A friend asked me for a blog entry on a very important topic:

"Write a blog entry for me (and everyone who is facing death for someone that they love). Tell me what the Scriptures are that you read in the hospital when someone is dying. Where do we find hope? What gives comfort to the sick and the family?  I remember people reading from Revelation and some other places in the New Testament but I don’t remember specifics."

Here are some passages that bring hope to those facing death:

Psalm 23
Psalm 27
Psalm 46
Psalm 91
Psalm 103
Isaiah 40
Matthew 11:28-30
John 11:25-26
John 14:1-6
Romans 8:31-39
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Revelation 4-5
Revelation 7:9-17
Revelation 21-22

Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will help you know what passages to read. Sometimes you will only want to read a few verses because the very ill often do not have the ability to follow a long passage. I like to ask if they have a favorite passage and then read it to them. If several friends have gathered, it is often good to ask them to share in the Bible reading by having each person read a few verses. 

In recent years I have learned the value of singing together. Music ministers to the sick on a heart level that goes beyond your words. Singing familiar choruses, hymns and gospel songs builds faith because it points people to the Lord. Sickness and death are two powerful reminders that we live in a fallen world. When we sing for and with the sick, the music says, “There is another world beyond this world of suffering and death. Your sickness is not the end of the story.”

Although there are many dos and don’ts regarding visiting the sick, I will mention only one here. Don’t engage in theological speculation. We don’t need to explain why a person got cancer. We don’t know the answer and anything we say about that is likely to be unhelpful. Point people to the promises of God. Let the Word of God do its work. 

Finally, I would add that the greatest gift you can give is the gift of your presence. Just being there makes all the difference in the world. Many times in my visits with the sick, I have not said very much at all. People may not remember what you say in those situations, but they will never forget that you cared enough to be there. When my father died in 1974, we were overwhelmed with expressions of sympathy. I have forgotten all of them except one. The scene is etched clearly in my mind although it could not have lasted more than 20 seconds. I was sitting in a bedroom at home talking with some friends. In came Hal Kirby. He put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Ray, we’re so sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man. If there is anything we can do, let us know.” That was it. A few words and he was gone. But what a message those few words conveyed. His son—a good friend of mine—had died almost ten years earlier. Because I knew that he knew what it meant to lose someone you love, his words have stayed with me for 34 years. It’s not what you say, or how much you say, that matters. People know when you really care, and that’s what they will always remember.

Those are a few suggestions. What else would you add? What Scriptures have comforted you in the time of sickness or the death of a loved one? What has helped you in ministering to the sick and dying?  

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.