No bad experience is ever wasted if you can take the time to learn from it. John Piper certainly didn’t and learned some powerful lessons along the way.
Recently I spent 30 hours in the hospital. I won’t tantalize you with details, but you can tell by this blog, I’m still alive. In fact, I feel good. I received good care, a clear diagnosis, some new medication, and permission to go on with my life as usual.
Not wanting to waste this experience, I’ve been thinking about lessons learned and benefits received. Maybe, if I list some of them, you will be helped when your own time comes.
1. Don’t murmur about delays and inefficiencies in the hospital, when you are getting medical care that surpasses by a hundredfold what is available in 90% of the world.
“Do all things without murmuring” (Philippians 2:15). Paul said that the effect of not murmuring would be that we shine as lights in the midst of a crooked world — including the needy world of medicine.
2. Don’t let yourself be numbed spiritually by the ceaseless barrage of sounds, noises, television, and chatter that surround you in the hospital.
This was a trial to my spirit. In the very moment when I needed to be still and know that God is God, my heart was off-balance with distraction. This was a surprise to me. It took me off guard. I had to pray, and concentrate, and recite Scripture to myself to regain my spiritual stability. “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!” (Psalms 25:20).
3. Don’t default to the television.
Don’t go there. Give yourself to reading or listening to or thinking about things that ennoble your soul, and put it in touch with the glory that it is, and the Glory it was made for.
“If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1–2).
4. Pray for the patients near you and, if possible — without undue offense — see if your roommate will let you pray for him, and tell him words of hope in Jesus.
You are nowhere by accident. These are divine appointments. You have no idea what the simplest witness to Christ may bring.
“You will be brought before kings and governors [and doctors and nurses and patients] for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12–13).
5. Realize that physical pain makes focusing on God’s promises more difficult and demands greater concentrating effort.
At this point, it is so important that you have in your heart some very simple, short biblical truths about God that you can declare to yourself. Long complex reasonings about God’s sovereignty and goodness won’t work in this situation, because the pain is too disorienting. It doesn’t allow the mind to work at full capacity.
What is needed is: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Period. “Christ gave himself for me.” Period. “I will never leave you.” Period. “Nothing is too hard for the Lord.” Period. “Everything works for good.” Period. These are like white stones with your name on them. And you hold them in your hand as you groan and wait.
6. Reach out to a friend or family member to help you.
Usually the suddenness of a hospitalization leaves the patient disoriented and unable to think clearly about all the aspects of what’s going on. This was certainly true for me. Questions needed to be asked, and my mind was not at full strength.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to give your friend permission to ask everything that comes to mind. “We are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
7. Accept the humiliation of wearing the same unflattering gown everyone else wears.
This is good for all of us. Most of the time we have control over our outward persona. We can dress in a way that presents us as more dignified (or self-sufficient) than we are.
This is a great reality check. We are all weak, vulnerable, fairly homely, physical specimens, who are getting less attractive all the time. But thanks be to God, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
8. Let the pain and misery of your body, and of the people around you, remind you of the exceeding moral horror and spiritual ugliness of sin.
My understanding of Romans 8:18–25 is that it’s Paul’s commentary on the fall in Genesis 3. He is explaining the devastating physical effects on the creation of the moral evil that entered the world through Adam’s sin. This means that God subjected the world to physical futility and misery to make a point about moral and spiritual reality.
We all share in these groanings. Horrible groanings in the case of the worst cancers and maiming accidents. For God’s children, this is not punishment. Christ bore that. This is the lot of every man to bear the physical sign of the horrors of moral evil. This physical pain points to how ugly sin is.
9. Let the self-revelation of Jesus as the good physician be sweet to your soul, and preach to yourself that this light momentary affliction is working for you an eternal weight of glory.
Christ is all-sufficient for every situation. In the hospital, he is preeminently a physician. Matthew 4:23 says he was able to heal “every disease and every affliction among the people.” And at the last day, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).
10. Pray that none of these hospital hours, none of this pain, none of these fears, none of these relationships, none of this life-altering season will be wasted.
Satan wants to make your experience in the hospital meaningless and empty and trivial. Don’t let him win this victory.
Pray. Pray as you go. Pray in admissions. Pray on the gurney. Pray in the bed. Pray in the morning and in the middle of the night. Pray without ceasing.
You will probably not be able to formulate long, well-articulated prayers. The mind and body are too embattled. The prayers you need to pray have been called “ejaculatory prayers” historically — short outbursts of the heart.
May the Lord use these ten lessons from my hospitalization to help you make yours fruitful for the glory of Christ.
Had any encounters with God of your own you would like to share?