Retired Christian pastor Dr. John Piper was recently hospitalized for 30 hours due to a physical ailment, and wrote a blog post hoping to encourage the suffering entitled "Ten Lessons from a Hospital Bed."
Dr. Piper retired from pastoring Bethlehem Baptist Church in the spring of 2013, aspiring to continue to minister through his website DesiringGod.org and to write. The beloved poet and author is in his late sixties, and still travels internationally to teach the word of God to others.
"I won't tantalize you with details, but you can tell by this blog, I'm still alive," says Piper, seemingly healthy and jovial - "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 the experience of having been hospitalized, Piper relays some of the things he believes the Lord taught him during his time there. "Maybe, if I list some of them, you will be helped when your own time comes," he says.
"All of these are things I needed God's help with. I was surprised how difficult it was for me to focus on anything, and therefore, how vulnerable I felt spiritually," says the former pastor. Though Piper knew to set his mind on the Spirit when tempted to fear or to be irritated, doing so did not come easy in his pain.
Philippians 2:14 says that we should do all things without murmuring. Though there are at times delays and inefficiencies with hospital care, Piper says he tried to focus on the fact that he was receiving better medical treatment than the vast majority of the world has to offer and to be thankful for advances in medicine and technology that allows patients to receive pain medication and life-saving medical procedures.
Piper encourages those who are in need of hospitalization to try hard not to be distracted by all of the commotion in the surrounding atmosphere - from nurses and family members checking on other patients to one's own physical pain and the television in the room. "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," he says - "I had to pray, and concentrate, and recite Scripture to myself to regain my spiritual stability."
God sometimes brings His children to places where someone might need to hear the Gospel or to be comforted, and Piper encourages the church to be attentive to His leading. "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," Piper says.
The former pastor stresses the importance of knowing and having memorized short Biblical truths about God for when the pain is so intense that it is difficult to think - things like "'The Lord is my Shepherd' ... 'Christ gave Himself for me' ... 'I will never leave you' ... 'Nothing is too hard for the Lord' ... 'Everything works for good.'"
Piper also recommends having a friend or family member there with you at the hospital to ask the doctor questions and to take notes, as pain and disorientation can make it difficult to concentrate. His wife proved invaluable to him when he could not think clearly, he says.
Next, don't be too ashamed to wear the hospital gown, whether you're a successful businessman or renowned pastor. "We are all weak, vulnerable, fairly homely, physical specimens, who are getting less attractive all the time," Piper says. He quotes 2 Corinthians - "Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (English Standard Version, 2 Corinthians 4:16b).
Piper reminds us that physical suffering and the brokenness of this world tangibly demonstrates the horror of sin. "We all share in these groanings. Horrible groanings in the case of the worst cancers and maiming accidents," he says, referring to Romans 8:18-25. "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."
Finally, Piper exhorts the church to remember God's power to heal and to be comforted by the fact that He does all things for the good of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28) - "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 ... mainly we should realize with joy that, beyond all doubt, He has healed the deepest disease of all who trust Him - the damning disease of sin" he says (see Luke 5:31-32).
"Satan wants to make your experience in the hospital meaningless and empty and trivial. Don't let him win this victory," says Piper. The former pastor encourages Christians to pray throughout the hospitalization experience for increased trust in the Lord and to find satisfaction in Him. "May the Lord use these ten lessons from my hospitalization to help you make yours fruitful for the glory of Christ," he says.