Most of life’s sentences are blissfully mundane. I can’t find my keys. Take out the garbage. Please feed the dog. I can’t find my keys. ADD readers will relate to that string of comments. But sometimes a single sentence will change your life. My bride of nearly thirty years dropped one of those sentences on me earlier this week.
“My spot was cancerous.”
After an optimistic initial briefing from the surgeon days earlier we were not prepared for the harsh reality of the pathology report. The breast cancer is still small but aggressive. The prognosis still optimistic but the journey will be hard. Yesterday I quoted that noted scholar and philosopher Mike Tyson who said, “Everyone has a game plan until they get hit in the mouth.” That was how I felt after talking and crying with my wife. We are looking at a year of treatment and trials. But God is good and His grace is truly sufficient. How can you explain how forty eight hours later we can have such confidence and peace?
Many of you read these ramblings at Crosswalk and I have become a regular peruser of that site. Just last week pastor and author John Piper wrote an amazing article at Crosswalk called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” Piper wrote the article on the eve of his own prostate surgery so he has a little “street cred” on the topic. I was blown away at his godly response to this fearsome foe. I never dreamed that I would be sharing that article with my wife just days later. Joni and I have adopted John’s spiritual battle plan right alongside our doctor’s medical strategy as we proceed to fight this giant. Here is just some of John Piper’s wisdom from that article.
You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.
You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
The design of God in your cancer is not to train you in the rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.
You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
When Epaphroditus brought the gifts to Paul sent by the Philippian church he became ill and almost died. Paul tells the Philippians, “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Philippians 2:26-27). What an amazing response! It does not say they were distressed that he was ill, but that he was distressed because they heard he was ill. That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.
You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.
Joni and I do not intend to waste this experience. When we prayed about her upcoming surgery my amazing wife dropped another sentence on me that was a life changer.
“Dear God…I am not and I will not question you.”
How can you not want to go into battle with a woman like that? Yesterday I told her that I wished I was going through this and not her. She said that she was glad it was her and not me. The miracle of the two becoming one is that we both meant what we said. Just about thirty years ago I proclaimed another life changing statement without really realizing the magnitude of the vow that I was making.
I take you Joni to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…
So it is my turn to step up to the plate and back up that vow. What a privilege to be there for her as she would be there for me. We value your prayers. For anyone who might stumble on this blog I would suggest one more life changing statement. This is a statement that I have experienced and can highly recommend for both the mountains and valleys of this journey.