More than likely, you’ll have the opportunity to minister to someone who is dying this year. The question is, how do you deal with it? I’m ready to die. More than likely, you are too. Most people are not, though. That means you play a critical role as a minister to help people deal with their own death.
Pastor, no matter how much training you’ve had or how well you know your Bible, walking into the hospital room of someone who is facing death can turn anyone to mush. What do we say? How do we help somebody who’s dying? You can’t promise that they’re going to get well. You don’t know if that’s God’s plan. But you can C.O.M.F.O.R.T. them.
Confront your own fears.
Before you can help anybody else, you’ve got to deal with your own fears. Death exposes the hidden fears in us. That’s why people avoid funerals. We’re afraid of death. And so we want to hide from it. This is as old as Adam and Eve.
Instead of hiding you have to confront those fears. You’re not going to mess anything up. You aren’t going to make things worse. You’re going to be O.K. Before you minister to someone who is dying, deal with the very natural fear you have. Admit you have the fear. And then get over it. You’ll be fine.
Offer your physical presence.
The greatest gift that you can give to someone who is dying is your presence. You just need to show up and be with them. That will mean more than any words you can say. People want someone to be near them as they deal with the dying process.
People do not want to face death alone. And they shouldn’t have to. You don’t need to say anything profound. You may not even talk to them. But you need to be there with them. Real ministry begins by being with the person who is dying. No one should ever die alone.
Minister with practical assistance.
The important question to ask is, “How can I help?” You do whatever they need done. I know you’re busy. But ministering to someone who is dying is some of the most important ministry you can do.
For example, when somebody’s dying, they usually don’t feel well. They’re often in pain. What do you do when somebody’s in that situation? Whatever you can do. You want the lights on? You want the lights off? Can I get you some ice chips? Can I rub your back? You do anything. The little things you do will show love. You offer practical assistance to relieve pain and discomfort.
Fortify them with emotional support.
When someone is dying, they’re carrying a heavy burden. Don’t let them carry it alone. Provide emotional support. How do you carry somebody else’s emotional burden? Pray for them aloud.
How do you pray for them? Whatever they say, mirror it back to them in a prayer. When the person who is dying says, “This really frustrates me...” You pray, “Lord, Susie’s really frustrated by this…” When the person says, “I’m really angry and irritated,” you pray, “God, Bob is really having a tough time right now. He’s upset and angry. He’s frustrated.”
When you do that, you’re lifting their burdens. When somebody is sick, sometimes they just don’t have enough energy to pray. So you pray for them. That’s what intercession is all about.
Open them up with questions.
When people are dying, they’re carrying an enormous emotional load. They’re carrying worry, fear, doubt, shame, guilt, regret, joy, sorrow, and anxiety. Help them get that out. How? Ask open-ended questions they can’t answer with just “yes” or “no.”
Your open-ended questions will often start with their questions. Let me give you three of them that are almost always asked in some manner by a person who is dying: Why me? Why now? Why this? Nobody knows the answers to those three questions. They are unanswerable on this side of eternity. The Bible tells us that in eternity we will see how it all fits together. But we don’t right now.
Whenever you get asked a question that is unanswerable, ask it back to them. Just rephrase it. Why? You don’t want to answer the question. You want to get them talking.
For example, if someone who is dying asks, “Am I going to die?” Don’t answer that question. You don’t know for sure. Rephrase the question back to them and ask something like this: What does dying mean to you? Then wait. That will get them talking and help them talk about some things that they need to talk about.
By the way, if they don’t want to talk about death, that’s O.K. Some people don’t want to talk about it. It’s not good for them to bottle it up, but don’t force them to talk.
Remember the family has needs too.
You can be helpful to the whole family – not just to the person who is dying. For example, you can ask questions that the family might feel uncomfortable asking. It’s perfectly O.K. to ask the dying person if they’ve made any preparations for their death. Somebody’s got to find that out, and you’d help the family by asking. Friends take care of friends, and they take care of friends’ family as well.
Turn them to Jesus.
More than anything else, you want the dying person to accept God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. You want them to be at peace with God.
Tell the dying person that Jesus loves them, that he died for them, that they can spend eternity with him, and that you’d be glad to pray with them about this.
It’s the most important prayer the person will ever pray – one that turns death to life.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved