If someone you know is terminally ill, on hospice care or dying here are some practical ideas on how to pray for them and with them for God’s strength and help in “Crossing over.”
Because under normal circumstances we pray for physical healing we are often not sure what to pray in terminal cases. Yet those who are dying can benefit greatly from our prayers.
1. Ask God to help you see death as a natural part of our spiritual journey.
A year ago I was assigned by a church ministry group to give spiritual care and encouragement to a woman battling cancer. When her doctors told her it was time to consider stopping treatments she began thinking about her death and said, “I hate surprises, even good ones. I want to know what it’s like to die.”
Although we both believed in heaven, I realized that I didn’t know anything about the dying process. Her question caused me to think deeply about what it’s like to pass from earthly life into heaven and what kind of support and prayers we might be able to give the dying. We found several Christian books telling a variety of near-death and time of death experiences witnessed by hospice nurses, doctors, ministers and survivors. The one I found most useful was Crossing the Threshold of Eternity by Robert L. Wise. (See a review of this book on this website under Resource Reviews – books) In it he says that we only have glimpses of what dying and crossing into heaven might be like. Some of the things that often happen are a sudden lessening of interest or engagement in what’s going on in this world, seeing things others can’t like angels or departed loved ones in the room, and an experience that seems like a “crossing over” often accompanied by another person who is in heaven already.
Seeing death as a journey into a different dimension gives us a pathway to take with our prayers. It helps us pray in positive terms for God’s strength, help and perfect timing in their “crossing over.”
2. Ask your friend what they would like for you to pray for them.
My friend told me early on that she was afraid of the pain. We prayed that God would help her through any pain she might experience. In her last few weeks she felt very little pain, and it was something of a small miracle. Other things our friends might want us to pray about might include that they live long enough for a special loved one to be able to travel to see them for the last time or that their family members might be welled cared for when they are gone.
3. Ask your friend if they have any unfinished business for which they would like you to pray.
When I visited another friend on hospice care, I didn’t need to ask what her unfinished prayer business might be because she had often requested prayer for one of her grown sons who had been through years of health issues. On my final prayer visit with her she was too weak to talk and although her hand was warm when I held it as I prayed, she had no strength to grasp back. So I prayed as we always had when she was able to hold my hand on the sofa in the prayer chapel for her son. I also asked that all of the prayers she had prayed over the years would continue to be effective as long as her child was in need of them. I thanked God that our prayers never die but are kept in golden bowls in heaven. (Revelation 5:8)
Another woman who was still able to communicate asked me to pray with her that she’d be able to communicate with a son how much she loved him despite differences they had and the hope that he would find a deeper, more meaningful faith. Other unfinished business that the dying might appreciate prayer about include mending broken relationships or communicating special words of guidance to those they are leaving behind.
In some cases, the unfinished business may be that the person is unsure that they are going to heaven and may need to accept Jesus as their Savior. If you’re unsure how to pray with someone to receive salvation, before going to visit your friend to pray, refer to this website under Salvation – The Sinners Prayer of Conversion – by Joe Hethcoat.
As I prayed with my friend on hospice care I thanked God for her life, for the wonderful example of love and grace she had been to so many and for the countless people whose lives she had touched through her devotion to mission work. In this same prayer, I affirmed that she might be seeing things that others didn’t and that she didn’t need to be afraid because no one dies alone and there is always someone there to help us cross over.
5. Pray Scripture.
There are many beautiful scripture passages that speak about eternal life. Speaking these scriptures in prayer can be very strengthening to the dying. Some scriptures include Psalm 23:4, John 3:16, John 14:1-3, I Corinthians 15:54-57.
6. Pray a Benediction.
A benediction is a parting prayer of blessing. “Go now in peace” are words that can be spoken over the dying in prayer with much love and Grace. (See Luke 2:29) A benediction is something like a spiritual farewell, in essence committing the departing ones to God’s care until we meet again.
My Personal Tips and Experiences
Another factor to consider when praying with the dying is deciding when to go to visit and pray. It’s always best to check with the family or caregivers as to whether the person is able to receive guests and when the best time might be to come when the person most likely will be awake. One day I hadn’t made an appointment with the family of the person on hospice but felt called to go and pray with her. I found myself out near her home when I was out running errands and I prayed and asked God whether this was a good time to go and visit. God seemed to answer, “Go.” I went over and knocked on the door and it was opened immediately by the woman’s daughter. Before I could apologize for dropping by she told me this was a perfect time for a short visit as a nurse they were expecting to come by was running late. I found my friend in bed awake and ready to receive guests in a lovely lavender night gown. I didn’t do a lot of small talk but got quickly to praying with my friend. I finished my prayer precisely as the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the nurse.
Recommended book: Crossing the Threshold of Eternity
Copyright Karen Barber 2011; All rights reserved.