Josiah’s Fire

Written by Tahni Cullen with Cheryl Ricker, Josiah’s Fire: Autism stole his words, God gave him a voice begins with the story of Josiah Cullen’s decline into autism and his resumption of communication in 2012 by typing on an iPad. The book then traces Josiah’s iPad writings of experiences with God from 2012 to 2014 (approximately ages six to eight, pp. 17, 99, 100).

The story of Josiah is written with passion that connects quickly with readers through feelings of warm sentiments. We are drawn to empathize with the emotional pain of his parents and then the joy they must feel as communication is reestablished. Autism can be devastating to parents. I am so glad that Josiah resumed communication, giving his parents the joy of reciprocity in relationship. I also appreciate the apparent desire of his mother to do what she believes God wants her to do. However, I find the book troubling on a number of counts.

– Claims to Visit Heaven

According to Cullen and Ricker, Josiah claims to be taken by angels to heaven, sometimes nightly. On his iPad Josiah wrote, “We swoosh up through the clouds to nestle in mental feathers of the miraculous” (163). There, he has been taught by Abraham Lincoln, seen Renoir paint, talked with King Josiah, and heard Bach “sound it out with rich opuses…” (164-165, 244). Descriptions of his experiences in heaven can be found on many pages in the book.

Does Josiah visit heaven? Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). But didn’t Paul go to heaven? There are four biblical authors who were given visions of heaven–Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. Josiah’s descriptions deviate drastically from theirs.

On the topic of heaven tourism I suggest A history of the heaven tourism genre of literature is at

– Talking with the Dead

According to the authors, Josiah claims that in heaven he was instructed by King Josiah, received new revelation about heaven from Abraham Lincoln, and received a Bible edit from Moses.

“I talked to him [King Josiah], Mom. He told me nominal kings not only make names for themselves, but they name their kingdoms to be their buildings…Basically, King Josiah told me times vanished when business became God, when…” (244-245).

“I was led by Abraham Lincoln and his angel to be spiritually aware of what happened on the other side of the veil that was earth’s” (164).

“Moses tells me that standing on the rock, the angel lifted up his arms, not merely Aaron and Hur” (164).

May I state the obvious? Lincoln, Moses, and King Josiah are dead! Jesus said that it is not possible for the dead to talk to those on earth (Luke 16:25-26). Scripture expressly forbids consulting the dead (or trying to, Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10-12; Isa. 8:20-22).

– False Teachings about Christ

Mrs. Cullen accepts, even requests, Josiah’s instruction on topics as momentous as Christology and the Trinity (chapter “Trinity Talk”). Josiah says, “King Jesus said vines are your heart’s salutations toward sending foliage, bringing all the answers you need from your heart” (183). On the contrary, about the heart Jesus says the opposite, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts…deeds of coveting…pride and foolishness” (Mk 7:21). The heart is no place to look for answers.

Josiah says, “Jesus educates me in school” (in heaven) and taught him about lizards (88). This idea is childish, frivolous, and false. The Bible says that in heaven Jesus is ruling from His seat “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1-2). Jesus is preparing a place for His own (Jn 14:1-3). Jesus is interceding for His followers (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24).

Jesus warned that some people would falsely claim to see Christ and commanded that we not believe those people (Matt. 24:23-27). The next time Christ is seen it will not be in secret, private viewings. He will be seen by the whole world.

– Undermining the Doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture

According to the authors, Josiah claims, and his mother affirms, that his messages are from God (174, 183). If so, then those messages must be classed as revelation because, by definition, God revealing something is revelation. Josiah says he hears God, Jesus, and angels, learning from them spiritual truths “without your studying it,” in other words, apart from the Bible (160). Revelations beyond that already given in Scripture is, by mere math, additional. It is extra-biblical revelation. Now, if there is more revelation, then the Bible cannot be sufficient; more is needed. This book undermines the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

But 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is very clear that Scripture holds enough revelation for us.

All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

It’s sufficiency was true of the Old Testament and is also true of the New Testament since all Scripture is God-breathed. The written Word of God is sufficient to save a person, to teach who God is and how to please Him, to rebuke for sin, to correct from sin back to right living, and to train a person in godly living. What more to living is there? The Bible is “able to equip for every good work.” Every good work covers all God-pleasing decisions and actions in every circumstance. In the Bible we have all that we need in abundance to understand the character of God, the nature of man, sin, salvation, how to do relationships, godly speech, decision-making and problem-solving. The Word of God is sufficient for every situation, enough to know how to please God in every way. No further messages from God are needed.

– Undermining the Authority of Scripture

The claim presented by the authors is not only that Josiah receives extra-biblical messages but that his messages carry divine authority. The chapter title “Divine Directives” is unequivocal. Reinforcing the title are examples of Josiah telling his mom “directives” from God and she obeys them, even to the quitting of her job which was bringing in half the family income. Dad submits, too. (I can hardly believe a parent would publish this admission. Besides ignoring mere common sense, this turns Ephesians 6:1-4 on its head in a parent-child role reversal.) Josiah also gives directives to other people. While the book uses the word “directive,” a directive is a command and a command implies authority.

This is not a matter for just the Cullen family. It is a matter for all. Why? Since God is divine, all that He says is authoritative. Every word is necessarily equally authoritative; some of His words cannot be less authoritative than others. Therefore, Josiah’s claim puts his messages from God on par with the Bible.

The assertion of the authority of Josiah’s message is not only implied; it is overt. Besides the chapter title “Divine Directives,” on page 160 he says,

“A dream is a sleeping ordered to ring in truths only the spirit says to you without your studying it. So work it out to voice boundless dreaming, western church, because you are so stuck in logic. Trial this truth: God uses all of these to talk to us” (emphasis added).

In other words, Josiah scolds the western church for using logic (for using the mind) and calls upon the western church to seek revelation from God “without your studying it,” without the Bible! His extra-biblical revelations are not just for him and he is giving all believers a “directive” to seek private revelations.

– Undermining the Inerrancy of Scripture

Apparently, Moses made an error in Numbers 17 and finally, 3,500 years later, he corrects the record through Josiah Cullen:

“Moses tells me that standing on the rock, the angel lifted up his arms, not merely Aaron and Hur” (164).

The Scripture says nothing about angels upholding Moses’ arms. When we dare to accept extra-biblical revelation, we make ourselves vulnerable to the hubris of correcting the Word of God, even by addition.

– Trusting Experience for Truth

The blurb on the back cover claims that “Josiah’s eye-opening visions, heavenly encounters, and supernatural experiences forced his family out of their comfort zone and predictable theology…” From Josiah’s experiences readers can “Follow a trail of truth into Josiah’s mysterious world…” and “Learn to hear and trust God’s voice. Identify the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit. Be aware of the workings of angels.” This promotes experience as a trustworthy source of truth.

Proverbs 28:26 says “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool”–he who trusts in his own interpretations of his experiences has misplaced his trust. Isaiah commanded the people to stop trusting those having miraculous experiences and return to the written Word of God, “To the law and to the testimony!” (Is. 8:19-20). When Jesus said,

“Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17),

He exalted the Word of God, not someone’s supernatural experiences, as the source of authority for our sanctification (growth in godliness) .

Josiah may be quite intelligent, retaining a great deal of what he hears and sees so that he seems to know more than one might expect. I do not doubt that Josiah has had experiences. What I do not believe is the interpretation of the experiences. No one can prove the claims. It is Scripture, not someone’s extraordinary experiences and knowledge, that is to be trusted.

Besides the untrustworthiness of any human perceptions, Josiah is a young child. The Bible says that children begin life thinking foolishness (Prov. 22:15). Sincere as children may be, they lack discernment, are gullible, easily deceived, and extremely susceptible to appealing suggestions (Eph. 4:14). They innately perceive, reason, form conclusions, and speak immaturely and unwisely (1 Cor. 13:11). Josiah needs loving, gentle instruction from the written Word of God that will exalt Scripture over his perceptions, correct his vain imaginations, and renew his mind (Rom. 12:2).


One aspect amazing about this book is how many adults are accepting the imaginations of a mere child as profound spiritual truth. Any adult should know better! Christians ought also to remember that it is not just Christians who claim dreams and visions from God; people from other religions experience the same phenomena and make the same claim for their source–divinity. Furthermore, the Bible says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). For these reasons and more, shock-and-awe should ring warning bells, not draw our fascination. Appeals to sentimentality, like in this book, should put us on guard.

This book continues to expand trends in heaven tourism, subjectivism, and sentimentalism among Christians. It contradicts and adds to Scripture. It is an example of how listening to subjective impressions, dreams, visions and the like can lead away from the “more sure word” of Scripture and supplant the Bible (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Elevating experience as authoritative, this book undermines the doctrines of the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, of sola scriptura.

Here are some helpful links that bear on the issue of whether God communicates today through private revelations.

Why Do We Say, ‘God Told Me’?
Apologetics Press – Is the New Testament “Given by Inspiration of God”?
What is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? What does it mean that the Bible is sufficient?

Posted in Book Reviews, Discernment, Strange Fire Conference | Tagged | 2 Comments

Visit the Sick – Etiquette

Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12). Providing social time and spiritual encouragement to a suffering loved one, friend, or church member is one application of this command. With just a short visit you can brighten the day of another person and encourage them to greater trust in God.

So far, my posts on visiting the sick have been intended to motivate you to visit, provide a plan of action, reassure you who are hesitant, and facilitate ministering conversations. Now I’d like to highlight some practical courtesies. At what time of day should you visit? How long should you stay? Should you stand or sit? What if the nurse is in the room? What should you wear? What if you are sick?

Go healthy. If you are sick, DO NOT visit the sick. Sick people don’t need another illness. “Consider others more important than yourself” (Phil. 2:4).

Make your personal appearance clean and neat. I know we live in an age of “I’m comfortable in these tatters and you should accept me as I am” but consider that the patient already has so little beauty around him. He has to look at you even when you don’t. Sloppiness and grunginess will not enhance the view.

There are already many unpleasant odors. Brush your teeth, but don’t apply perfume. The sense of smell of patients in hospitals can be more acute than normal and applied fragrances can irritate and even nauseate.

Clean your nails. Your cleanliness and how you dress communicates your values to others. Honor the patient by caring what he has to see when you walk in the door.

Generally speaking, avoid first thing in the morning or late at night. Of course, variables like the type of facility and your work schedule will be factors. Not knowing exact schedules, you might arrive during a meal. Assess the situation. Is he feeling uncomfortable because he thinks it rude to eat when you have nothing? Do your best to put the patient at ease. If necessary, shorten the visit.

Keep visits short. Patients tire easily. In a hospital, plan on five to ten minutes, especially in ICU. A home can usually last longer, like twenty to thirty minutes. In any case, relax. If you watch your watch it may seem to the patient that he is inconveniencing you. If you assess that a longer visit would be pleasing to the person without draining his energy, you can stay.

People in long-term care or shut-ins may enjoy longer visits. I’ve had a resident in assisted living give me a tour of her new digs; since she was slow-moving it took awhile–and made her happy. One facility near me has an outdoor patio where not many residents go; it makes a pleasant private place for us  to talk and pray and sing. Another has a fish pond where we feed bread to the critters. These locations entail more time. Still, sometimes the fun needs to be cut short because the patient grows tired even though he tries to hide it.

Be sensitive. It is better that they wish you’d stayed longer than that you’d left sooner.

Enter the room with a calm, congenial cheerfulness. Overdone happiness won’t compensate for the sadness of others. Nor should you start with sadness even if the case is sad; it doesn’t encourage and may communicate that the patient is worse off than he thought.

As you enter, announce or introduce yourself. Even a friend may forget names and faces if he is medicated and/or in a strange environment. If your arrival wakes him from sleep he may be disoriented. Introduce yourself also to other friends or family who may be in the room.

Wash your hands so as not to carry little varmints into contact with a person already sick. Either apply sanitizer from the dispenser at the room or wash at the sink. You don’t need to scrub like a surgeon.

If you enter a room in ICU, you may be required to put on a gown, mask, and gloves. There will be signs explaining the process of putting them on and taking them off. You can also ask a nurse.

Generally speaking, try to be on the patient’s eye level. Standing to talk to a patient in bed places you higher; that is a power position. Try to be seated. If no chair is available, go find one or ask a nurse for one.

Respect the roommate and staff. If it is a semi-private room pull the curtain between the beds. This provides privacy for both patients. Speak with the lowest volume that is still audible to your friend. This honors the privacy of your friend. It also is a kindness to the other patient. It frees him from having the problems of his roommate thrust upon him unwanted, reduces distractions from his rest, sleep, or reading, and allows him to listen to the TV or have a conversation on his side without being drowned out by your conversation.

What if medical staff arrive? Offer to step outside the room until the doctor or nurse is done. You may ask how long it will be and, if necessary, make your exit right then. Sometimes the nurse or the patient will urge you to stay in the room.

Leaving the room, wash your hands again. With so many sick people, hospitals are full of germs. Wash your hands so as to not carry microscopic varmints to your next stop or home. If you had to mask and gown to enter the room, remove them in the proper manner.

Leaving the room, give farewells to the patient and each person involved with him. Even though you came primarily to visit the patient, it demonstrates respect if you don’t exclude others in the room.

Extra: Minister to the medical staff. If you minister to someone with a visit, may the Lord be praised! Consider also the idea of ministering to the facility staff. Pray for them on your way to the building or as you walk through the halls. Stop and thank a staff person for his care of your friend or loved one. You can ask if they have a request for which you might pray. Consider writing it to help you remember. Pray for the person that day or week. Upon your return, ask the staff person about his request.


Sources: See end of this post.

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Top Ten Posts for 2016

Please accept my thanks for reading this blog in 2016. I hope that the posts have been encouraging and edifying to you. Below are the top ten posts that you read in 2016, listed from least to most read.

10. Chemical imbalance? Considerations Regarding Psychotropic Drugs. Until a few years ago, the theory of a chemical imbalance as the cause of an emotional problem not otherwise medically diagnosable was ubiquitous, especially for depression. Even though this theory no longer has the supposed scientific support it once had, many people still believe they have a chemical imbalance in the brain and take psychotropic drugs to gain relief from emotional problems, unwittingly also finding the theory an excuse for not taking responsibility to deal with problems God’s way. This posts offers some rethinking.

9. Prayers for Unbelieving Children

8. Rejoice in the Lord – How to Put On Joy. God desires that His children enjoy great joy. Christians want to rejoice. But how do we do it?

7. How can they be so remorseless?  This post discusses the idea of committing evil without remorse. Since it is a sequel to They Say He Has No Conscience, number 4 below, I suggest reading number 4 first.

6. Marriage: Procreation is Important, But Not Primary

5. A Purpose for Marriage: Oneness

4. They Say He Has No Conscience. This post examines the popular idea that some people lack a conscience. We hear of some extreme evil and that the perpetrator carries no remorse for what he has done. From our perspective, lack of remorse seems unreasonable. Surely, normal people would feel remorse for such acts. Since the perpetrator does not, he must be mentally ill or not even have a conscience. But is this what the Bible teaches? This post goes best read with its partner post, How can they be so remorseless?.

3. Parenting the Difficult Child  This page introduces my book and gives some background on it that is not in the book. The book is being used by parents whose children are often disobedient and oppositional. Additionally, it appeals to adoptive parents and parents whose children behave according to the psychological label Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although some observations and ideas of psychology fit, the label is not biblical. So part of this book contrasts this man-made view with the Word of God, seeking to help the Christian increase in discernment and put on biblical thinking about other psychology-constructed models.

2. No Trust, No Love. Really? It is a popular notion that a person cannot love another unless they first trust him or her. Trust is, in certain relationships, extremely important and enhances love, but trust is false to believe that you must trust before you can love another. This post is one of a series. The related posts will set it in a broader context.

1. The Secondary Primary Purpose of Marriage: Companionship Marriage was the topic of three of the top ten. These posts all deal with purposes for marriage. Everyone who marries does so for a reason, often not realizing that God has purposes for marriage far more important than ours. Our purposes, if they are not in agreement with God’s, lead to problems because we are basically selfish. Knowing God’s purpose helps us to set daily interactions with our spouses into an eternal context. Living for God’s purposes rather than our own transforms how we view our communication, decision-making, sex, child-rearing, finances, socializing, and relational conflicts. Taking God’s view for our own will change our behaviors, which usually results in a more satisfying relationship with one’s spouse.

I wish you a 2017 full of God’s grace and peace!

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Visit the Sick – Prepare for Conversation

Where the sick are there usually are discomfort and pain. There may also be boredom, a sense of aloneness if not loneliness, sadness, helplessness, a feeling of abandonment or even despair. You may have no idea what to say to these feelings and problems. You may perceive yourself to be inadequate for the situation, discouraging you from visiting. (If you have other reasons for avoiding a visit, read this. If you just don’t know how to get started, read this.)

Remember, you don’t have to speak perfectly. Just the fact that you cared enough to visit will probably encourage the sufferer. Still, you probably have the desire to communicate in a way that encourages and edifies. A little forethought can go a long way to helping you.

What are you wanting to accomplish?

As a Christian, you want your conversation to accomplish what will please the Lord, proclaim the gospel, and help another to grow in Christlikeness. In visitation, you are dealing with people in hardships. Suffering tends to distract us from things above and draw out our weaknesses. It tempts us to doubt God, doubt that He is good or that He cares about us or that He is in control of the situation. It can seem there is no purpose for the pain, which is disheartening. Those who suffer need to know that God is in control and yet, though He ordained the suffering, He did it in love and has a beneficent purpose toward them. They need to grasp that Christ is trustworthy even in their pain. They need to hear about the hope of heaven and see the beauty of Christ.

You may not always be able to speak about Christ, but you need to do so when you can. A visit with no spiritual words may make the person feel better, but it doesn’t draw attention to Christ or relate Him to his suffering. We need to speak truths about God and suffering.

Beforehand, Prepare

If we want to draw attention to Christ and minister grace to the other person we need to be deliberate about conversation. Especially if you haven’t done much visitation before, prepare the kinds of questions that will lead to spiritual conversations. Think of them as ministering conversation starters. For example:

  • Is there anything with which you have been struggling (since you came to the hospital, in the last few days)?
  • During this situation you may have done some thinking about life. What thoughts have you had?
  • Is there a particular emotion you’ve been feeling?
  • What has been the hardest issue to deal with?
  • What has helped you the most?
  • If you should die today, are you ready to stand before God?
  • During your illness, what have you seen God provide?
  • Is there something in particular for which you would like me to pray?

Before you leave your vehicle to enter the hospital you might pick just one to keep in mind for possible use. Then trust the Holy Spirit to guide your speech while you seek to serve Him.

In the Conversation

Here’s a sample progression of conversation:

  1. Upon entering, focus on the sick person. Ask about him. What is his condition? What kinds of treatment is he receiving?
  2. Ask about person’s family. Are they able to visit? Where do they live?
  3. Turn the conversation to a spiritual topic. If you need a transition to a spiritual question, you might begin with a permission question like, “May I ask you a personal question?”
    Or, ask how you can pray for him. Just this question may lead to more discussion on spiritual matters. Is he struggling with something for which you might pray?
  4. Pray, including any prayer request he made.
  5. If time allows, talk about lighter topics.

Be looking for how the patient is relating God to his situation. Reinforce accurate perceptions of God. As needed, gently redirect from inaccurate perceptions, but if there is resistance don’t argue. This is not the time. Trust the Lord just as you are urging the patient to do. You want to encourage loving trust in, and adoration of, Christ.

Since suffering can produce doubt in God, illness can be a profitable time to talk about the gospel. You could ask, “May I ask you a personal question?” Assuming he agrees, ask “If you were to die today, do you know whether you would see Christ?” Or, “Are you ready to die and stand before God?” Such a question may lead to a discussion of God’s righteousness and our sin, death and resurrection, heaven and hell, warning the unbeliever or building hope in the believer. Rehearsing of the gospel encourages by directing thoughts to things above.

Keep the situation in mind.

The patient may be in pain or discomfort. He may be distracted by a particular worry or by anticipating a doctor’s arrival at any minute. He may have difficulty concentrating. Keep what you say short and simple.

Perhaps family or others are there. Be bold in ministering to the patient, but also respectful of all involved. Unnecessarily irritating family won’t ease the patient. Don’t force situations. Keep it comfortable.

Focus on others, not self.

Matthew 22:37 and 39 record the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord God; love others. Your purpose for visiting is or should be to minister to the other person for the glory of God. So, rather than talking about yourself, talk about God and the patient and others (positively).

This visit isn’t about you. At this time, you and your interests or experiences are not important. Don’t launch into “When I had what you have I…” Don’t be quick to tell about a relative or friend of yours that went through the same thing. That turns the focus to someone in your sphere of interest, not his. You may be a great story teller and able to keep attention or make people laugh. Restrain your speech. Draw others out.

Remember, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider others more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Listen with Love.

Well-meaning people are eager to relieve suffering. Many well-meaning people hurry to solve others’ problems. It is not unusual for patients to be inundated with suggestions from person after person. The horde of suggestions can confuse and overwhelm him. A problem-solving discussion can exhaust him, which will not contribute to his recovery.

Just because he voices a problem does not mean that he wants you to solve it. The patient may only have been answering your question about how he is doing. Or he may be seeking only to gain comfort by talking about it with someone who will weep with him. He just needs a patient, compassionate friend. Someone who listens without recommendations can provide refreshing relief. Listen with love and learn from him.

While we sincerely desire to relieve suffering, we need to guard our hearts from unwittingly also comforting ourselves. Why self-comforting? People who empathize with a sufferer (which is a really good thing to do) can feel a sense of helplessness and a sense of embarrassment at their own helplessness to fix the problem. They may also feel alienated from the hurting friend. Suffering intrudes into our comfort zones uninvited; that can be frightening. Insecurity generally motivates us to pursue security by problem-solving. Remember that it is not our job to get rid of the other person’s pain, illness, or injury; that is God’s job through the earthly means He is using in your friend’s care. Your responsibility in visiting is to minister the grace of Christ to him for the glory of God.

Suffering is intensely personal. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, respect his choice. (Besides his emotional privacy, a reason he may not tell you is fear of hearing more suggestions to solve it.)

Allow the person you are visiting to steer the conversation. This is respectful.

Don’t argue, not even about theology. Express kindness. Give grace.

Allow for silence. It can be comforting to have someone just sit with you.

Enjoy the people you visit. Enjoy the conversation. Thank God for the privilege of walking with Christ into their rooms, participating with Christ in ministering to them, and experiencing body life in learning from them.

Don’t force the gospel on the unsaved.

If you’re visiting an unsaved person, the eternal state of that person may weigh on your mind. If you haven’t developed a relationship with him and proved your love, don’t hurry to tell him the gospel. Since in a hospital he cannot get away from you, assertively launching into a gospel presentation may be perceived as taking advantage of his weakness and making him a project.

You might approach the subject by asking if there is anything he would like you to pray for. Or, if you want to more directly tell him the gospel, ask permission. “Would it be okay with you if I tell you what the Word of God says about eternal life?” If he answers in the negative, graciously respect his desire.

Don’t Play Doctor.

Don’t give medical advice. For example, avoid, “If it was me, I would…” It isn’t you. You don’t know all of the medical factors that the doctor does. Nor does the patient. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame.” Don’t say more than you know.

Perhaps you’re a champion of alternative remedies and you’re visiting someone under conventional medical care (or vice versa). Don’t solicit for your philosophy. Even if you are an alternative remedy practitioner, it isn’t your place to advise. It can undermine the confidence of the patient in his doctors which can lead to conflicts and complications.

Even if you think you know something, lean far toward withholding it. “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Prov. 12:23). Say less than you know.

Speak well of medical staff.

Doctors and nurses are trying to do their best for the patient and truly want the patient to become healthy. Any exception is rare. Medical staff are often working under pressures and shortages. Don’t criticize them to the patient or stir suspicion. Encourage the patient to trust the medical staff. If you think there may be a serious problem, it is not wrong to suggest that a second opinion be sought. In the medical world, second opinions are accepted. That second opinion may reinforce the first doctor’s conclusions.

Trust God.

Do you perceive yourself to be inadequate at visiting the sick? So we all are. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to do anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). You were never intended to be adequate in yourself to do the work of God. But God is more than adequate. Seek to serve by the power of the Holy Spirit. Trust that God will use your service for the good of that person and for His glory.


Sources: See end of this post.

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Visit the Sick – A Simple Plan

Visiting the sick and shut-ins is one way to love Christ because it is one way to love other members of His body and sow seeds of the gospel to those who are not. Perhaps this way of serving is new to you. You might be encouraged by the first post in this series. It deals with impediments to visitation. Future posts will offer some ideas on conversation. For now, perhaps you would like to visit a sick, handicapped, aged, or otherwise impaired member of your church but you’re just not sure how to go about it. Try this simple approach.


Pray. For God to be pleased, your service to the Lord must be dependent upon the Spirit, not on yourself. Therefore, in your morning devotion time, pray for the person and yourself. On the drive to the location, pray.

If you wish, call the hospital to confirm visiting hours and that the patient may have visitors. You may learn that the person has been released already.

Think of one or two conversation starters that would lead to ministering to the person’s heart. This provides you direction and confidence even if, when you arrive, you assess that the situation requires a complete shift of direction. You want one question to ask or one SHORT encouragement or verse to share. If it doesn’t fit this visit, it might in another. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Are you struggling with something for which I might pray?
  • How have you seen God at work in your situation?
  • May I tell you a Bible verse about God’s love for you?


Entering the room, introduce yourself.

Begin with sympathy and understanding. Ask about the sick person. What is her condition? What kinds of treatment is she receiving?

Ask about person’s family. Where do they live? Are they able to visit? Show interest in her situation and consideration of others involved.

Turn the conversation to minister according to the spiritual need. Since conversations can take a course of their own that never arrives at spiritual things don’t wait long before getting to the spiritual topic. You can discuss other topics after the spiritual ministry if you deduce that it’s appropriate to stay longer.

Ask how you can pray for her. Just this question may lead to more discussion on spiritual matters.

Pray with the person.

If appropriate to stay longer, enjoy conversation but keep it short. Sick people tire easily.

Be sensitive to the needs of others. Relax and be yourself. Minister grace.

Tip: You might find it helpful to carry 3×5 cards with you. If the patient is not available or is asleep you can write a note of encouragement on a blank card and leave it where she can simply look at it. Or, you might pre-print a verse (large print) on a card and then use the card to start a conversation about the verse, then leave the card with the sick one.


On the way home, pray for the person and others involved–family, church members, medical staff.

Consider a follow-up phone call or another visit as appropriate.


Service to the Lord Jesus is a privilege and pleasing Him delights the heart. May you experience joy as you serve Him by serving others.


Sources: See end of this post.

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Visit the Sick

Last May on a study tour in Israel I snapped my radius (main arm bone) in two. In this rather jolting fashion my husband and I received the undesired privilege of an unexpected tour of an Israeli hospital ER and floor. A doctor in our tour group stayed with us until my arm was in a cast then rejoined the team while we stayed the night at the hospital. What a comfort he was! (By the way, the skill of the doctors who set my bone so impressed my stateside orthopedic surgeon that he sang their praises at my every subsequent appointment. If you plan to break your arm outside of the U.S., I suggest doing so in Caesarea, Israel.)

While I wouldn’t put a foreign hospital high on your list of travel attractions, it was a learning experience, adding nuance to “study” tour. For example, we observed the number of visitors with other patients–two, four, five–hanging around for hours. Just outside the hospital, a few patients held court with eight to ten visitors staying until well after dark on a summer night. It seemed to us that, for them, being in the hospital is a social event. In contrast, my husband and I were consigned all night to a no-frills hospital room in a foreign country cut off from family and friends, surrounded by foreign languages, with almost nothing to do but sit or walk the halls–all alone. If just one familiar face had stepped through the door to come sit with us…what that would have meant!

The incapacitation of the sick, injured, and aged creates difficulties, hinders or prevents normal activities, cuts people off from social contact, and may be discouraging or frightening. Visiting the sick can demonstrate love, convey encouragement, contribute prayer, reinforce faith, be the means of alerting others in the church to needs otherwise unknown, and provide us with opportunities to give grace to the sick and his or her family. It is one way we can “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). It is one way to love one another.

If you’ve never visited the sick, the idea may make you uneasy, especially at the thought of visiting someone you don’t know well. You’re not alone. I’d like to help, so in a series of posts I plan to look at the practice of visiting people who, due to physical incapacitation, are in medical facilities or home as shut-ins. Why would you visit? What are the behavioral expectations in the patient’s room? What if you’re not silver-tongued; what do you say? How could you serve the Lord Jesus and your church family by visitation?

While I don’t plan to cover every topic that could be discussed, the series will answer many common questions and, hopefully, help you in your efforts. I’ve put ideas together from a variety of sources which are listed at the end of this post in addition to what I’ve learned as I’ve applied the counsel from those sources. Future posts will include a short easy plan for getting started, basic room etiquette, how to minister in conversation, and what you might say in place of some common statements better left unsaid. Primarily, I’d like to encourage you to participate in this avenue of ministry.

What might keep you from visiting? Perhaps if we uncover and answer some typical reasons for avoidance it might ease your discomfort and energize you to visit someone so as to minister the grace of Christ to him or her.

Possible reasons some people avoid visiting the sick

One reason for avoiding visitation is discomfort with unfamiliar roads and location. Your first or second trip to the location may require navigating unfamiliar roads and congested traffic, missing turns, hunting for a parking space, and wandering through a parking garage. If you don’t get lost on the drive, you might in the facility. In one hospital, I’ve been lost trying to find the room, then lost again trying to backtrack to the parking garage–all in one visit. And the next visit. I’ve come to expect it at that hospital. No worries, nurses are great at giving directions with a smile!

The unfamiliar atmosphere can make people uncomfortable. There are unfamiliar sights, like all kinds of equipment, long plain halls, people dressed in scrubs, and patients not exactly dressed for a photo shoot. Sounds are unfamiliar–beeps, coughs, clanks, moans, cries of people in pain. Smells may be both unfamiliar and unpleasant.

People might be uncomfortable with unfamiliar behavioral expectations. If there is no chair, where do I sit? Do I hug the person or do I generally avoid touch lest I cause pain? Dare I pray with the patient when the family members are present? What if the nurse is in the room?

Sometimes people are afraid they might say the wrong thing. “How are you?” seems a bit unsuitable; in a hospital patients aren’t “Fine.” Are there questions we shouldn’t ask? Will we seem uncaring if certain questions are not asked? A future post will address conversation. Meanwhile, don’t let this fear stop you from going to comfort another.

Sometimes people don’t want to be reminded of their own vulnerability to illness or pain. For example, visiting in assisted living facilities reminds me that I may one day live in such a facility. I don’t like that thought and it would come to mind far less often if I simply avoided going to any.

Many people don’t want a reminder of death. We know intuitively that illness can be a precursor to death. If the reason a Christian refuses to minister to another person is avoidance of the fact of death then the avoider has an unbiblical view of death.

Many may regard visiting the sick as the pastor’s job and leave it to him. Perhaps you don’t know the fellow church member well so it seems like it isn’t your responsibility. While visitation is a part of the pastor’s shepherding responsibility Ephesians 4:12 says that it is the saints–us John and Jane Doe church members–who are to be doing “the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” Pastors already have such a heavy load equipping us to do that ministry. We can help our pastors by doing some visitation for them. Think how much such work might encourage your pastor.

Some simply don’t take the time. We’re busy. We have other things we want to do. I’ve thought, “It’s a forty-minute drive to the hospital with another ten minutes to find the room, all for a five or ten minute visit–that’s an inefficient use of time.” By whose measure? Who owns time?

The best reason to visit

I am not intending to lobby for altruism. Social activism in good deeds is extremely popular these days, but it isn’t Christianity. Mere altruism is humanism, service to other people on a purely human level. Anybody from any religion can do that and feel good about himself. Anybody can (and should) do his duty as a family member, friend, neighbor, or clergyman. Doing an unselfish act does engender good feelings, but if that all it is then we have our reward–good feelings toward Self.

People may visit out of love for the patient–a very good reason. People’s motivations are mixed bags, so we may have a variety of reasons for going. Whatever our reasons, if the glory of God is not the dominating theme then even our good reasons are insufficient. One, it fails to fully minister to the patient. Without the desire to exalt Christ there is no motivation to share the gospel, to minister His Word, to draw the sufferer’s attention to Christ. By default we leave God out of it; conversation remains on an earthly level. Two, it fails to credit God. Good deeds without the gospel defaults the credit for goodness to ourselves.

The best reason to visit others is for love of our Savior and, because of that, love for the person. True love for another doesn’t settle for only earthly relief exclusive of the One who is their only hope for eternally satisfying comfort and joy. And because we love Christ, we want to see Him be the One to receive glory for our good deeds–“do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). He receives glory when we love one another by helping each other love Him better.

Go and visit

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Think of the patient in his bed. He doesn’t feel well, doesn’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, is frustrated at inability to do what he used to do, may be bored, may be worried, misses his family and feels helpless to solve his problems. All day long those who enter his room are doctors or nursing staff, people there to help but all unknown and busy with other cares. Now apply Jesus’ teaching “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Put yourself in the patient’s place. Then imagine hearing a knock on the door and looking up to see someone other than staff stepping through the door, someone coming just for you–what a lift! How much more so if that person helps you think on the beauty of Christ.

Please consider incorporating visitation of the sick into your service to your church. A card conveys love and encouragement–do send them. A phone call is better than nothing–do call. But a visit is best. Go and visit.


Sources that have helped me:

Brian Croft, Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness. Zondervan.

Ernie Baker, in a conversation on visitation. Dr. Baker is a professor at The Master’s University, author of Marry Wisely, Marry Well, and active in Peacemaker Ministries.

Phil Manly and Jon Scott, “Manners in Ministry to the Sick and Dying,” lecture at Grace Community Church, Series Sundays in July, 7/5/2015,

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