Should We Pray With/For Our Patients? If So, How? – Dr Robert Claxton

Meditation and mindfulness are promoted …but prayer takes us beyond, into the personal.


From Luke’s Journal Jan 2023  |  Vol.28 No.1  |  Evolving Professionals

Image by benzoix @ Freepik

It was September 2018 – I was attending a church to which I had previously belonged –All Saints Kampala Uganda.

The building was packed.

The worship was rich

The singing was joyful

The sermon was engaging.

The wife of the Bishop preached on bringing up Christian families.

There were three things she tried to teach her children

1.  How to know and love the Bible

2.  How to pray

3.  How to share their faith.

Some years earlier, I remember telling my children that the most important thing I could do for them was to teach them how to pray.

I’m not sure how well I did this, but they do pray. In recent times, our professional bodies and administrators have sought to promote meditation and, more recently, mindfulness. Both are subsumed in prayer. But they are impersonal. Prayer takes us beyond, into the personal. Prayer is communion with God – allowing Him to bless us and speak to us – “Letting God love us”, as Ken Blue (an associate of John Wimber) said. If we can’t quite work out what prayer is, we are in good company. The twelve apostles were puzzled too. How should we pray?

The Bible gives us the Lord’s Prayer in three slightly different versions – one in each of the synoptic gospels. The form we use is an amalgam of these which was arrived at in the early Church and was recorded in the Didache1 from the end of the First Century. My first experience with prayer was one which many have experienced. When I was old enough to talk, my mother taught me to pray each night, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child, suffer my simplicity, let a little child come unto Thee.” My parents had been to Sunday School and were married in a church but were non-churchgoers. My mother was a quiet believer, my father said he was agnostic although seemed quite devout when I had, on occasion, attended funerals with him. My wife and I prayed for them both and praised God that I was present when my father came to the Lord – two days before he went to be with him forever. I myself came to personal faith in Christ in high school and from then on prayed morning and evening. I learned that prayer consisted of adoration, praise, thanksgiving and supplication for others and ourselves.

“Most, if not all, people will admit to praying at least some time in their lives. Indeed, we need to pray – for many reasons.”

Most, if not all, people will admit to praying at least some time in their lives. Indeed, we need to pray – for many reasons. Prayer acknowledges that we humans are not the centre of the universe. There is one far grander than we can imagine, who alone can make meaning of our lives and the universe. Some believe in ‘chance’ as the cause of all things. It may therefore be argued that ‘chance’ is their god.2 But the real God appeared to Moses in the bush that burnt but was not consumed. He revealed himself as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) – the eternal self-existent One. Later, He dwelt among us as the Word become flesh (John 1:14) – the historical Jesus of Nazareth, who died to save us from our sins and rose again, calling us to trust him and participate in eternal life. How does this affect those of us who have been called and have chosen to be doctors – or other healthcare professionals? It is not always easy to amalgamate the personal and the professional. We are called to love our patients, but we are limited human beings and have limited emotional resources. If we become too emotionally involved with our patients, we will soon suffer burnout. If we become too emotionally detached, we will be poor witnesses to Jesus. To work out the balance is a lifelong project we must all undertake.

We have no problem praying for and with those with whom we have a loving relationship. If we love our patients, we will pray for them too. However, even within the Church community, we will be sensitive as to how and when we pray with others. So too in our professional lives.

Sometimes I have heard it expressed that medical practice is a great opportunity for evangelism. There is probably some truth in this, but if we go about it insensitively, we run the risk of turning some away from Christ and even having professional bodies, such as the Australian Health Professional Regulation Agency (AHPRA), withdraw our right to practice.

“Sometimes people seem to have the idea that prayer is like a magic charm. If you pray properly, then God will do what you want. Nowhere in the Bible are we forbidden to ask God for what is on our hearts – on the contrary, this is what we are encouraged to do.”

Sometimes people seem to have the idea that prayer is like a magic charm. If you pray properly, then God will do what you want. Nowhere in the Bible are we forbidden to ask God for what is on our hearts – on the contrary, this is what we are encouraged to do. Does prayer help? It certainly helps the one who prays and that is probably the main reason God wants us to pray. Particularly in crises, we can ask and expect God to quieten our hearts and still our thoughts. God always answers our prayers – sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes not yet – often in ways beyond our understanding, but always for our ultimate good.

Pic provided by author

Is prayer helpful? There is extensive research that people who pray regularly and/or are part of a faith community have longer lives and better health than those who don’t. There are reports which indicate that many specialist clinicians do not think patients regard prayer positively. However, those who attend prayer meetings regularly will be aware that health issues are the things most often prayed about.

We can always ask God to heal, remembering that there are many dimensions to healing.  We can ask God for a miracle, remembering that miracles are, by their very nature, rare – otherwise, they would not be miracles. One of the most notable impressions people had of Jesus was that he performed many miracles of healing – but even he did not heal everyone. There have been innumerable accounts throughout history and in these present days of people being healed after prayer4 – but this does not always mean they were cured. Indeed, even those cured will one day die. The Biblical records are consistent with St Luke having been trained in the Hippocratic medical tradition3. We have much to thank Hippocrates for. He described many diseases and their prognoses. He developed the idea of taking a careful history and making a physical examination to come to a diagnosis so that his opinions were based on observable realities consistent with what we would call the scientific method. God is a God of truth and reality (John 14:6). He is the One who really is – the I AM.

Image by Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

By coming to God in repentance and faith in Christ, we can experience and know the love of God in our lives and so love others. I read once that when Mother Teresa was asked why she gave sustenance to people dying in the gutter, she said that it was so that at least once in their lives they experienced the love of God. It is our great privilege as doctors to care for people when they are at their most vulnerable – to try to meet their felt needs in the name of the Lord. We can ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do in this situation?”  There are those who would love for us to pray with and for them. We need to be open to being aware of who they are and how best to pray. We must be real and honest with people and not take advantage of any power imbalance. The only rules here are that we should be sure we have their permission and pray with sensitivity and respect. I have had patients who ask for prayer or who tell me they are praying for me. There are not a few who thank God openly for me – which gives me the opportunity to openly ask God to bless them too.

Once, when I was a neurosurgery registrar, I assisted the consultant in the removal of a cerebral haemangioma. The bleeding wouldn’t stop, so the consultant packed the wound with peroxide-soaked cotton wool and then we went for coffee. Some ten or fifteen minutes later we returned, rescrubbed, removed the pack and, lo, the bleeding had stopped. The patient made a good recovery. Later, the patient’s husband presented the neurosurgeon with a Bible and told us how he and others had been praying for us during the operation. So it was because of that, we were all blessed.

Maybe, we can teach others to pray. There are many ways to pray. We can pray at anytime and anywhere as the Spirit leads and as we have need. However, just as Jesus spent many hours in prayer regularly, Christians over the centuries have found regular times of unhurried prayer essential to healthy living, both spiritually and emotionally.

“However, just as Jesus spent many hours in prayer regularly, Christians over the centuries have found regular times of unhurried prayer essential to healthy living, both spiritually and emotionally.”

I think it was John Wesley who said he was so busy he had to spend four hours in prayer every morning. This is not easy for many of us in the modern world. But a bit of time management can make it possible to get up early enough to spend twenty minutes or more in prayer and reflection on the Scriptures. I have found it helpful to also spend twenty minutes in prayer before the evening meal. In fact, without these times of prayer, I would not have the strength to do what I believe I have been called to do. Corporate prayer is also empowering – both in formal church services and informal prayer meetings. You may wish to join in the Zoom CMDFA (Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia) prayer meetings on Friday evenings. Rather than limiting opportunities for family life, work and service, these times of prayer enable us to participate in these activities in more significant ways. Our challenge is to try to ensure that the interactions our patients have with us draws them nearer to God, rather than making them turn against him.

So the question posed in the title of this short article can be answered as “Yes, we should pray for our patients”. We may pray with them if they would find that helpful, but always with permission, sensitivity and respect.

If you, dear reader, wish to explore these matters further, you may find it helpful to come to one of the Saline courses regularly run by CMDFA.

In order to pray effectively for and with our patients, we need to have a realistic Biblical understanding of what prayer is as well as how to pray and when to pray. We also need to be sensitive to our patients – how they understand God and prayer. Patients do not usually come to the doctor because they want to be prayed for, but there are many who do find it encouraging to know their doctor is a person of prayer. One of my colleagues has “A Physician’s Prayer” displayed on a desk in his consulting room – which often receives positive comments. It is a simple prayer expressing the doctor’s need for wisdom, skill and compassion.

Image by Kampus Production, Pexels

Effective spiritual counselling usually takes more time than a brief consultation in consulting rooms. Nevertheless, a few sensitive words can often send patients in the right direction to have their spiritual needs met by others, or perhaps a time which is not restricted can be arranged. For Jesus, healing the sick was a fundamental part of his ministry. It is our privilege to be part of the healing process for many vulnerable people. To this, I believe, Christian doctors are called.

In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are indeed to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), but in God’s way and in His strength. We are to “let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16) and we can best do this in fellowship with other believers, such as those in CMDFA. Please join us if you are not already a member, so you and all of us can be blessed and be better used by God to bring a knowledge of Jesus to our hurting and lost world.

Oh, and don’t forget to pray for, and with, your colleagues and students!

Remember, as Brisbane psychiatrist, Stephen Stathis said at a meeting at the last RACS (Royal Australian College of Surgeons) Annual Scientific Conference: “Good psychology depends on good theology”.

Dr Robert Claxton
Dr Robert Claxton is a semi-retired general surgeon who previously worked in Uganda and, in more recent years, was Head of Surgery at Canterbury Hospital. He has a lifelong commitment to Christian mission and has served on the boards of a number of church and other Christian bodies including CMDFA.


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  1. Andrew Louth. Early Christian Writings. Penguin Group. 1968
  2. David J Bartholomew. God, Chance and Purpose. Cambridge University Press. 2008
  3. Philip Rhodes. An Outline History of Medicine. Butterworths. 1985.
  4. Ernest F Crocker. Nine Minutes Past Midnight.Authentic Media Ltd. 2011.