Lesson: How to Help and Encourage Someone With a Health Problem
Health problems hinder us, cause us stress and often generate intense emotions such as discouragement, fear, loneliness, anger or depression. Being encouraging and helpful to someone who is sick or injured is an extremely valuable service. May we all continue to grow in understanding about how to be effective helpers and encouragers.
Let's consider some lessons from the story of Job.
The book of Job teaches many lessons, including what not to
assume or say if we want to be encouraging. Job's suffering was so devastating
it is hard to imagine. Satan killed all of Job's children and most of
his servants and caused him to lose all his possessions. Later he afflicted
Job with a terrible disease that caused painful boils all over his body.
Of all Job's supposed friends, it seems only three (plus a fourth later
on)—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar—cared enough to visit Job and spend considerable
time with him to "mourn with him, and to comfort him" (Job 2:11). But
Job understandably complained that they were "miserable comforters"
(16:2). He said, "How long will you torment my soul, and break me in
pieces with words?" (19:2).
These three friends seemingly had good intentions to give comfort and
advice. But they had mistakenly assumed that Job's suffering was God's
punishment for disobeying His laws. They also assumed in their simplistic
theology that God always rewards good and punishes evil in this life,
with no exceptions. They saw no purpose for suffering other than retribution
and punishment. So in spite of good intentions, Job's three friends
primarily gave him added mental and emotional distress.
The Bible has much to say about the power of words. It's sad that Job's
friends were using their words to discourage instead of encourage. After
all, "The tongue of the wise promotes health" (Proverbs 12:18) and,
"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life" (Proverbs 15:4).
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How to Help and Encourage
How should we treat "one another"?
1 Thessalonians 4:9, 18; 5:11
But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to
you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another…
Therefore comfort one another with these words…
Therefore comfort each other and edify [build up, help] one another, just
as you also are doing.
Through love, serve one another.
There's a book titled Ministering to the Physically Sick. The
phrase minister to means to "serve" or "tend to the needs of."
In that sense, God wants us all—not just clergymen—to minister
to one another. One all-important service is to reassure a patient
that God loves and is with him or her. Then he or she, too, can say, "Yea,
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
evil; for You are with me" (Psalm 23:4).
What is true godly love according to Jesus Christ?
"This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved
you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life
for his friends."
Jesus commanded, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew
22:39). Jesus, by His teaching and perfect example of self-sacrificing
love, set the highest standard for all of us to imitate. Love is the give
way of life, the opposite of selfishness.
In addition to thoughts and words of love, how important are acts of
"Then the righteous will answer Him [the King, Jesus Christ], saying,
'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give
You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked
and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come
to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say
to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren,
you did it to Me.'"
We recommend you read Jesus' entire parable in Matthew 25:31-46. The
parable teaches how we must show our love by our actions. If
we don't love our brethren in these ways, it means we really don't love
Christ! These are key areas on which we are being judged on a daily basis.
Jesus said, "Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?"
Notice the emphasis on "come to You." Sending cards, e-mailing
and calling on the phone are valuable ways to encourage. However, when
you have the opportunity, a personal visit is especially encouraging and
heartwarming. When a patient has been confined with a long-term health
problem, he or she is often quite lonely. Just be careful not to stay
too long each time.
What lessons can we learn from the parable of the good Samaritan?
"So he [the good Samaritan] went to him [the injured man] and bandaged
his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal,
brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he
departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said
to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come
again, I will repay you.'"
We recommend you read Jesus' entire parable in Luke 10:25-37. It teaches
several lessons. The priest and the Levite obviously lacked compassion.
They arrogantly thought their religious duties were too important to take
time to give emergency care. They may have had the nasty attitude of "blaming
the victim"—assuming the injured man was being punished by God for some
sin. Most Jews at that time believed all Samaritans were bad and Jesus
was repudiating that idea. It was valuable that the Samaritan knew some
basic first aid. And note the generosity of the Samaritan: He sacrificed
both time and money to help the injured man.
I hear that empathizing with people is good, but just what does
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Compassion, sympathy and empathy all have to do with passion (feeling) for
another person because you identify with his or her suffering. True empathy
adds the expression of those feelings (Romans 12:15). Be sensitive to
the mood of the other person and be in harmony with it. However, don't
say, "I know how you feel," especially if you have not gone
through the exact same type of trial. Serious afflictions often bring
deep sorrows, such as an amputation, hysterectomy, mastectomy, loss of
eyesight, paralysis, permanent injury, diagnosis of an incurable disease,
What else should I remember to be a good encourager?
A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the
More important than what you say is being a good listener. People often
want understanding and respect more than advice. But a patient often has
some fears and needs an encourager—someone to impart courage to
him or her. Steer the patient away from worries and negative thoughts.
You can refer to uplifting scriptures, like Philippians 4:4-8. You can
remind the patient that even our afflictions can "work together for good"
to help us in our spiritual growth, as Paul's "thorn in the flesh" did
for him (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
But be alert to discern the mood of the patient and follow that lead.
You want to be uplifting, but acting too cheery and lighthearted will
be insensitive and irritating to the patient if he or she is tired or
in the mood for serious reflection and discussion (Proverbs 27:14).
What is usually the most important attitude to impart to the
Proverbs 18:14 (New Living Translation)
The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear it if the spirit
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The answer is hope, the antidote for despair. By far the most
important hope is the "hope of eternal life" (Titus 1:2; 3:7).
When one has faith and hope for life after death, death is not terrifying.
We should look beyond today to the day when God will "transform our
lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body" (Philippians
God also designed us with a kind of survival instinct. As long as a person
maintains that will to live and looks forward gratefully to each new day
of life, the body's defense systems work better, and he or she will tend
to live longer. If a person morbidly dwells on a frightening diagnosis,
he or she loses the joy of living and may shorten his or her life. God
wants us to have a nature that is optimistic and hopeful. Those who have
it enjoy a better quality of life, do more good for others and often live
longer—sometimes much longer.
So as an encourager, if you keep in mind the principles brought out in
this lesson, you'll be able to steer others to maintain hope in this life
and hope for the next life.
What else can I do as an encourager?
Acts 2:42 (Good News Translation)
They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the
fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.
The early Christians can be our role model. Bringing the patient already-prepared
food, praying together, reading the Bible together and sharing good conversation
are all very encouraging. Be sure to see the "Related Resources" below
for more understanding on how to help and encourage others.
Should I encourage the patient to focus on the future or today?
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all
these things [all your needs] shall be added to you. Therefore do not
worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Jesus Christ Himself said not to worry about the future! In a sense,
we are all terminal—no one lives forever. How many days we live is not
nearly as important as the kind of life we live each day. Focus on today,
doing the right things and making the best decisions you can. Make the
best of the time you have. Make each day the best it can be.
In the next day or so, read the 11th chapter of the book of John—the
story of the death and resurrection of Jesus' special friend, Lazarus.
It has many important lessons, the most important being this statement
by Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me,
though he may die, he shall live" (verse 25). It is noteworthy that many friends
came to comfort Lazarus's two sisters (verse 19). And it is inspiring
to see how Jesus sympathized and empathized with their sorrow (verse 33).
When He saw them weeping, "Jesus wept" (verse 35).
Write down your answer to: What does John 11 teach me about helping and
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Those Who Are Sick: What to Do and Not Do
Those Who Are Sick: Advice—to Give or Not Give
You Can Help When Someone Is Hurting
Have Living Faith
Why Does God Allow Suffering?