Prayer & Medicine: A Tale of Two Congregations

Prayer and Medicine: here is a tale of two congregations. In recent weeks, I have witnessed two individuals pass out and keel over on their sides during a worship service.A couple months ago, while I was preaching with a Christian Reformed congregation, I watched an elderly gentlemen slowly lean over on his grand-daughter’s lap.  Instinctively, those around him made room for the medical professionals in the congregation.While he was being treated, the congregation prayed. After receiving treatment from a few individuals in the congregation, the gentleman was brought to the hospital, evaluated, and brought home.  The next day he walked from his home to the church office to thank everyone for their prayers.  

This past week I attended an Assembly of God church.While sitting in the back row of a worship center preparing to drink the cup of communion, I watched an elderly gentlemen slowly keel over and fall on the ground. Instinctively, those around him got on their knees, laid their hands on him, and prayed. They did so until the medical professionals in the congregation got to the man and treated him.  The gentleman was brought to the hospital, evaluated, and brought home.  He is well.

A tale of two congregations.  In each one a man passed out, fell over on his side, was taken to the hospital, and subsequently returned home in good health. But did you notice the difference between the instinctive responses of the two congregations?  In one, the people scatted to make room for the medical professionals who treated him while the congregation prayed.In the other, the people got on their knees and prayed until the medical professionals could get to the man. (I should note: all the people but me got on their knees.I instinctively pushed back my chair and those around mine to make room for the medical professionals.)

In one the order of events went like this: crisis, medical professionals, prayer, healing. In the other: crisis, prayer, medical professionals, healing.

As I reflect on that subtle but real difference, I am sure that both approaches affirm the teaching of Scripture and the wonderful partnership between medicine and prayer. Furthermore, each response seems faithful to the theological tradition of each congregation.

But my experience prompted some self-evaluation beyond the obvious question: What am I doing that those around me pass out and wind up in the hospital? My self-evaluation brought to mind a conversation, several years past, with a person from a culture far different from mine.  He made this observation: “The difference between my people and your people is that when you all get sick you first call the doctor then you prayer; when my people get sick we first pray and then call the doctor.”

Admittedly, as a Reformed Christian, I hold a broad view of God’s redemptive work in the world, a view that affirms the gifts and calling of God upon those in the medical profession. Perhaps that high view reflects itself in my instinctive response to sickness. When I get sick I call the doctor. If she can’t handle it, then I pray.

But I also admit that it was good to witness my brothers and sisters in the Assembly of God instinctively put their knees to the ground and pray over their fallen brother. In their hearts and minds, the Lord is the First Responder.

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