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Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada

Embracing God’s Timing as a Pastor-in-Waiting

At times in the early years of training and ministry, you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of waiting. You may be waiting on a ministry opportunity, waiting to complete seminary, or waiting on what you think you’re ready for – but haven’t seen God open the door yet. No matter the tension we feel when waiting on God’s timing in ministry, He has a specific purpose in mind.

We often have the highest view of our own “readiness” for certain aspects of ministry but it is God who has the highest (and most reliable) view of such a thing. He sovereignly places you in seasons of waiting, and releases you from waiting in His own timing. Anybody who has tried to jump the gun on God’s timing for ministry has undoubtedly learned Who knows best. Men of God who are called to lead God’s flock as pastors will be pressed – actually, squeezed – dry of themselves in several ways before being made ready. Seasons of waiting prove to be useful conduits for such a “divine press,” leading to healthy tension for the man as he is emptied of himself.

Waiting is training. Here are three things that waiting does for God’s glory, and our good:

  1. Waiting Teaches Submission

Perhaps there is no greater example of someone who had to wait for what they seemed to be ready for than King David. Gene Edwards, in his book A Tale of Three Kings, writes concerning David’s difficult season sitting under the “mad king,” Saul:

God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few infeed. God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority…and don’t – people who claim to be broken…and aren’t. and people who do have God’s authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And he has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these he has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all. In God’s sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all the students in this school must suffer much pain.

It is likely most of us are under no “mad king.” How much more can we then happily submit to the process of God’s training through waiting? Submission is quite possibly the ultimate test for a man’s heart because it determines at what level he can be trusted with authority. He that cannot submit to authority will be dangerous with authority. Saul, albeit anointed by God, was used by God to exemplify the kind of leader we can become if we do not learn to submit.

  1. Waiting Teaches Humility

Entitlement is to a pastor what too much candy is to a child who is eager for it – it rots teeth. Or in the pastor’s case, his heart. We’ve all heard the old cliché that good things come to those who wait, but I would argue that waiting should not so much focus on the good things to come, but the process by which those good things come. Let me explain: Waiting allows for training in our craft and cultivates humility for a pastor-in-waiting. It increases discipline. Like a soldier waiting for deployment, a pastor-in-waiting doesn’t sit around day dreaming about the future or talking about what he should/could be if he were given the chance to preach. He embraces his station in the season of waiting and engages in practices that will produce success for his entire calling – and he does this humbly and patiently. He evangelizes the lost. He counsels the hurting. He balances budgets. He sits at the feet of elders. He studies critical doctrines. He learns his blind spots. He deals with marital issues. He confronts sin. He completes his assignments. If you’re a pastor-in-waiting who takes advantage of such seasons, you will be humbly confident when God moves you forward. Humble in that you did not make anything happen – God did. Confident in that God has put you where you are.

  1. Waiting Teaches Suffering

A pastor who has not learned to submit to God’s work through waiting is bound to learn these lessons one way or another. Waiting thickens the skin of man who is destined to suffer in service to Christ. David experienced this as you’ve seen already, and New Testament leaders were not off the hook either. In his letters to Timothy, what does Paul highlight multiple times? That Timothy discipline himself and get ready for suffering and tough times. He said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). That Timothy was to “be sober in all things” and “endure hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5). And that Timothy should “discipline [himself] for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). A pastor will go through seasons of doubt, despair, attack from both insiders and outsiders, and spiritual assaults from the enemy. He stands firm in suffering because his patience and trust in God were tested and developed in seasons of waiting.

Everybody’s seasons of “waiting” may look different, but the lesson God teaches us is the same: He’s calling the shots, and we can trust Him to work things out for His glory, and our good (Rom. 8:28).

Is it Always God’s Will to Heal Now?

Jesus is getting a lot of really confusing press when it comes to physical healing these days. This post will answer one of the biggest questions that arises from all of the confusion.

As of right now, miraculous healing is one of the most popular subjects inside and outside the church. Preachers are preaching it, televangelists are guaranteeing, desperate people need it – it’s a healing-hungry world out there.

Recently, I was on a camping trip with my family and thought I was free and clear of any healing ministry enthusiasts. That first night a man walked up to my campsite out of the blue, introduced himself, and proceeded to spend 2 hours telling me about his divine healing ministry. The crescendo of our campfire pow-wow? No, he didn’t heal my wife’s asthma (or even offer). But he did give me two copies of his most recent book on using the power of positive words to speak healing into every sick person I know. After I declined his offer of 400 copies for our church, I shared truth, and he didn’t return again. houston-1You probably experience the same kind of chaotic intrusion from time to time as well. Peruse through your local TV stations or mainstream Christian bookstore and it won’t be long before you’re promised divine healing and a miracle of some sort. On the flip side to all of that, there’s a whole slew of authors and teachers who will tell you that God does nothing supernatural, so not to get your hopes up.

All of the opinions can be downright confusing for people who just need a clear answer to one begging question:

Is it always God’s will to heal everyone during their life on earth?

To find this answer we don’t need a faith healer’s FAQ webpage, or a blanket guarantee from someone who has “seen and experienced some things” in a healing room or a jungle overseas. We need nothing more than to incline our ears and fill our minds with answers from the word of God.

Here are six clear truths that explain God’s will in regards to healing:

I. GOD DOESN’T HEAL EVERYONE ALL THE TIME

This is the most important point to start off any discussion on God’s will and miraculous healing. God doesn’t heal everyone all the time and the Bible gives irrefutable evidence to support this. Miracles of healing were primarily done through God the Son – Jesus Christ, and His Apostles. Jesus healed just one man out of a multitude of sick people at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:3-8). Jesus didn’t heal people in His hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:58). After a healing-spree in the district of Galilee, Jesus plainly decided to go somewhere else to preach even though desperately sick and hurting people were looking for Him (Mark 1:38). His reasoning was simple: “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Christ didn’t come to earth to hold a healing crusade, He came to bring salvation! As for the most prolific Apostle and writer of 13 New Testament books? Paul wielded miraculous gifts yet told Timothy to take wine for his stomach issues. Why didn’t the Apostle wield his gift of healing? (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul also left one of his faithful ministry teammates, Trophimus, sick at Miletus. Why didn’t he heal him and bring him along? (2 Timothy 4:20). Clearly, God heals as He wills and even sovereignly controlled the specially gifted Apostles. God’s will in healing is not a formula that man can master.

II. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED SOLELY ON FAITH

Can you “believe” your way into getting healed? This view on faith healing was first popularized in the early 20th century by faith healing evangelists. They made a lot of money off people by making them repeat customers to their healing crusades. If someone didn’t get healed, the faith healer blamed the sick person and told them to come back with more faith – and usually an offering (we’ll deal with that one next). Fortunately, the Bible clears the air on this abusive teaching. When Jesus healed the cripple at Bethesda, the man didn’t have a clue who Jesus was, let alone have enough faith (John 5:13). In Luke 5:17-26 Jesus did heal based on faith – He healed a man’s soul through salvation. When the Pharisees questioned His authority to forgive the lame man’s sins, He healed the man to prove it. Other times Jesus was in fact moved by people’s faith, but this doesn’t mean that His healing touch was bound to whether or not they had enough faith. When the woman with issue of blood crawled through the crowd just to touch the hem of Christ’s robe, He felt power leave Him (Luke 8:46). In this case, as in others throughout the gospels, Jesus is moved by her faith and heals her, but He tells her of the true healing that has taken place when He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). Jesus calls her “daughter” because He has offered the greatest healing of all; she is now part of the family of God. So can the healing power of Christ be coerced by faith as a force? Not even close. Jesus is the Great Physician who places a priority on healing the wayward sinner’s soul, more than He does the physical body.

III. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON GIVING MONEY

Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy it (Acts 8:9-25), fortune-tellers and witch doctors will sell it, and faith healers will tell you to sow your biggest seed to get it. As it has been throughout history, people are convinced that healing, like houses, is FOR SALE. When a beggar asked for a blessing in his cup, the Apostle Peter offered him something better – and gave it to him for free! (Acts 3:6). This truth is pure biblical logic. If God can’t be convinced to heal by a guaranteed formula, and Jesus can’t be forced to heal by the right amount of faith, then it’s unthinkable that the Alpha and Omega can be “bought” into healing with a bribe. No Apostle, no New Testament writer, and not even Jesus Himself, ever told someone to give a financial seed of faith for a healing, a breakthrough, or protection from sickness. It is not God’s will that you give money to be healed.

IV. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON POSITIVE CONFESSIONS

Positive confession teaching asserts that if you have enough faith, and speak your healing by that faith, then you will be healed. Based on this view of healing, your sickness is caused by your negative confession and wrong thinking and you can control God’s will in healing. Growing up I experienced this belief system first hand and was often scolded if I woke up with a runny nose and said, “I’m sick.” A parent would quickly remark, “Don’t confess that! You are well! You are the head and not the tail! You are healed in Jesus Name – now get ready for school.” This view on healing goes back over a century and has been the cause of much confusion in the body of Christ. This teaching has no foundation in Scripture but if certain verses are twisted and taken out of context, it can be taught. The late Charismatic apologist Walter Martin desperately tried to help his own theological camp understand this unbiblical view on healing with sermons about this erroneous teaching. Ultimately, 1 John 5:14 serves as a helpful clarification for praying “in Jesus’ name” as it says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Confessing something “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t work as a blanket promise if what you’re asking isn’t the will of God. You’ll know God’s will in regards to your healing based on what actually happens – not based on what you confess.

V. GOD SOVEREIGNLY HEALED THEN AND HE STILL SOVEREIGNLY HEALS TODAY

So does God still heal today? As an immutable (unchanging) and sovereign God – of course He does! His will cannot be thwarted and there are those who He has decreed to be healed during life on earth. But He does so according to His will and He does so for His glory. Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done”, multiple times throughout His life and ministry on Earth. At one point, He even prayed this when He was sweating blood (Luke 22:42). Under the greatest weight a man has ever carried, and in preparation to take the sin of the world on His divine shoulders, God the Son still submitted His will to the glorious plan and purpose of the Father’s will. This is a model that should resonate with every believer today. Can God heal? Yes. But sometimes He will glorify Himself through your suffering, your sickness, and even your death. This counter-intuitive way of thinking is foreign to this world. No wonder Peter called us foreigners (1 Peter 2:11), and James said to count it all joy when you encounter trials (James 1:2). Just think of how God will use your story for His glory – no matter what your temporal circumstance may be. That is the greatest honor in this life. Greater than even a healing.

VI. GOD’S WILL GUARANTEES THAT ALL WILL BE HEALED IN HEAVEN

The atonement bought and paid for everything you and I could never afford. Christ died and paid the penalty of sin, sickness, tears, fears, the wrath of God, and the eternal fire of hell. While all of this (and more) is provided for in the atonement, many of the blessings we’ll experience won’t be fully realized until heaven. For example, while we have assurance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ here on earth, we don’t live eternally until after we die (John 3:16). Similarly, this old decaying body is promised to be replaced by a glorified one (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), but we don’t receive that until heaven. Finally, Christ said He is going to prepare a place for His disciples (John 14:2-3), and that means us indirectly too. Yet, some of us would hardly call our current home a heavenly mansion! Yes, all of the benefits of the atonement were bought and paid for by Christ – but heaven is where we’ll eternally enjoy them in the fullest sense!

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One day the trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ shall rise, death will be no more, He’ll wipe away every tear, cancer won’t exist, wheel chairs will be scrap metal, downs syndrome will be an old diagnosis, blindness will be overcome by marvelous light, and the glorious blessings of the atonement will be realized once and for all eternity.

Some will experience the sovereign healing hand of God in this life. While some will suffer and not be healed until heaven. In every circumstance, let these truths from the word of God bring comfort to your soul, and to your body. Your years of suffering and uncertainty are but a vapor here on earth. Your eternity of perfect joy will never end.