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Jesus on Ward Rounds

autumn 2000

From nucleus - autumn 2000 - Jesus on Ward Rounds [pp30-33]

Mike Reynolds draws a practical model for us to follow based on Christ’s example in John 5. [An abbreviated version of this article was subsequently published in the Winter 2001 edition of Triple Helix]The NHS can be a difficult place for a Christian to work. Why do so many junior doctors appear to lose their faith as they make the transition from being a medical student to part of the work-force? It may be because they have lost their perspective on what it means to be like Christ on the wards. Medicine itself can easily become an idol for the ambitious doctor. We allow our career to make our decisions rather than God; medicine becomes a means to an end, whether it is status, money or academic glory. Cynicism is common amongst doctors. People become pathologies that cause loss of sleep. We lose our respect for others. We complain about our lifestyle or our debts and start to see medicine merely as a job rather than a privilege to serve God by serving others. Our arrogance separates us from other professionals and we can carry this sense of elitism into our churches and our spiritual lives. Spiritual schizophrenia [1] develops where we have a ‘fragmented mind’ with our faith becoming separated from our day to day living. We struggle with the effect of peer pressure and easily slip and compromise our witness.

‘What would Jesus do?’

With these worldly tensions acting on us, we need to turn the clock back 2,000 years to see how Jesus Christ dealt with the pressures that he faced. We need to bring a Christ-like perspective to our practice of medicine.

Jesus was compassionate

Let’s look at John 5:1-18. Imagine the scene. It is the Sabbath day and Jerusalem is full of pilgrims from all over Israel who have travelled for one of the three main festivals. It is the heat of the day and there, near the Sheep Gate, is a cool place shaded with covered colonnades and a pool. There are many blind and paralysed people there, hoping that they may be healed of their infirmities. Along comes Jesus and in the midst of the hustle and bustle he singles out an individual. He pauses and spends time with just one person. He learns about him, about his condition and about his suffering. He is not cynical or arrogant in his approach. He shows compassion, dealing with this person as if there was no-one else around.

Jesus approached people as individuals at their point of need. Additionally, by the skilful use of questions, he was able to draw out their wants, their fears and their hopes. He made time for them even in the business of the day. In the previous chapters of John we see Jesus again making time for other people. In the middle of the night he made time for Nicodemus, a religious leader (Jn 3:1-21). After a long journey he made time for the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:4-42) who came to draw water at the well. What were the consequences of these actions? Later we find Nicodemus among the early believers (Jn 19:39) and the conversation with the woman led to she and many others in Samaria believing in Jesus. In our task-orientated world let us not lose sight of individuals and relationships. Even at 3am on a busy general medical take, we need to look at the individual as Christ does, someone created in his image (Gn 1:26).

Jesus used his gifts

Jesus was charismatic in the sense that he used his gifts. He saw the need of the paralysed man and healed him. He did not leave this man with platitudes but dealt with the problem. Notice also how Jesus slipped away into the crowd afterwards. What might have happened to us in such a situation? Perhaps we would have ended up speaking at healing seminars and running retreats. However, Jesus was not arrogant about his gifts. Similarly, we have been trained in the art of medicine and we must use these gifts humbly, to the best of our ability.

Jesus preached the gospel

Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying: ‘I share my faith with everyone I meet, and occasionally I use words’. There is nothing that neutralises our witness more quickly than an ungodly life; but we often simply use this as an excuse for keeping silent about Jesus Christ. Jesus did not just heal this man. He did not just do good works with his hands. Jesus found this man again and told him to stop sinning. The man needed to repent. We cannot hide behind good deeds and hold back the unpalatable truth that something worse may happen. Jesus did good works but he also preached the gospel. He was not afraid to talk of hell. We must stand amid the twentieth century world, with all its pressure, with the total weight of its opposition to the Christian faith, and proclaim the gospel. This is truth to the universe.

Proclaiming this gospel to rebellious mankind can, of course, seem foolish at times. The difficulty and the size of the task can overwhelm us. Yet, thankfully, God has given us only three things to do and then our responsibility is closed. The first is to preach the gospel as clearly as possible, answering all questions as sincerely as we can (1 Pet 3:15). The second is to pray for each individual who hears it (Rom 10:17). The third is, by the grace of God through faith in the finished work of Christ, to live a life that in some way will commend the gospel we have preached (1 Pet 4:6). When we have done these things with compassion, some of them will respond.

Some people may argue that we have no time to share the gospel, or that we should not abuse our doctor-patient relationship. But the General Medical Council has ruled [2] that doctors are free to share their faith with patients provided they do it in an ‘appropriate and sensitive’ way. We should pray for, and take, these opportunities. It is good to get into the habit of slipping a question such as, ‘Do you have a faith that helps you at times like this?’ [3] into the social history. It probably will not be appropriate to probe more deeply there and then but the patient’s answer may well reveal something that you can pick up on later. Neutral questions such as, ‘Do you have spiritual resources you can call on?’ or even ‘are you interested in spiritual things?’, are open-ended enough so that if the patient wants to talk further you can introduce the subject without being pushy or offensive.

Jesus was persecuted

Because of the legal religion of the day, Jesus was persecuted for two reasons. Firstly, he healed a man on the Sabbath; this went against their view of holiness. Jesus stood against the thoughts of the day for what he knew to be right. As God did not stop his deeds of compassion on the Sabbath, neither did Jesus. Although the teaching of the Pharisees was deemed the ‘underlying good moral teaching’ of first century Israel, Jesus was not afraid to speak out against it. In our society we need to stand against the prevailing thoughts, attitudes and ethics that are contrary to the revealed Word of God. A biblical insight into the current ethical problems (see further resources) will enable us to stand out for Christ when we are put into the spotlight. Even as students we need to study these issues in depth to be prepared. It can also be an angle to present the gospel message to our friends and colleagues.

Secondly, Jesus was persecuted because he called God his Father, thus declaring himself equal to God and because he taught that salvation only came through him (Jn 5:19-27, 14:6). We too will face persecution when we say that ‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). When we stand against the materialistic, relativistic and atheistic world around us, we are following in Christ’s footsteps. We are following Jesus’ model.

‘Final exhortations ...’

Let us guard against idolatry, cynicism, arrogance and spiritual schizophrenia in our lives and seek to follow Jesus’ model. We need to be compassionate, seeing people as Jesus sees them. We need to be charismatic, using our gifts and abilities to serve God and to serve others. We need to be evangelistic, to proclaim the gospel to a dying world. We need to stand up for truth; we need to understand the ethical issues we face and to speak out. So, like Jesus at the pool of Bethesda, whom, out of the crowds, are we going to stop and spend time with? Each morning let us pray, ‘Lord, show me who I can pause with today’.


Do you know of anyone who lost their faith during their early years as a junior doctor? Would they be willing to share why this happened to them? Did they ever come back to Christ? If so, how and why? If not, why not? We would love to hear of people’s experiences in these areas so if you, or anyone you know, is willing please write or e-mail us at CMF. Addresses can be found inside the front cover of this journal.

Further resources

CMF runs national one day conferences entitled Turning the Tide which aim to equip people with an understanding of the world’s view and of God’s way, of how to interpret and apply the Bible to ethical dilemmas, and how to handle these areas of potential conflict and confrontation. The conference provides a good grounding upon which to tackle and debate various ethical issues in confidence. Why not attend a conference near you (or organise one)?


  1. Land N. Spiritual Schizophrenia. Nucleus 1997; October:7-14
  2. Doctors’ use of professional standing to promote personal interests or belief. GMC Annual Report 1993:4
  3. Palmer B. Should Doctors evangelise their patients? Nucleus 1996; October:2-12

Article written by Mike Reynolds

More from nucleus: autumn 2000

  • Editorial
  • Physician Assisted Suicide
  • Do Not Resuscitate?
  • News Review
  • Hinduism
  • Wanted! - Workers for God's Kingdom
  • Jesus on Ward Rounds
  • Career Choices
  • A Cloud of Witnesses - Ten Great Christian Thinkers
  • Differential Diagnosis 32
  • Know Your Bible 34
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