking about my health and choose to discuss issues other than my health in daily conversations.
- Become intentional about having an eternal perspective rather than making myself feel better in the moment.
Obstacle or Opportunity?
Another way to look at the issue is to see physical needs as opportunities to promote personal spiritual growth and upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. The next time you face a health crisis or an inordinate number of healthcare crises in your congregation, use these pointers to provide balance between the physical and the spiritual:
Ask yourself, “Why am I sick? How have my life choices and acts of disobedience to God resulted in the breakdown of my physical health? What do I need to change?”
I am not blaming your health issues on you. Some issues can be traced to lifestyle choices. Some occur due to consequences of other people’s choices. Sometimes – especially in the case of children – things just happen because we belong in a fallen world.
Here’s the question that pricks my heart: Once I’m sick or injured for whatever reason, how do I cope? Do I use my weakened condition as an excuse to be grouchy or self-centered? Am I a good patient or an irritable patient? Have I fully trusted God with my needs or have I succumbed to worry?
Let your health issues be a wake-up call to make life changes. If your heart issues stem from extra stress, maybe it’s time to let go of work ambitions and spend more time with your family. Have you been diagnosed with diabetes? Determine to please God in your food choices rather than your own cravings.
As you recuperate, ask yourself:
- What does God want me to learn from this?
- How can I minister to others during my recovery?
- To whom can I show more compassion because I’ve “been there?”
Many times, over the last two millennia, the Church has used healthcare crises as a launching pad to preach and exemplify Jesus. Chuck Colson, in his book, The Faith, tells how Christians in the Roman era risked their lives to care for smallpox victims when no one else would. The Church at large has been at the helm in orchestrating the inception of many hospitals, orphanages, elder care programs, and other health related services.
Right now, the government is failing in their healthcare programs. Medical facilities and insurance companies have become so institutionalized and bureaucratic that they have lost their ability to be effective. Christ’s Church has an awesome opportunity to come beside people when it seems no one else cares.
Who is doing that today?
- Elder Orphan Care: a ministry to elderly homeless in Romania is expanding their ministry to elderly folks in the United States and possibly other countries. Kim Jackson, one of the coordinators, expressed her surprise at the lack of ministries dedicated to the elderly. “We have lots of missions that target children but very few to the elderly,” she told me. What an open door to show Christ’s love to a group that is increasingly marginalized!
- Christian Healthcare Ministries: a bill sharing alternative to health care insurance. In a day when so many families are strapped financially by senseless insurance premiums, Christian organizations have come up with a legal alternative in the form of bill sharing. Christian Healthcare Ministries, Samaritan’s Purse, and MediShare are three wonderful organizations who make it possible for members to share the burden of medical bills with each other. It truly fulfills the Biblical guidelines to bear each other’s burdens.
If you’d like to know more about healthcare sharing ministries, check out the article, What is a Healthcare Sharing Ministry?
- The local church: Instead of resenting the intrusion of health needs into the church program, the local church can see the growing health needs as an opportunity – and I’m not talking about just benevolence. I’m also not limiting it to hospital visits by the pastor. Local church members can help by driving people to doctor’s visits, assisting with paperwork, and actually going with the patient into the doctor’s office when family members aren’t available (Get permission from the patient and the doctor first). Each time we connect with hurting people, we can insert the reason why we’re doing this – we want to reflect the love and compassion Jesus has for them.
- A new model: Systemically, perhaps it is time for the Church to provide another model of health care, both medically and financially. In the past, Christians have provided health care and hospitals to meet physical needs. As insurance premiums escalate and government models fail to provide optimal health care, the Church at large has a golden opportunity to come up with another way to do healthcare. I don’t know what that way looks like, but I challenge someone to come up with an idea!
God is in the business of making redemptive use of bad situations. I truly see our current health epidemic as a national crisis. It’s stripping families of financial stability, productive energy, and healing hope. It is becoming as big and intrusive of a crisis as the Great Depression in the 1930’s.
How can God bring redemption through our current health crisis? I don’t have any ready answers on this one either. That’s something God will need to reveal to each of you and to each church. The point is, be ready to follow where He leads you. Allow Him to use you to proclaim His message of hope to the hurting. Our experience has been that people are far more open to listening to the gospel message when they are hurting or when they are facing death. We have the words of life! Let’s share that message freely with those in crisis.
At some point, we do need to relinquish the health needs of our church and our prayer lists to the Lord and move on to do His Kingdom work. The fear is that we will look calloused and uncaring. But I challenge each prayer group to seek balance in what fills your prayer lists. Is Satan luring you away from praying for the spiritual needs of your congregation by bringing so many physical needs to your attention? We will always have the sick among us.
Let’s start by limiting the number of prayer group we tell about a health concern. We do a disservice to the Kingdom of God when we overload each other’s prayer lists, saying “the more prayers, the better.” Let’s be more circumspect before we hit the forward button on Facebook. Instead of sending a prayer need to a group of people who aren’t directly involved, stop and pray for the person yourself, asking God how He might want to use you to comfort and care for your hurting friend or family member.
In my congregation, we list needs in the bulletin. We give updates at the beginning of the prayer in the worship service. The minister reads a Scripture and then turns that passage into a prayer, focusing on applying the Biblical message to our everyday lives. He allows a moment of silence so people can pray about whatever is on their hearts, Then he closes the prayer time with praise for the work Christ did at the cross. It’s a solid balance of acknowledging the physical needs while turning our minds to our own spiritual growth.
Praise God that He gives us opportunities to build our endurance, grow our faith, and shine as a light for all to see of our calm assurance in God’s care for us. Everything is in His hands and He wastes nothing. He will bring all things together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Physical health needs can distract us. They can also serve as launching pads that allow us to proclaim our trust in Jesus and our hope of having perfect bodies when we reach our Heavenly home. As my childhood preacher, Lowell Applebury once said, “Use every opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
That includes healthcare.
How can you use your current health crisis to honor God?
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