Support Of The Sufferers
A few thoughts on how Christians can help their fellow believers who live with long-term health problems.

Hazel Stapleton.

As Christians we are all members of the same body, the Body of Christ. We belong to the Church, the family of God. The Bible tells us that if one member suffers, then all the members suffer with them (1 Corinthians 12 v 26). Therefore, as with earthly families, it would seem that it should be natural that when members of the family of God suffer, others in the family come to their aid, bringing help, support, comfort, and so on.
However, having been affected by M.E. since 1991 and been in contact with hundreds of other M.E. sufferers - as well as those who have other chronic health conditions - in that time, I have come to see that support for those suffering in the church today is at best lacking, and in the vast majority of cases simply non-existent, which is very sad.

Why is this the case? Why is this one group of church members not receiving the help and support that it needs from the churches which the individuals sufferers belong to?
This is a question that I have been trying to work out the answer to for some time!

I think that there are probably quite a number of answers to the question.
It may be partly because church members are often so busy with all the activities of the church - Sunday services, Sunday schools, mid-week childrens’ meetings, prayer meetings, and so on - that the members of the church who are unable to regularly attend services and play a full part in church activities are, to a degree, forgotten about.

I also believe that visitation of those who are sick is often not seen as a “duty” of the pastor and other members of the church. Apart from the few churches that have a “ministry team”, which organises regular support and visitation, the need to visit those who are ill just doesn’t come into the day to day activities of the majority of churches today. Another reason is, I think, that people simply do not know how to help those who have chronic health problems. Maybe they don’t understand a particular illness, they’ve never had a period of prolonged ill-health themselves, or they are just embarrassed and don’t know what to say, being afraid that they will say the wrong thing and cause offence - so they take the easy way out by saying nothing!
What can be done about it? How can believers offer help and support to their brothers and sisters in Christ who are living with long-term health problems?

Examples from Scripture

Before giving some practical suggestions on what can be done, I would first just like to mention a few verses of Scripture that look at the subject of helping others in need.
I suppose that one of the most well known examples in the Bible of giving help to someone in need is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10 v 29—37). Reading the account shows that the aid given by the Samaritan involved giving of his time, effort and money. He put himself out to help one in need, never having met him before, and knowing that the injured man could not pay him back.

It is clear from various texts that in the early church support between believers for each other, as well as those outside of the church, was something that happened naturally - as part of the life of the church.

Acts 2 v 44-45:

“And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need”.

Acts 4 v 35:

“ … And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need”.

The support of those in need was automatic; it was seen as a natural duty of the church. Yet, at the same time, it was organised, with help given according to individual needs.
The previous texts show that as Christians we should have a practical concern for all in need, but it is also true that as Christians we are to show particular help towards our fellow-believers.

Galatians 6 v 10:

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”.

Surely it is only to be expected that, just as we show special interest in the needs of the members of our earthly families, we will want to help those in particular difficulties in the family of God, especially those known to us in our local churches.

I also believe that it is taught in Scripture that to show help and support to those in need is one of the signs of being a Christian.

1 John 3 v 16-17:

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?”

If there is a lack of compassion and concern for others in our churches, surely there is something going badly wrong in our lives as Christians.

One final point from Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5 v 14:

“ … support the weak … ”.

This ministry to others is not an “optional extra”! It is clearly a command in the Word of God to all believers.

How To Help
I am sure that there are many things that could be written about and used as examples of how to show a practical out-working of this ministry to those in our churches going through hard times health-wise, but I am going to mention just two main areas. Whilst the following advice is given with the long-term sick particularly in mind, I am sure that the suggestions given would apply equally to those living with various difficulties.

1) Prayer
I am sure that this will be obvious to all, but it is true that the best way that we can help our Christian brothers and sisters is by praying for them. This might sound simple enough, but when the health problems don’t seem to be improving, with apparently no end in sight, it can be hard to keep praying, to keep bringing the person with their particular needs before the Lord.
I believe that it is always right to pray that the person affected might be healed, but at the same time, especially with a long-term condition, I think that we should pray that if it is not God’s will for the sufferer to be healed at this time, that they might know the Lord’s help and strength to manage from day to day, and to be able to witness for Him in the midst of all their problems.
To encourage us in prayer, we can bear in mind that prayer is -

a) Crucial - “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, The Christian’s native air” is the well-known description given to us by the hymn writer James Montgomery. To live out our Christian lives we need to be those who pray, and that includes praying for others. The apostle Paul knew that he needed the prayers of others. 1 Thessalonians 5 v 25: “Brethren, pray for us”.
b) Constant - this can be difficult when praying for someone whose illness lasts for many months or years, yet, as someone who has been ill for years, it is such a blessing to know that there are people who pray, and who keep praying over many years. 1 Thessalonians 5 v 17: “Pray without ceasing”.
c) Commanded - it may seem odd to some that a command can be seen as an encouragement, but knowing that God has commanded us to pray means that we can be sure that He will hear and answer our prayers, in accordance with His will and in His time. Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call unto Me, and I will answer you, and shew you great and mighty things, which you know not”.
d) Confident - we can have confidence that our Heavenly Father is sovereign over all. We may not understand why things happen, but we can be sure that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8 v 28) and that nothing is too hard for our God.

Jeremiah 32 v 17:

“Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for you”.

2) Keep In Touch

After prayer, keeping in touch with those who are sick is, I believe, the best way of showing them the love, help and support that they need. Whilst it is true that many individuals and churches pray for those in need, it seems that actually keeping in touch with them tends to fall by the wayside. As mentioned earlier, I believe that one of the reasons for this is because people do not know what to do to help. When spending most of the time in bed, looking at the same four walls for weeks and months on end, receiving a letter, a phone call, or even a short visit from a church pastor or member, means such a lot - and I am sure that it is virtually impossible for those who are healthy to realise how much doing just a little thing like writing a little note can mean, resulting in many simply not bothering. However, I would urge you to “bother”, to go to the effort of sending a card, making a phone call, dropping in for a visit; it means so much and is such a help and encouragement.

However, be careful! Don’t start something that you can’t keep up! It’s no good saying that you will call in once a week if you cannot do it in the long-term. Chronic health problems are a “long haul”. Far better to visit once a month and be able to stick at it over a number of months or years, than try at first calling every week but finding that you can’t keep it up and so having to stop after just a few weeks.

A few suggestions -

a) Be Practical - try to think of things that you would find helpful if you were house-bound or bed-bound. For example, offering to help with shopping, cooking the occasional meal, giving lifts to doctors’ and hospital appointments. If the person is well enough just offering to take them out for a short drive is likely to be greatly appreciated. Going out even for a short time can give a tremendous boost!
b) Be Spiritual - one of the hardest things that I have found, as a Christian, to cope with during the years of ill-health is the lack of Christian fellowship due to not being able to attend church very often. Listening to tapes is to be recommended, and a great help, but being cut off from your Christian family is hard. When visiting someone, have a Bible reading and time of prayer with (not just for!) them, share “Quiet Time” thoughts. However, don’t feel that, like some, you have to try and offer (Biblical) reasons for their situation. God’s ways are not our ways. He is sovereign and nowhere are we promised explanations of all that happens to us (cf Romans 11 v 33; Deuteronomy 29 v 29).
c) Be Encouraging - chronic ill-health is hard, especially in our society when we are used to the idea that if any health problem arises we can simply go to the doctors and get a prescription to make us better! Being long-term sick means that it is easy to lose touch with what is going on in the “big wide world”. Talk about normal things. Tell the person about your family, what’s happening at the church, any interesting places you’ve visited. At the same time, give them time to talk about what ever is on their mind.
d) Be Forward Looking - it is always good to talk with those who are ill about Heaven! Remember that this World is not our home, we are just a-passing through! Whether or not we will be healed in this life is unknown, but in Heaven we will see our Saviour and we will be free from sin and from suffering.

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”
(Titus 2 v 13).

© Hazel Stapleton 2004
On Eagle’s Wings - A Christian Perspective on M.E.
Hazel's Website


(Links to hundreds of evangelical conservative biblical articles and study tools).

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional