I’m hanging out in the OR today trolling for intubations. I have about an hour or two between cases, so I thought I’d share some tips on praying for patients. It’s a common concern most of us have when we think about praying for our patients - can we get in trouble if we pray for people on the job? In this post I’ll offer my own experiences and observations along with some information for legal help if you ever need it.
When God challenged me to begin praying for my patients, I had a lot of anxiety over it. I wasn’t afraid to pray silently. That doesn’t take a lot of faith. It was the idea of asking a stranger if they wanted me to pray with them that terrified me. I was also afraid someone would notice, complain to a manager and get me in trouble.
First let’s look at the issue of asking a stranger about prayer. When I began to ask patients about prayer – I wasn’t prepared for what I found. I couldn’t believe how many people not only welcomed prayer, but were deeply touched when I asked. Many people cried tears of joy simply because a stranger thought to ask. This might be due to the fact that western culture views prayer as a private matter, that’s intensely personal. When we take a personal experience and share it publicly, it tends to bring a lot of emotion with it. I’ve even been surprised at how many non- believers, atheists, and people of other faiths who wanted me to pray for them.
In the last year I’ve probably prayed in public for over 1,000 people. About half of these were on the job and half were at stores and other public places off -duty. I’ve prayed for a few hundred more in church settings. That’s right – I pray for many more people outside a church setting than inside. I can only remember two or three people who declined prayer when I asked them. Keep in mind, I live in the pacific- northwest where church attendance is the lowest in the nation. My advice is this; if you’re afraid people don’t want prayer – you’re wrong. I believe many more people are willing to receive prayer than you think. This is especially true when the patient believes they are in dire straits.
The second question is more problematic, but I can report good news. I was called into my manager’s office one day to discuss praying with my patients. A nurse in one of the ER’s saw me praying with a patient and filed a complaint with her manager. Her boss and mine had a talk about it. It’s a bit ironic that this happened in a Catholic hospital. I work for one of the largest private ambulance services in the country. In asking around to his bosses what he was supposed to do about the complaint – my manager revealed some startling news to me. None of the managers in our company can recall ever having to deal with the issue of someone praying openly for a patient.
In the meeting I explained that God asked me to pray for the people I transport. The subject of how I actually heard from God didn’t come up. (Whew!) I told him I always ask permission before I pray. I actually ask both God and the patient. And yes, sometimes God say “don’t bother”. I told my boss that I always respect the wishes of those who say no. He said our company had no policy regarding prayer on the job and nothing is in the works to my knowledge. My manager’s position was very reasonable. His only concern was to avoid behavior that would generate complaints from our customers. He respected my convictions about prayer. He said I’m allowed to continue praying for patients under two conditions; first, I have to ask permission and second, I agreed to confine it to the back of the ambulance. Although in practice, the second provision is more difficult to do.
I recently had an intubated patient on a vent that I was taking directly to surgery for a risky procedure. She developed a pneumothorax in the ICU. When the doctor inserted the chest tube, he accidentally punctured her lung and the trochar became embedded in the lung. She went downhill and was sedated, intubated and placed on a ventilator. We transferred her to the trauma hospital for emergency surgery. During the transfer between hospitals I asked if she wanted me to pray with her and she nodded in agreement. We prayed in the rig. But when we were on the elevator inside the hospital, with 2 firefighters and 2 nurses looking on, she suddenly grabbed my hands with hers and made a motion as if we were praying. I asked if she wanted to pray and she frantically nodded her head. So I got to pray with her in front of a few surprised people. I told my manager about it. He was cool and didn’t seem to be concerned.
Most fire departments and hospitals have some type of chaplain service for their customers, even hospitals with no religious affiliation. Becoming a part of the existing service may open doors for you to ministry. The fact that we have these services reveals a belief that the spiritual needs we have are real and meeting those needs is a legitimate part of the service we provide to the public. I’d like to know how an organization that advocates spiritual care in one sense, can reprimand people for providing it in the normal duties of their job. The government provides these services in it’s corps of military chaplains that serve our troops all over the world. There is no reason to think that we should receive disciplinary action because we pray for people who request it. And there’s no reason to believe that any special training or certification is necessary either. Although western culture holds college degrees and ordination in high regard, there’s no biblical basis to believe these things qualify us for service. Jesus used simple, uneducated people to work miracles of healing. We should follow that example today.
One fear we have is that of suffering discipline for praying with a patient. I had that fear and it proved to be unfounded. I’m not saying you won’t catch some flak from your boss – it’s certainly possible. But the constitution guarantees us certain rights that we don’t surrender when we clock in for work. There is no legal basis for discipline of employees who pray for their patients. The
for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is a non-profit law firm that defends people who are persecuted and disciplined for carrying out their religious convictions in the workplace. They often oppose the ACLU in discrimination cases and they’ve had a lot of favorable rulings in this arena. It’s illegal to discipline employees for praying in the medical setting, and the courts know it. If you think you need legal help, you can find their contact information on the web. American Center
I don’t advocate militant or defiant behavior concerning prayer. Romans 13 tells us to respect the authorities placed over us and that includes supervisors at work. Humility and a spirit of cooperation go a long way. God opens doors and changes people’s hearts. I do a lot of prayer in the area of asking God to grant me favor with people as I step out in faith and pray for the sick. If God wants you to pray, He’ll generally make the way safe for you, though you’re almost certainly going to encounter a few problems now and then.
I had a dream a few months ago about this situation. In the dream, I was on the run from the enemy and took refuge in a hospital. I wore scrubs and blended in with the staff. I slept in a bedroom on the top floor of the hospital where the resident rooms were located. I was there for days. Occasionally an agent of the enemy showed up. When I saw them, I’d pull a surgical mask over my face and duck down a hallway or get on an elevator. As long as I didn’t draw attention to myself, the enemy never noticed me or caused problems. This was a dream of major revelation to me. It was God’s way of telling me that I was protected and given favor in the setting in which I worked. I could pray for my patients with confidence as long as I didn’t make a scene or draw attention to myself. I think we are a lot safer than we believe in the realm of praying for our patients and I believe God will reveal strategies and obstacles if you ask Him.
I’d like to ask a few questions for consideration. If its God’s desire to heal and healing comes as we step out in faith and pray for people – is there someone who might want to stop us from praying? What kind of tactics might he use to prevent us from accomplishing God’s plan? Would our fear of praying and disciplinary action be something the enemy would create to prevent us from working with God? Is it possible that our fears are without a legitimate basis?
I’d encourage you to pursue God’s heart for your situation. Ask the Lord if you’re supposed to be praying for your patients. Look for opportunities to test the waters. If you begin praying with patients, expect to see a few miracles. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t. It was only through many months of praying like crazy that I finally started to see a few testimonies of healing. The nature of our job doesn’t always allow us to follow up with people. Some people are healed immediately, but don’t realize it. Some are healed weeks or months later. Don’t give up. God is faithful. He will honor your obedience, in time.