How Long it Took Jesus to Do Spiritual Care

The average primary care doctor spends about 15 to 20 minutes with a patient. Just enough time to discuss pertinent medical issues before having to move on to the next patient.

Christian Doctor Jesus Time

When I ask my Christian colleagues the barriers they face in providing spiritual care the most common answer is a lack of time. This had me asking the question, If Jesus were a physician, how much time would he spend doing spiritual care with a patient?

We don’t have examples of Jesus seeing patients in an office. But we do see him doing one on one interviews. Prolific writer and commentator Ellen White said this, “Jesus’ ministry comprised primarily of interviews.”

The history taken by the doctor, or the “interview,” is what drives the treatment plan 80% of the time. Thus a physicians one on one time with the patient can closely mirror the ministry of Christ.

Still the question remains. How long would it have taken for Jesus to do a “spiritual interview” with his patients?

Well, I went to the Bible and timed two of Jesus’s longest one-on-one interviews: His interview with Nicodemus. By reading the quoted Scripture in John chapter 3, I clocked the valuable exchange at 2 minutes and 23 seconds.

That’s plenty of truth poured out into Nicodemus’s life in under 3 minutes. And there’s no record that Jesus even prayed with Nicodemus at the end.

Using Jesus as our example physician, having a spiritual conversation doesn’t have to take a long time.

Though lack of time is the most often cited barrier, I find two other barriers that are likely more significant.

The first is staying connected to God. When my heart is farther from God, I am less likely to seek the spiritual care of my patients. When I am close to him, my desire to deliver spiritual care is intensified and patients tend to be more open to receiving such care.

The second is not giving spiritual care priority. The fact is there are dozens of voices clamoring for the attention of the doctor. “Must get to next patient!” “Must return pager” “Must finish on time!” All too often, the still small voice of spiritual care is drowned out.

What barriers do you have in providing spiritual care?



Falling in Love Helped Me Become a Better Doctor

This month I’m getting married. One of my patients must have found out prior to her appointment with me. She gave me a big hug and said, I heard something special is about to happen to you. Her smile was ear to ear. She went on to tell me what happiness she had in her married of life of 30 years. She said, If you have even a fraction of the happiness I had you will be so blessed.

Christian Doctor Whole Person Care Medical MInistry

That month we were trying to wean her off her antidepressants. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Her husband passed away unexpectedly shortly thereafter. She told me how it was the little things she missed – his sweet response after she calling out to him, the comfort in holding his hand.

Tears streamed down both our faces now. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose someone after 30 years of blissful living.

As I reflect on the whole process of falling in love I see how it has made me a better doctor in the following 3 ways.

1. Falling in love has increased my capacity for empathy with patients. I’ve gone through a fundamental human experience so many of my patients go through: heart break and falling in love. Empathy is about making the patient experience personal to you. I can tap into my own story to access a patient’s emotions.

2. Falling in love deepened my trust in God. After residency, my engagement broke off and I found myself moving to Northern Idaho. I remember praying, God? I’m worried if I’m ever going to get married if I’m in the middle of nowhere. But God has surprising ways of answering our deepest longing. The areas of anxiety are the opportunities to deepen trust our trust in him.

3. Falling in love cemented my purpose to live simply, sacrificially and servant-like. The person you marry, I believe, is intricately connected to your destiny. I couldn’t shake the calling to living a life at a pastor’s wage and in a garage. But the last 2 years have truly been the best years of my life. The words of my soon-to-be wife haunt me, If you lived in a big house and drove a fancy car, I don’t think I would have been able to marry you. My choice to live a simpler, sacrificial life somehow translated into receiving the biggest blessing I’ve ever had: Getting to marry the woman of my dreams.

This month I’m getting married. And I can’t wait.

How I Get My Patients to Quit Smoking

My mentor tells me the story of a lady he was trying to get to quit smoking. He tried informing her of the dangers of smoking like cancer, heart attack or stroke. She wasn’t impressed with information. He then appealed to vanity. Smoking would cause premature wrinkling on her face. She demurred, I just want to enjoy life. He then told her about the financial consequences of smoking. It was costing her $8,000 per year over the last 10 years. She could buy a new car in that amount of time! Still she was unperturbed.

smoking cessation Christian Doctor

My partner continued with the visit and looked over her blood work. He noticed in her blood work a positive test. Miss, he told her, your test turned out positive for pregnancy. The patient then took her cigarettes out her purse, stood up from her seat, walked across the room and dropped her cigarettes into the trashcan. I’m quitting, she said.


What causes a person to change behavior? What was it about the patient that ultimately made her decide to quit?


The answer is motivation. I’d like to explore three reasons why every person trying to quit smoking or make a significant lifestyle change should examine their motivation.


1.Motivation is what gives you the power to keep on going when the going gets tough. When we lose focus on our goal or get distracted, getting in touch with our motivations provide us fuel to keep moving forward. It keeps us in motion until we have achieved the outcome we need.


2. Sacrifice out of love for another person is a more powerful motivation than doing something for yourself. Self-preservation is not a strong enough motive. Smokers continue to smoke despite labels on cigarettes packs that essentially say, This will kill you!


Often patients have not connected their destructive behavior with the more meaningful areas of their lives. For instance, they may not have considered how their failure to quit smoking implicate they will leave their wife a widow. Or they may not have considered how their habit places an influence on their child increasing his risk of taking up smoking. This indirectly puts the child’s life in danger. One way I make this real for the patient is to tell them an illustration. If you saw a truck barreling down on your child, would you push that child out of harm’s way even if it meant your death? Well, smoking put’s your child in harm’s way. I find this illustration compelling for patients.


3. Sacrifice for a God-given, outside-yourself, greater-than-you purpose is the most powerful motivation of all. When we awaken to something greater than ourselves pulling us forward, we are motivated to participate with the divine. A change begins to occur at our core. Over time the right actions flow from that core. When a patient realizes smoking is not consistent with the purpose that God has called her to, the action of smoking will eventually stop.


This is why I tell parents who smoke their behavior is ultimately destructive to their children. A good parent would never participate in activity that would be damaging for their loved one. This is why I tell my Christian patients smoking is a sin that gets in the way with their relationship with God. A follower of God doesn’t want that relationship disrupted. When a person is pulled to a greater purpose, one’s core – or identity or heart – is ultimately changed. This change gives the desired result.