"The word of God, which is at work in you who believe."
1 Thessalonians 2:13.
When bad news comes, or difficulties arise, how do you deal with
them. One thing which can be very helpful is to turn to Scripture.
It is remarkable how much guidance, encouragement and comfort can
be found in the words of Scripture.
The following is an account of how Scripture has helped me when
I received some quite bad news about my physical health.
On Monday, July 7, 2003 I received a report from a CT scan that
showed six masses on my liver that were probably cancerous. (A later
scan also showed two spots in the lungs that may be cancerous.)
Last October I had a cancerous tumor removed from my colon. The
surgeon thought he had gotten all the cancer. I took chemotherapy
to make sure, and I was believing that there was no more cancer
in my body. So this news, while not totally unexpected, was very
much of a surprise.
The medical prognosis for colon cancer that spreads to the liver
is not good. My oncologist (cancer doctor) said that the most I
could expect with chemotherapy was that the treatment could shrink
but not remove the cancerous masses. He said that I might be able
to live another one to three years. For an otherwise healthy man
this was pretty discouraging.
How do you deal with news like this? We (my wife, my daughter
and I) turned to Scripture. Scripture is life-giving. It is alive
and active (Hebrews 4:12). "Your word has given me life"
(Psalm 119:50 NKJV). It works in us (1 Thessalonians 2:13; see James
1:21). It is "useful" (2 Timothy 3:16). It is remarkably
specific and practical. (All Scriptures are from the New International
Version unless otherwise indicated.)
I thought that it might be helpful to others for me to give an
account of how Scripture has helped us in this situation. It is
also helpful for me to put these things down on paper and to declare
them publicly, so as to fix them in my mind.
In what follows I have tried, to the best of my recollection,
to tell some of the highlights of what we found in Scripture during
a period of about two weeks after learning this news. I have tried
to do so in the order in which it came. I may not always recall
that order correctly, but I don't think the sequence matters much.
The important thing is what we found in Scripture, and how Scripture
encouraged and strengthened us. The process has continued after
those two weeks, although less intensely, bringing to mind other
Scriptures. We have also kept referring to all these Scriptures
in our prayers and conversations. I hope that what I have recorded
will suffice to encourage others to turn to Scripture when faced
with difficulties of any kind. Scripture deals with everything we
may face. God "has given us everything we need for life and
godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). He hasn't left anything out.
It does not take any special skill or knowledge to do this. All
it takes is a willingness to believe the words of Scripture and
to let them change your attitudes and way of thinking. I happen
to know Scripture fairly well, and to have some good research tools,
but these are not necessary. Simply use whatever Scripture you do
know..Start reading Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to show
you what he wants to show you. If you don't know where to start,
start reading in Psalms. Go to Bible studies and church services,
listen to tapes and Bible radio broadcasts, and you will quite often
hear something that applies to your situation and that gets you
started on further reading of your own. I found it helpful to read
Scripture aloud with my wife and daughter; the interaction often
brought new insights. Quite often our reading was interspersed with
prayer, or ended in prayer.
We also prayed through Scripture. For those not familiar with
this let me give a brief example. Psalm 46:1-2 reads, in part, "God
is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore
we will not fear... " In praying through this, we might say
something like the following. (Where I paraphrase other Scriptures
I have added the references for the reader's convenience. I would
not interrupt prayer time to look them up.):
"We thank you, God, that when things get to be too much
for us, when we start to feel defeated, we can come to you and
you will be our refuge. You will give us shelter and protection.
We thank you that you are our strength. We don't have to deal
with this in our own strength. We have your incomparably great
power (Ephesians 1:19) in us. We can be strong in you and in your
mighty power (Ephesians 6:10). We can do all things through you
who strengthen us (Philippians 4:13). We thank you, Lord, that
you are an ever-present help in trouble. You are always there
when we need you. You don't always take the trouble away, but
you help us in it. You make it possible for us to handle it. You
are with us even in the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Therefore
we will not fear. We will not fear! Whatever happens, whatever
we have to face, we will not fear! You have not given us a spirit
of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
We will not fear!" You could extend the prayer through this
passage to considerably greater length. Just let yourself go.
Shout, if you feel like it. And if you refer to other Scriptures,
don't worry about whether you are quoting exactly. God knows what
he has written in his Scripture! Just let the prayer flow.
Others might find different things in the Scriptures we used,
or might, in similar circumstances, be led to different Scriptures.
What I am primarily interested in showing is the process which we
used, as an example to encourage others to find their own way of
doing it. .
Some of what God showed us confirmed things we already knew. Some
of it involved new discoveries. I have gone into some detail, because
it is often in the detail that the power of Scripture is most manifest.
But I have not attempted to cover everything God showed us. We also
listened to a wonderful series of tapes by Malcolm Smith, and had
other meetings and conversations which were helpful. But our emphasis
was on the words of Scripture.
I want to make one other thing clear. This is an account of the
things I feel God has been showing me over a brief period of time.
It is a record of how my own thinking about my situation developed
during that time. It is not a systematic attempt to define a doctrine
for dealing with medical news such as I received. At times God showed
me one truth from his Scripture; at other times he showed me another.
I have not tried to reconcile them all. I have generally avoided
putting in all the qualifications that one might want to state,
because I wanted this to be, as best I could make it, a record of
how God has dealt with me.
In conversations with my wife and daughter we often deliberately
repeated many of the same Scriptures and the same assurances. I
think we need that kind of repetition in order to "engraft"
the Scripture into our very being. We need it in order to cancel
the world's teachings, which keep coming at us, and which are not
based on Scripture. We need repetition in order to build God's truth
into us so strongly that it cannot be shaken when difficulties and
discouragements come, as they will. In what I have written here,
I have tried to avoid much of that repetition.
Our church has an active intercessory ministry. We informed them
of our situation from the start and they been have praying for us.
Many friends and family members are also praying for us. A surprising
number of people have been praying for us. We have felt greatly
lifted up by prayer. Intercessory prayer is one of our greatest
resources as Christians.
Did all that we got come from God? I can't be sure. I don't really
think it matters, so long as it is in accordance with his will.
But my sense is that it was God who led us to particular passages
of Scripture, and who showed us things in them that we had not seen
We read, and prayed through, some Psalms, starting with Psalm
103: "Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being praise
his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his
benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and
compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that
your youth is renewed like the eagle's" (vv. 1-5).
God is still our healer. He can heal any disease. The Old Testament
records a number of healings by God. The New Testament records many
healings. God heals today. Jesus told his disciples, "Anyone
who has faith in me will do the things I have been doing. He will
do even greater things than these" (John 14:12). One of the
things Jesus had been doing was to let the healing power of God
flow through him so that every kind of sickness and disease was
healed. And he tells us that today those who have faith in him can
do the same. His healing power can work through me. It can work
through others who pray for me.
Psalm 103 has many other wonderful statements. Let me just mention
two. God loves us. "From everlasting to everlasting the Lord's
love is with those who fear him" (v. 17). God is all-powerful.
"The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom
rules over all" (v. 19). Both of these are very good to know.
God rules. He is in control. He is bigger than any problem we
have. He is bigger than the cancer cells in my body. God is bigger.
And he loves me. He desires what is good for me.
Psalm 91 is a wonderful Psalm of promise. I shall only mention
a few highlights that struck us as we read it. "Surely he will
save you from the fowler's snare, and from the deadly pestilence"
(v. 3). "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow
that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday" (vv. 5-6). The Hebrew
word translated "pestilence" can mean an illness that
results in death. God protects people from deadly diseases. Because
we have God, we do not need to fear such diseases.
"A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right
hand, but it will not come near you" (v. 7). Medical statistics
may say that my chances of surviving are not good. Thousands in
the same situation have died. Thousands have fallen, but that does
not mean that I will. God's promise to the one who "dwells
in the shelter of the most high" is that statistics are not
controlling. God will protect that person and he need not fear.
That is good news.
"'Because he loves me', says the Lord, 'I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon
me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will
deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and
show him my salvation'" (vv. 14-16). God will be with me in
trouble. He will rescue me, protect me and deliver me. He will give
me long life. I will hold on to these promises.
Psalm 46 is also powerful. "God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear"
(vv. 1-2). It goes on to say that we will not fear "though
the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the
sea" which is a pretty frightening thing to have happen. But
the point is that, whatever may happen, we will not fear! God is
our refuge and strength, and God is bigger than anything that can
happen to us. Our strength comes from one who is all-powerful and
all-good. Therefore we will not fear.
I want to add something else here, although I think the idea came
to us later. Cancer seems demonic. It starts in disobedience. The
cancer cell does not grow and develop as it is supposed to, as it
is programmed to. It rebels. Satan's fall originated in rebellion.
And the cancer cell destroys other cells, with which it is supposed
to live in harmony. Satan comes to "steal, kill and destroy"
(John 10:10). So the cancer cell is like satan.
I say this to lay the premise for applying another powerful Scripture
to my situation. Jesus told his 12 disciples (and by implication
all who are his disciples), "I have given you authority to
trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of
the enemy. Nothing will harm you" (Luke 10:19). So we have
authority to overcome all the power of the enemy. I think this means
that we, who believe in Jesus Christ and have him living in us,
have authority to overcome all the power of cancer. In my prayers
I have taken authority over the cancer and told it, in the name
of Jesus and by his authority, to leave my body.
This evening I went to our church's Men's Ministry. I told them
about my situation and they prayed with me. The prayer was powerful
and I was moved by their love and their faith.
Then, in our family time together, we got into Philippians. In
chapter 3 Paul tells us, "I consider everything a loss compared
to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"
(Philippians 3:8). That was encouraging. I believe my wife, daughter
and I do know Christ, and we are getting to know him better. Indeed,
this medical news has helped us to get to know Christ better. Whatever
happens, nothing can take that from us (see Romans 8:35-39). And
that is the most important thing of all.
In Philippians chapter 4, writing from a Roman jail while awaiting
trial for his life, Paul tells us "Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: rejoice!" (v. 4). Elsewhere he wrote,
"Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances"
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Our joy, our thanksgiving, do not depend
on the changing circumstances. They depend on our relationship with
an unchanging God.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by
prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to
God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians
God gives us a much better alternative to worry. It is prayer.
We cast our cares on God, knowing that he cares for us (1 Peter
5:7). When we do so, we will have peace instead of worry. We will
have a wonderful peace which guards our hearts and minds. The image
is a military one. It is that of a sentry, standing guard over our
hearts and minds, and not allowing anything undesirable to get in.
How does God's peace "transcend all understanding"? We
humans, in our limited human understanding, look at the circumstances
around us. We try to figure out what we will do if this happens,
or that happens, or something else happens. We sometimes fall into
despair, feeling that there is nothing we can do. The peace that
God gives us goes beyond all this. It does not depend on the circumstances,
or on us. Whatever the circumstances may be, God is bigger and God
is in control.
Here is the key to this whole wonderful passage. We don't need
to worry about the circumstances. God is bigger than the circumstances.
God is all-powerful and all-good. He has plans and purposes for
each of us (see Jeremiah 29:11). We were "created in Christ
Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to
do" (Ephesians 2:10). "We know that in all things God
works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according
to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). God "works out everything
in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).
God's purposes will be carried out (Job 42:2; Isaiah 14:24, 27,
What God has done is to free us from being dependent on the circumstances
around us. This is wonderful. We cannot control our circumstances.
Unexpected things happen. Sometimes they seem very bad. But the
circumstances are not in control. God is. He will not let us have
to handle more than we can bear. And whatever our problems, he is
there with us to help us handle them. He is "an ever-present
help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). God will be with us in trouble
(Psalm 91:15). Even when we walk in the shadow of death, he is with
us (Psalm 23:4). He strengthens, empowers, and encourages us.
Paul is not saying that we should ignore or belittle the circumstances,
or wish them away. The circumstances are there and we need to face
them. The cancer in my body is very real and very life-threatening.
We need to face those facts. But we also need to be very sure that
God is bigger than those facts. He is able to change those facts.
God, who created the universe, can heal or replace a liver. Nothing
is impossible for him. This, also, is a fact which we need to recognize.
It is a fact that is more real than any of the medical circumstances.
I thank God for the wonderful medical knowledge that is available
to us. I intend to use every resource that medicine has to offer.
It is "after you have done everything" that we take our
stand spiritually (Ephesians 6:13). But as Christians we have an
additional resource that medical science, in general, tends not
to take into account. That is the fact that God IS, that he is all-powerful
and all-wise, that he heals us, and that nothing is too difficult
One thing struck me as I was reading this passage. Paul does not
say that our peace comes as God answers our prayers. He says that
our peace comes as we pray. Our peace does not depend on how God
answers our prayers. It does not depend on whether he does for us
the things we would like him to do. It depends simply on the fact
that we have submitted the matter to God, that we know that he is
a great and good God, and that we know that whatever he allows to
happen will be for our good.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three young Israelites
into the furnace they replied, "If we are thrown into the blazing
furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will
rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want
you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship
the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). Their
faith, and their peace, did not depend on how God answered their
prayer. It depended on who God is.
Let me be quite specific about this. In our Western society we
have a great fear of death. Many feel that death is the worst possible
thing that can happen. A believing Christian need not fear death.
Jesus has freed "those who all their lives were held in slavery
by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:15). Paul wrote, "Where,
O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1
Corinthians 15:55). Earlier in Philippians he had written, "For
me, to live is Christ and to die is gain... I desire to depart and
be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary
for you that I remain in the body" (1 Philippians 1:21, 23).
We should not seek death, but we should not fear it.
For a believing Christian, death is merely a change in state.
The body dies, but the spirit goes on to be with Christ. Eventually
we will be given a resurrected body. We all must die. It's just
a question of when. So we can be content to accept God's timing,
whatever that may be.
I believe with all my heart that God can heal me. His word says
that he "heals all your diseases" (Psalm 103:3). It says,
"With his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5 KJV). (The
stripes are the strokes of the whip that Jesus endured before he
was crucified.) I believe that God will heal me. I intend to do
everything I can, at both the spiritual and the medical levels,
to receive that healing. We are praying for complete healing and
so are many others.
But I am also saying that God is sovereign. No matter what God
decides to do, I know that the result will be all right, because
"in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Let us return to Philippians, chapter 4. "Finally, brothers,
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever
is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything
is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things" (verse
8). Here is another reason not to worry. When we worry we are thinking
about unpleasant possibilities, terrible things that could happen,
etc. These are not the kinds of things we should let our minds dwell
on. We need to be aware of them. We must not pretend that they don't
exist. But we should not dwell on them.
Paul then says "I have learned to be content whatever the
circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what
it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation" (verses 11-12). The circumstances
around me just now are real. I am quite aware of them. But I am
not at their mercy. I can rise above them. My contentment does not
depend on the circumstances. It depends on my relationship with
God who is both faithful and unchanging.
And so Paul makes the triumphant statement, "I can do everything
through him who gives me strength" (verse 13). I am bold to
say the same. I have God's "incomparably great power"
(Ephesians 1:19) working within me. I am "strong in the Lord
and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). In God's power,
I can handle this situation.
Finally Paul says, "My God will meet all your needs according
to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (verse 19). The context
is that of financial needs, but I think the principle applies more
broadly. God will meet all our need to be able to handle this situation.
We went on to read from the epistle of John. "Everyone born
of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome
the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only
he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:4-5).
Paul wrote that we are "More than conquerors" (Romans
We can be overcomers because we are not at the mercy of the circumstances.
We are not at the mercy of anything men can do. We are not at the
mercy of any disease or illness. These may damage or destroy our
physical body, but our essence, our spirit, remains untouched. We
are under the care and protection of a loving God who is all-powerful
One example of an overcomer was Paul. He wrote, "We are hard
pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed"
(2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Winston Churchill said much the same when
he told a group of boys, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."
As Paul said, "I can do all things through him who strengthens
I believe with all my heart that we shall overcome this situation.
We ended our session by singing some songs of praise to God. "What
a Mighty God We Serve".
We listened to a tape which emphasized the extraordinary love
that God has for us. His love depends, not on who we are, but on
who he is. He loves us because it is his nature to love, and not
because of any special merit that we have.
I find this helpful. All too often the enemy tries to plant in
us the thought, "You're not worthy. God doesn't love you. His
promises don't apply to you, because you are not worthy. He may
do miracles for others, but he won't do them for you because you're
not worthy." The answer to that lie is simple. It is, "That's
right, I'm not worthy. No one is. But God loves us despite our unworthiness.
God has entered into covenant with us despite our unworthiness.
God heals us despite our unworthiness. It's not a question of my
worthiness; it's a question of God's love."
We read from 2 Chronicles chapter 20. King Jehoshaphat of Judah
(the southern kingdom) learned that "a vast army" was
coming to make war on Judah. "Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved
to inquire of the Lord" (v. 3). The people gathered and the
king prayed. He ended his prayer with these words, "We have
no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not
know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (v. 12).
Then a prophet named Jahaziel said, "This is what the Lord
says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast
army. For the battle is not yours but God's... Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord
will be with you'" (verses 15,. 17). Jehoshaphat and the people
worshiped God. The next morning they went out to meet the enemy.
Jehoshaphat told his people, "Have faith in the Lord your God
and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will
be successful" (v. 20). They marched out, with singers and
praisers at the head of the army, singing, "Give thanks to
the Lord, for his love endures forever" (v. 21). And God "set
ambushes" against the enemy so that they turned on each other
and killed each other. Not a man in the enemy army was left alive.
For three days the Judeans picked up the plunder. Then they came
back to Jerusalem and praised God. The account ends, "The fear
of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard
how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. And the kingdom
of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every
side" (vv. 29-30).
What a marvelous account!
Here was a situation which looked impossible. Jehoshaphat, a strong
king, said publicly "We have no power to face this vast army."
But then God, through his prophet, said "Do not be afraid or
discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours
but God's." And God gave Jehoshaphat a tremendous victory.
Medically, the odds of my recovering from this cancer are poor.
But I believe that God is saying to me, "Do not be afraid or
discouraged because of this vast assault on your body. For the battle
is not yours, but God's."
God likes to work against the odds, so that we can be sure that
it is God who has done it and not we ourselves. He likes to do things
that are impossible for us. "What is impossible with men is
possible with God" (Luke 18:27). God gave military victories,
against impossible odds, to Jehoshaphat, to Asa (2 Chronicles, chapter
14) and to Gideon (Judges, chapter 7). David, a shepherd boy, armed
only with a sling and his faith in God, defeated the Philistine
giant. God gave Abraham and Sarah a child when it was physically
impossible for them to have children. God raised Lazarus from the
dead after his body had been decomposing for four days. God gave
a baby to Mary although she had never known a man. God does amazing
things. With God nothing is impossible. With God there is always
In life we may encounter circumstances that seem impossible. And
then we can say, "But God... " Jehoshaphat's situation
looked impossible. But God gave him the victory. It was impossible
for a teenaged boy, with no battle experience, to defeat the 9 foot
tall Philistine giant who had all of Saul's armies terrified. But
God gave David the victory over Goliath. It was totally impossible
that Lazarus, after 4 days in the grave, could be brought back to
life. But God did it. Medically my cancer looks incurable. But God
can heal it and I believe he will.
David had his priorities right. He said, to the terrifying Philistine
giant, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,
but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God
of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord
will hand you over to me... All those gathered here will know that
it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle
is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands"
(1 Samuel 17:45, 47). So I say to this cancer, "The battle
is the Lord's and he will give me the victory."
Let us look more closely at the situation with Abraham and Sarah
When their son Isaac was born, Abraham was 100 and his wife Sarah
was 90 and had been barren all her life. What was the medical probability
that they would have a son? And yet they did.
Paul wrote of this, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said
to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Without weakening in his faith,
he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was
about a hundred years old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully
persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is
why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.'" (Romans 4:18-22).
Hebrews adds, "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age
- and Sarah herself was barren - was enabled to become a father,
because he considered him faithful who had made the promise"
What does it mean, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed"?
Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation,
based on the truth of Scripture and of God's word. Abraham had a
confident expectation, based on the world's thinking and experience,
that he and Sarah could not possibly have a child. But, over against
that, was the promise of God that he would have a child, and that
through that child many nations would be blessed. Abraham chose
to put his confident expectation in God's promise, God's power,
and God's faithfulness. And because his faith did not waver, his
confident expectation came about. In the same way, "against
all hope", against the medical predictions, we have a confident
expectation that God can and will heal me.
The key, I believe, is faith. I do not mean wishful thinking,
or, as the old saying goes, "believing what you know is not
so." I mean a real faith in a fact which is more important
and more relevant than anything the doctors may say, the fact that
God is all-powerful and nothing is impossible for him. Medical science
is valid, but only God is absolutely true.
Jehoshaphat trusted in the Lord. David trusted in the Lord. Abraham's
faith did not weaken, he "did not waver through unbelief"
and he was "strengthened in his faith". I need to hold
on to that unwavering faith.
We looked at two other Scriptures about faith. Jesus said to Peter,
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I
have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when
you have turned back, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32).
Some years later, this same "Simon, Simon" wrote to Christian
believers, "For a little while you may have had to suffer grief
and trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth
than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved
genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ
is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7). I believe that this present trial
that has come upon me has come in order that my faith may be proved
genuine. I believe that the outcome will result in praise, glory
and honor to God. But I think faith is the key. I will do all that
I can medically. "After you have done everything, to stand"
(Ephesians 6:13). I need to do everything my doctor knows to do.
But then I need to add to that, an unshakeable faith that God is
both able and willing to heal me.
We listened to another tape. 2 Chronicles chapter 14 tells of
the time when King Asa, of Judah, learned that an Ethiopian army
at least twice the size of his army, with 300 chariots, was approaching.
"Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, 'Lord, there
is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help
us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have
come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let
man prevail against you" (v. 11). "The Lord struck down
the Cushites before Asa and Judah" (v. 12). They fled and were
crushed and Asa's army carried off great plunder.
The point is that Asa faced the enemy. He did not deny that the
enemy was coming. He did not deny that the enemy was much more powerful
than he was. He did not weep and wail and cry "Why is this
happening to me, Lord? I've been a good king; I've served you faithfully.
Why are you allowing this to happen?" He faced his problem
realistically. But he also had faith that God both could and would
deliver him from it.
This is important. God is a God of truth. If the circumstances
are difficult or discouraging, we need to recognize them and face
them. We need to find out all we can about them, even though that
may increase the apparent difficulties. But then we need to go on
and say, "But God..." We need to recognize and face the
facts fully, and then say "God is bigger, and nothing is impossible
for him." God welcomes it when we call on him because we are
powerless. When we trust in our own strength, we are apt to become
proud, and God opposes the proud (James 4:6; see Proverbs 3:34).
It is when we come to God and say, as Jehoshaphat did, "we
have no power to face this vast army", that God is most likely
Look at the example Paul has given us. He wrote that at one point
"we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure,
so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt
the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely
on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us
from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us" (2 Corinthians
1:8-10). Paul recognized the difficulties. He knew that he couldn't
handle them. And he knew that God had delivered him out of what
seemed an impossible situation.
In the same way, I am seeking to face the facts. I have asked
my doctor to be completely frank with me. I want to know everything
that I need to know about my situation, as he sees it. But then
I add to that a further fact. God is in control; God is all-powerful;
and nothing is too difficult for God.
We went to church that night. A powerful message on hope, followed
by ministry to those who wanted a closer relationship to God but
had some long-standing things in their lives that blocked that relationship
and that they wanted to be freed from. Our pastor several times
laid his hands on me and spoke words of prayer and encouragement.
We met with our pastor. He told me that he did not have any sense
that it was my time to go to be with God. Rather, he sensed strongly
that God has more work for me to do here on earth. He believes that
God will keep me here so that I can do what he is calling on me
to do. I have sensed the same thing, as have a number of others.
When my pastor says such things he is hearing from the Lord. I
know, from past experiences with others, that he does not say such
things unless he has had a clear word from the Lord. He will never
speak out of wishful thinking, or a desire to say what the other
person wants to hear.
I said to him that I am often not sure whether something I am
getting is from the Lord. I am not always sure whether I am hearing
from my commander-in-chief (God). But I was hearing very clearly
from my colonel (my pastor) and that should be good enough for me!
That evening we read from Ephesians. There is much in this wonderful
letter. I shall mention only a few highlights.
Paul says that God "works out everything in conformity with
the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). I believe, and my
pastor (who is in spiritual authority over me) tells me, that God's
purpose for me is to have me continue to write and do other things
he is calling me to do. If that is so, then God will work out everything
in conformity with his purpose. No plan of his can be thwarted.
His purposes will be carried out.
My pastor tells me that God has quite a bit more work for me to
do. If that is God's purpose, he will carry it out. No cancer cells
can thwart it, no scheme of the enemy can thwart it, so long as
my faith does not waver. I can defeat God's purpose for me by my
unbelief or disobedience, but no one else and nothing else can defeat
On reading this over, I need to add a further comment. What I
have written is a record of where we were in our conversation that
evening. But while faith is important to healing, my healing does
not depend totally on my faith. Jesus healed the centurion's servant
(Matthew 8:5-13). The account says that the centurion had great
faith; it says nothing about the servant's faith. Jesus healed a
paralytic, who was lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12). The account
speaks of the faith of those who attended the paralytic; it says
nothing about the paralytic's faith. When Jesus healed the epileptic
boy, his father recognized his own incomplete faith. He said, "I
do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). When
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John chapter 11), it would be
hard to say that Lazarus had faith to be raised, and it seems clear
that neither Lazarus' sisters nor anyone else, other than Jesus,
expected any such thing to happen. We have a friend who was a quadriplegic
and was sovereignly healed; two years later she accepted Jesus as
her Lord and Savior. God is sovereign, and his ability to move in
a situation is not limited by what we do or do not do.
Abraham was a spiritual giant. God does not expect all of us to
have the level of faith that Abraham had. And even Abraham did not
have perfect faith, for he tried to bring about God's promise by
his own human resources instead of letting God do it, thereby producing
Ishmael, with unfortunate consequences that have lasted ever since.
So, on the one hand, it is important for me to recognize the importance
of faith, and to do what I can to maintain and increase my faith.
This includes frequent reading of Scripture, reminding myself of
relevant Scripture passages, praying, and much else. On the other
hand, I refuse to allow myself to become anxious that I might, by
some lapse of faith, deprive myself of the healing I am expecting.
Discouragement has come and will come sometimes. The question is,
not whether I get discouraged, but whether I stay discouraged. "Go
in the strength you have" was what the angel told Gideon (Judges
6:14). I will go in the faith I have. I will not worry about whether
my faith is sufficient. Jesus said that "faith as small as
a mustard seed" was enough to move mountains (Matthew 17:20).
My faith does not have to be perfect.
Now let's return to Ephesians. Paul prays that God "may give
you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him
better" (Ephesians 1:17). I believe that, in these past few
days, God has been showing me and my family many things about his
nature and his purpose for us. Then Paul prays "that the eyes
of your heart may be enlightened" (v. 18). God has been enlightening
my mind for many years. But getting that knowledge from my mind
to my heart has not always been easy. My mind is convinced, but
in my inmost nature there are sometimes still doubts. So I am asking
God to enlighten the eyes of my heart, to enable me to believe with
all of me and not just my mind. I believe God has been doing this
in the past few days.
Then Paul prays that we may know "[God's] incomparably great
power for us who believe" (v. 19). It is only in God's power
that I can defeat this thing that has assaulted my body. God's power
is at work in me and is incomparably great. It is greater than cancer
cells. It is greater than medical statistics. It is greater than
anything. Nothing can prevail against it.
In Ephesians chapter 2 Paul emphasizes that it was "because
of his great love for us" that God saved us from our transgressions
(v. 4). Above all else, I need to know that love. "Hope does
not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our
hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:5).
Our hope, our confident expectation, rests on the fact of God's
immeasurable love for us. My hope rests on my knowing that God loves
Then Paul talks about "the incomparable riches of his grace"
(v. 7). It is by God's grace - his unmerited favor - that we are
saved; "it is the gift of God" (v. 9). I believe it is
also by grace - by God's unmerited favor - that we are healed. We
do not deserve healing. We have not earned it. "Who has ever
given to God that God should repay him?" (Romans 11:35; see
Job 41:11). But it is by God's grace, God's love that comes to us
who are unworthy of it, that he gives us any of his great gifts.
In his great prayer in chapter 3, Paul prays "that out of
his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his
Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts
through faith" (Ephesians 3:16-17). I need that power, and
I need it in my "inner being". I need to believe in my
"inner being" and not just with my mind. Then Paul prays
that we may be "rooted and established in love" (v. 17)
and that we may be able to "grasp how wide and long and high
and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses
knowledge - that you may be filled with the measure of the fullness
of God" (v. 18).
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more that all
we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within
us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout
all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (vv. 20-21).
Then we turned to chapter 6. "Finally, be strong in the Lord
and in his mighty power" (v. 10). There is that power of God
again, for the third time in this fairly brief letter! This statement
is made in the context of spiritual warfare, but I believe it applies
to our whole life as Christians. In everything we say or do we need
to be strong in God's mighty power. It is only in his power that
we can accomplish anything of value. We can do everything through
him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Jesus told us, "Apart
from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). It is in God that
we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
But I believe also that I am dealing with spiritual warfare. I
believe, as I have said, that cancer is demonic. I believe that
the devil is using this illness to try, unsuccessfully, to defeat
God's purpose for my life. I do not claim that I am making a great,
or significant, contribution to God's kingdom by what I write and
do. But the enemy goes after the privates and corporals as well
as the generals, and I believe this illness is an attack from the
So I need to put on the "full armor of God" (Ephesians
6:13), all of God's weapons, his panoplia
(from pan, all, and hoplon
weapons). One of these is the belt of truth, and I am seeking to
know and speak the truth about my condition. I need the shield of
faith; I have already spoken about that quite a bit. Without the
helmet of salvation I would have no defense. I am trying, in this
paper and in my thoughts and conversation, to wield the "sword
of the Spirit, which is the word of God." And I need the last
part of my armor, which is to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions"
and "always keep on praying for the saints" (v. 18). I
must never get so preoccupied with my own condition that I cease
to pray for others. Jesus, in agony on the cross, prayed, "Father,
forgive them for they do not know what they do" and he ministered
beautifully to one of the two thieves.
From this time onward, my sense of the sequence in which we read
and did things becomes less clear. I shall simply refer to some
other things that I feel were important, without trying to put them
in chronological order.
We looked at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. We are not just fighting this
disease with man's weapons. The weapons of our warfare have "divine
power". Cancer has established a "stronghold" in
my body, but, with God's weapons, we can tear down that stronghold.
It is trying to set itself up against the knowledge of God, but
we have weapons that can tear it down. And I need to take every
thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. The enemy will come
at us many times saying "Hath God said?", and we need
to reject that thought as soon as it comes. He will attack us with
all sorts of doubts and questions, and we must say, "Get out
of here. I'm not going to listen to you."
We met with our cancer doctor. He wants to have a biopsy and do
another CT scan to be absolutely sure, but he is talking of some
form of chemotherapy. At best, he says, that can prolong my life
somewhat. He does not offer any medical possibility of a cure. Then
I said to him, "You are going by statistics, which you should.
But what was the statistical chance that Abraham, at age 100, and
Sarah, at age 90 and barren all her life, would have a child? Yet
they did." His face lit up, and I think I saw some hope in
it. Then he said that there were some patients who did far better
than their doctors expected and the doctors could not explain it.
Because his medical prognosis is not encouraging, I considered
whether I should go somewhere else, seek additional medical advice
or treatment from one of the major clinics, go to Mexico and get
laetrile treatments, etc. I concluded, and my family, my pastor
and everyone else I have spoken to agrees, that this would be foolish.
I have a very experienced and skillful doctor and I doubt that anyone
else could add significantly to what he knows and is able to do.
More important, we are fighting this thing on a spiritual level.
I need to stay with my spiritual base of operations. I need to stay
in my home, with my family, with all the friends who are praying
for me, with my pastor, and with the prayer support I get from my
I have also decided not to go here or there seeking healing from
any of a number of pastors who are famous for their healing ministries.
I respect many of those ministries. But if God intends to heal me
he can do so here in Richmond, VA, in my own church. What matters
is God's healing power. It does not depend on the special anointing
of some particular individual.
One evening we listened to another tape. It dealt with the first
recorded healing of a leper (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-14).
A leper came and knelt before Jesus. Luke says he was "covered
with leprosy." He was in the advanced stages of the disease.
His face and body were covered with ulcerating sores; his hands
were probably like claws; he may even have lost parts of his face
or body. He was grotesque and repulsive looking. He said "Lord,
if you are willing you can make me clean." Jesus, "filled
with compassion" (Mark 1:41), reached out his hand, touched
the leper, and said, "I am willing. Be clean."
This incident raises squarely the issue of God's willingness to
heal. Most Christians believe God is able to heal. But is he willing
to heal? Will he heal in my case? This is the area in which many
Christians today feel some doubt. In Jewish thinking at the time,
leprosy was an "incurable" disease. The rabbis taught
that the leper was unclean both physically and spiritually. They
taught that leprosy was brought on by God as a punishment for spiritual
uncleanness. But Jesus, moved by compassion, said he was willing
to cleanse the leper.
Compassion is not just feeling sorry for someone. It is a deep
feeling in your guts. It includes an element of anger. It demands
action. When God created man he saw that it was good. When Jesus
saw this grotesque figure he said, "It is not good. It needs
to be changed." And his "I am willing" is not just
"OK, I guess I'll do it." It is "I eagerly desire
to do it."
I am quite aware that not everyone who is prayed for receives
a healing. God is sovereign, he will do what he deems right, and
he does not owe us any explanations. But I believe his compassion
for us is such that he normally desires to heal us. I believe we
should pray on the assumption that his desire is to heal us, unless
we get some indication from him to the contrary. In my case, I have
a word from my pastor that it is not my time to die, and that God
desires to heal me. So I shall pray, believing that God will heal
me, and I shall ask others to pray in the same belief.
Another thing struck me. Christ is in me. I am part the body of
Christ. So when the cancer cells attack my body, they are attacking
Christ's body. If God has plans for me to do more work, the cancer
cells are trying to frustrate God's plans. I can be angry at these
things that are seeking to frustrate God's plans. I can take authority
over them and tell them to get out. I have authority over all the
power of the enemy. I need to exercise that authority. I did exercise
it that evening, and will continue to do so. Jesus told his disciples
that they "should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).
We spent another evening reading Paul's letter to the Colossians.
We found in it quite a bit that is relevant to my situation.
Paul prays that God will "fill you with the knowledge of
his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians
1:9). I need that knowledge of his will. My pastor tells me that
God's will is for me to remain alive and do more work. That is my
sense of God's will. But I need to increase in my knowledge of God's
will, so that I can either confirm and clarify, or correct, my present
Then he prays that we may be "strengthened with all power,
according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance
and patience" and may joyfully give thanks to God (v. 11).
As I go into chemotherapy I shall need that strength, and that endurance
and patience. I ask God to prepare me by giving it to me now, as
well as later.
God has qualified us to "share in the inheritance of the
saints in the kingdom of light" (v. 12). This is not just something
that happens when we die and our spirit goes to be in heaven. We
are in God's kingdom of light right now. "He has rescued us
from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of
the Son he loves" (v. 13). "God is light; in him there
is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Jesus came to bring light
into the world (John 3:19). And he has transferred us out of darkness
into light. We need to live and walk in that light. I can live in
that light, whatever my physical condition.
Then we come to Paul's marvelous statement of the greatness of
Jesus (Colossians 1:15-20). I need to keep reminding myself how
great God is and how great Jesus is. It is their power, and their
strength, that will see me through this.
Paul then declares that Jesus has reconciled us to God "if
you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from
the hope held out in the gospel" (v. 23). I need to continue
in my faith, established and firm. I need to keep being strengthened
in my faith (Romans 4:19-20). I need to keep taking captive to the
obedience of Christ any thoughts that might cause me to weaken or
to waver in my faith.
"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue
to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the
faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See
to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive
philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles
of this world, rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:6-8). I
need always to keep my faith centered on Jesus, and not on the "basic
principles of this world." My hope and my faith, my confident
expectations, are based on the power of Jesus Christ, and not on
the medical statistics and prognosis. I need to continue to live
in Jesus, rooted and built up in him.
I believe, as I have said, that this cancer is from the devil.
I also believe that Jesus has given me authority over all the power
of the enemy. So it is good to be reminded that "in everything"
Jesus has the supremacy (Colossians 1:18), and that Jesus has "disarmed
the [evil] powers and authorities" and made a public spectacle
of them (Colossians 2:15).
I shall come to a stop here for now. This is a continuing process
and I am sure that we will receive more help and guidance from Scripture.
There is much more in Scripture that we could look to for help.
But I think I have written enough to illustrate how the process
of getting help from Scripture can work. God's word has tremendous
resources that are applicable to, and can give us guidance and strength
in, any situation in which we may find ourselves. With God there
is always hope.