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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

The Holy Spirit: Triumph or Tragedy?

There is a member of the Holy Trinity that is most neglected, misunderstood, and misrepresented, yet, He is an integral and equal part of the Godhead. Many of His works go unnoticed, while many foolish and outlandish practices are credited to Him. The feeble attempts to “reveal” Him by well-meaning believers, or preying “prophets”, do nothing to thwart the powerful truth that He is God – the Holy Spirit.

You must know Him intimately, you must understand Him accurately, and you must have Him assuredly. The world’s response to Him, and how believer’s know and treat Christ and the Father’s equal, can mean triumph or tragedy.

So how do you sift through the YouTube madness, the gold-plated TBN version of the so-called Holy Spirit, and come to truly know Him and His role in your life? Study the Scriptures for yourself and refuse to be spoon-fed by cheap imitation and misinterpretation. God has given you the ability to go to His word concerning everything.

Here’s some biblical starting lines to put you in the race of truth for the Holy Spirit:

1. The Holy Spirit is a Person

He’s not an “it”, a mystical blue mist, a white-sheet covered ghost, or like “the force” from Star Wars. Read John 16:5-15 and circle the masculine pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit. If you’ve counted 13, you’ve now done your own study on the fact that He is a person!

2. The Holy Spirit Gives Believers the Advantage

unnamedJesus Himself said to His disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). That alone should perk your ears up. Isn’t Christ the ultimate? Why would He say there was an advantage to Him leaving His disciples to go back to the Father? Many say this is because we now will have power to do signs, wonders, and live in total victory over our health, finances, and relationships…Really? That’s the best we can do with this verse? Three truths prove the Holy Spirit’s advantages will point us to Christ more than ever, and have nothing to do with exalting ourselves:

a. The Advantage of Regeneration

Regeneration happens when a sinner turns into a saint in the eyes of God! They receive a new nature that begins to take over their life. The desire to sin turns, their heart turns to God, real change occurs and it lasts! (2 Corinthians 5:17). You can fake being saved by saying all the right things, but a truly regenerated person will prove to be truly saved by bearing fruit. When the Holy Spirit hits the lights, you’ll know it because darkness dies, sin begins to decay, and the new you begins to live (Titus 3:5).

b. The Advantage of Sanctification

Sanctification is the transformation process that begins and continues after a person is regenerated (saved). Have you ever heard someone say, “God accepts you just the way you are, but loves you too much to leave you the same?” That just means that a follower of Christ is always growing – even if times are tough (James 1:2). The Holy Spirit causes your moral and spiritual character to do a 180, and your life’s trajectory is a slow, upward growth pattern. This isn’t perfectionism, it’s continual progression. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and ask yourself, “Have a changed from a care-free habitual sinner, to a saint who cares deeply about dealing with sin?” If you’re answer is yes, you’ve been enjoying the Holy Spirit’s residence in your life.

c. The Advantage of Illumination

Illumination is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the believer to the truth of Scripture. Some falsely assume that this process is like a Holy-Spirit jump drive that He automatically downloaded into your brain because you’re a Christian. No, but He’s right there with you when you put on your Bible work-boots and work diligently to study the Scriptures. Like a loving parent, He rewards His children who exercise discipline in study and keeps the desire for truth burning brightly inside of their hearts. If you’re not experiencing a deep love for the Scriptures, pray a prayer like Paul for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:17-18.

3. The Holy Spirit Gives Sinners the Truth

The triumphant and tragic results stemming from the Holy Spirit’s ministry mainly relate to Jesus’ explanation of the primaries concerning the Holy Spirit’s role (of course, not limited to only these things), in John 16:8-11. Christ said, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement” (16:8). We could easily boil this down to three statements that are either accepted or rejected:

a. You’re a Sinner!

“…because they do not believe in Me” – John 16:9

He convicts the world concerning sin because it’s a sin not to believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:18). Unbelief rejected Christ, unbelief crucified Christ, therefore unbelief is sin against Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners of their guilt saying, “You crucified Him!” The realization of our sin leads to triumph through repentance, yet the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is tragedy for those who refuse to admit their sin. This is the basic foundation of the Gospel. Do you admit your sin accepting “guilty” as the verdict on your life without Christ?

b. Christ is Righteous! 

“…because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me” – John 16:10

He convicts the world concerning righteousness saying, “This man you condemned and crucified as a villain will be welcomed to the right hand of the Father!” How can anyone enter the presence of a holy God unless they are perfect and holy? The Holy Spirit’s arrival declares triumphantly that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because He was, and is, righteous. Tragic for those who refuse to confess sin, and to accept His righteousness by faith (1 John 1:9).

c. Satan is Condemned!

“…because the ruler of this world has been judged” – John 16:11

The Holy Spirit’s arrival confirms that Satan is the one who stands judged and condemned, and He pleads with sinful men declaring, “The accuser of the brethren has been found guilty!” This is triumph for believers who are victorious over death, and tragedy for those who choose the fleeting pleasures and ways of this world (Revelation 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

4. The Holy Spirit Gives Christ the Glory

Perhaps the most important fact concerning the Holy Spirit is that His primary role is tounnamed (1) glorify Christ. His work points to Christ, His conviction is on behalf of Christ, and He is most evident when believers exalt Christ! Jesus said, “He shall glorify Me…” (John 16:14a). Christ didn’t say He would elevate men, be a slave to the believer’s beckon call, or be an entertaining sensationalist. That which does not glorify Christ is not the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is important to note that even though the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available only to believers, they are bi-products of His primary work of applying the saving work of Christ to our hearts. One would never assess their salvation by whether or not they have a spiritual gift, but rather, whether or not they are regenerate, being sanctified, and illuminated to Scripture. Therefore, gifts need to be held in their proper place of importance as a wonderful outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives for the common good, and the edification of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). Christ’s description of the Holy Spirit holds salvation, and His (Christ’s) glory above all else.

Ask yourself these 7 questions and spend some time praying and analyzing your current habits, lifestyle, and core beliefs.

  1. Am I experiencing the biblical advantages that come from being indwell by the Holy Spirit? Am I evidently saved, changing/growing (old sins dying slowly but surely), and does Scripture make more sense the more I read it?
  2. Do I joyfully affirm that I am a sinner, made righteous by Christ, and do I believe the patterns of this world to be fleeting, flawed, and false?
  3. If married, do I and my spouse affirm that there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work through improving patterns of love, conflict resolution, fidelity, and mutual submission?
  4. Do I enjoy being held accountable and understand my need to consistently confess sin?
  5. Do I find myself responding to biblical preaching with a hunger for truth like those who responded to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:37-42 saying, “What must I do?”
  6. Is my view of the Holy Spirit based on teachings that I have never weighed against Scripture?
  7. Am I more interested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit than Christ? Do I have a relationship with God based only on what I can get from Him?

May you experience the great triumph of mourning sin, receiving Christ’s righteousness by faith, and trading satanic sorrow for eternal victory through the power of the Holy Spirit!