Medicine offers disciples of Christ beautiful opportunities for kingdom work. We Christian doctors are uniquely positioned to love and minister to the vulnerable and often view our profession as a calling, a way to daily live out the faith we profess. We put in long hours, study for decades, and awaken in the wee hours of the night to care for the sick because we know Christ and long to love others as he loved us (John 13:34–35).
Yet this work of medicine, which doctors may pursue in devotion to Christ, can too often leave us spiritually dry. Although we tackle the work of healing with eager hearts, the suffering we witness can stir up doubts about God’s goodness. We toil in a field where discussions about faith seldom occur, even though spiritual questions about life, death, and suffering confront us daily. The demands of medicine and the spiritual burdens take their toll; the physician suicide rate is double that of the general population.1
While prayers in church frequently plead for God to guide the hands of physicians treating fellow members, they seldom focus on praying for physicians themselves. As COVID deaths in the US rise, the need for such prayers is urgent. Doctors now find themselves caring for patients in harrowing circumstances, with scant options to treat the critically sick, and empty chairs at the bedsides of the dying. While we pray for the ill, the pandemic should also stir us to weep with those toiling into the night (Rom. 12:15). Christian physicians, as direly as all disciples, need brothers and sisters to come alongside them in suffering (1 Cor. 12:26), to pray for them without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), and as they fight through the tempest, to point them to the one who calms the storm (Matt. 8:24–27).
Below, please consider five ways to pray for our brothers and sisters in medicine.
- Pray for their endurance.
Even without the strains of a pandemic, medicine is physically and emotionally exhausting. In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education capped work hours for resident doctors2 at 80 hours weekly, to ensure physicians have time to rest and recover. Let that sink in—the limitation on hours, intended to reduce burnout, is the equivalent of two full time jobs.
Pray that the Lord would give doctors the stamina to weather the frequent periods of exhaustion that arise in doctoring. Pray that he would protect them from burnout and despair. As the hours groan on and their fatigue takes root, pray they would turn to Christ, the gentle and lowly in heart, who offers rest for their souls (Matt. 11:28–30).
- Pray they would have opportunities to remain in the word.
One of the most common questions I receive from Christian medical students and residents is how to fit study of Scripture into the frenetic pace of medical practice. The aforementioned long, grueling work hours crowd out opportunities for worship and personal devotions, often leaving physicians feeling parched for God’s word. Although practices vary, doctors often share a burden of weekend call, which disallows them to attend church regularly. Their days often last from dawn until after sundown, and even when they trudge through their front doors, a mountain of paperwork awaits them, not to mention a burden to remain current in the latest medical literature.
Please pray that when time is so scarce, God’s word would still work itself into their hearts, coming to mind in between patients, forcing itself through the chaos in the form of a remembered hymn, a treasured verse, or a reminder on a smartphone. Pray physicians struggling in the spiritual desert of the hospital would carve out moments of prayer, as they run in the hallway or before they crash to sleep at night. Please also pray that the body of Christ would especially minister to doctors, reaching out to them with reminders of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6) when so much else clutters their minds.
- Pray they would know they are forgiven.
In the hospital, where the stakes are high and the outcomes grave, feelings of guilt and remorse are routine. The threat of inadvertently hurting people stalks every doctor’s thoughts. They take personal responsibility for the rise and fall of every data point, and yet patients die despite technology, expediency, and finely-tuned protocols. When you lose a patient, you consider your inadequate books, your hands that couldn’t deliver—and you despair.
Pray that when the burden of grief bears down upon them, doctors would remember Christ.
Pray that rather than turning their remorse inward, physicians would take their repentance to the cross. Pray they would know, with clear minds and full hearts, the “breadth, and length, and height, and depth” of Christ’s love (Eph. 3:18), and that they would embrace the truth that through Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection, God has separated them from their transgressions as far as the east lies from the west (Ps. 103:12, 1 John 2:12).
- Pray they would remember God’s goodness, even in the face of suffering.
Physicians daily witness suffering that stirs up doubts about God’s goodness. They lie awake at night, troubled by the memories of patients who die despite their best efforts. They watch mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers whose illnesses wrench them from everything true and lovely. Where is God in all this? they wonder. Where is he amid the calamity and the loss?
Pray that when the questions haunt them in dark hours, they would lean into the truths of Scripture. Pray they would remember who the Lord is, that he is our almighty God, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Pray they would remember that his goodness never changes (Mal. 3:6), and that he works all things—even the calamities that unfold in the hospital—for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). Pray that, like the psalmists who offered up lament in times of trouble, they too would bring their questions before the Lord, and ultimately remember that whatever befalls us, he remains our rock and our fortress, our deliverer, and our stronghold (Ps. 18:2).
- Pray that in the dark moments, they would remember Christ.
Above all, pray that when the burden of grief bears down upon them, doctors would remember Christ. They labor daily against death, the wages of our sin (Rom. 6:23). What sweet comfort to know that Christ has triumphed over death (1 Cor. 15:54) and freed us from the bondage of our sins forever (Rom. 6:18)! Pray they would remember, in their darkest hours, that no matter what occurs, they serve a God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Pray they would know, to their depths, that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38–39).