READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER
Let’s take a moment to review where we’ve been in this journey into God’s Word as we deal with the reality of cancer. First, I shared my story with you. Then you wrote down your own story about where you are physically, emotionally and spiritually in your journey. The third chapter of our study delved into the importance of taking God’s Word to heart, that is, receiving it by faith as the lens through which we view our world. In Chapter 4 we evaluated our thinking about our circumstances. We saw how God has provided for us to be able to live in victory and joy as we fix our thoughts and our minds on Him.
In this chapter we are going to consider the doubts, fears and other emotions that bombard us in this battle with cancer. The big one and the one that hits you first is that the diagnosis of cancer forces you to consider your own mortality. It is amazing to me how most of us act as if we are never going to die. Even those of us who know the Lord and should have the proper perspective on the brevity of natural life often live as if this life of ours on earth will go on forever.
At the time I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, I was feeling very “fit” both physically and spiritually. Physically, I was in the best shape I had been in for several years. I was going to the gym four or five times a week running and lifting weights and really feeling great. Spiritually, I had been experiencing a close relationship with the Lord as I sought where He wanted me to join Him in His work for the next phase of my life. And then, boom! There it was – the diagnosis that brought me face to face with the reality that I was not guaranteed another year or another month or even another day here on this earth.
While it may sound strange to you now, I actually count it a blessing that the diagnosis of cancer caused me to remember how fragile life is. It was scary to consider what I might have to go through and what my family might have to endure. And yet, by God’s grace, I began to discover the wisdom in acknowledging that life is short, and that each day is a gift from God to be used for His glory and for the good of others.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
What does this verse mean to you?
You see, a wise heart realizes that this life we are living here and now is limited. The next question for me was: Since life here is so short, why do all of us somehow long for life that is eternal, that goes on forever?
I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:10-11
Where does that longing for eternity come from?
Since God placed eternity in our hearts, He surely meant for us to have it. Surely our loving God wouldn’t give us a desire that cannot be satisfied. Of course not! He has already provided for us to have eternal, abundant life in Him. As we saw in the last chapter, the eternal life that God created us to enjoy has been marred by sin. So from the beginning God’s design is to give us the forever life we long for through the life of the Lord Jesus.
Choose to Focus Not Fear
Because we long for life to endure, we have a basic instinct to preserve our own life as well as the lives of others. For our protection, our loving God gave us a fear instinct that kicks in when our lives are threatened.
He gave animals that same fear instinct to enable them to fight or flee when they feel threatened. Our dog Lucky is a 20 pound miniature schnauzer who has gotten so spoiled in our household that he rarely feels afraid of even the things he should be afraid of. Yet as soon as anyone turns on the vacuum cleaner, Lucky runs for cover. He must think that loud machine is some sort of evil monster that is going to suck him up along with the dust bunnies! Lucky does not have the ability to evaluate the vacuum cleaner situation and to choose not to be afraid of it. He is merely acting in response to his God-given instinct.
But we humans do not have to act on instinct alone. You see, we are created in the image of God. Among the other things that fact might imply, it means we have the ability to choose how we will react to our circumstances. Jesus knows that the instinctive human reaction to a life-threatening diagnosis like cancer is fear. Yet He tells us we don’t have to let fear rule us.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”John 14:1
What are Jesus’ instructions to His disciples?
Jesus knows that you are prone to be troubled and afraid in the face of cancer. But He makes it clear that you can make a choice not to let your heart go there. We don’t have to react by instinct like animals do. We can decide that we will not let our hearts be troubled. In other words, I can say “God has given me the ability to control my thoughts and feelings, and I will not allow my heart to be afraid. Instead I choose to trust in the Lord.”
When the circumstances of our lives seem ominous, it is easy and very natural to feel frightened. In the Bible we find that even the people who walked intimately with the Lord tended to be afraid when things got rough. At least 65 times Scripture records the Lord reminding someone, “Do not be afraid.”
You see, in our heads we may know that God is powerful, and nothing is impossible with Him. Yet our tendency is to be overwhelmed by the situation in front of our faces instead of focusing on the power of the Holy Spirit that God has placed in our hearts.
We will talk more about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives in the next chapter, but for now look at Acts 2:38 to see what it reveals about the Holy Spirit.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
What does this verse tell you about the Holy Spirit?
So the Lord has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to everyone who repents and turns to Jesus to be saved. The Spirit of God is the One who enables us to walk by faith and not be afraid. And the Holy Spirit is our source of strength and peace.
Faith Made Real
But the hard truth is that life here on this earth is not easy. In fact it is often very difficult. We live in a broken, fallen world where sin has destroyed the life God designed for us. We know that God’s perfect rule and Kingdom will be consummated when Jesus returns in power and glory. But in the meantime, we face struggles and challenges. Our faith in the Lord is tested. How can we hold onto faith in Him when the realities of our circumstances threaten to sweep us away?
Hebrews 11 has been called “The Hall of Faith.” When you have time, turn to Appendix I and read this entire chapter, asking God to show you what real faith is.
Write your definition of faith:
In the previous chapter of this book, we studied how Job in the Old Testament and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament faced the possibility of death with the confidence that God would deliver them. And here in Hebrews 11 we read a summary of the faith of those who walked by faith in ancient times. We can’t help but wonder: How did they do it? How can I hope to have such faith? They seem like super heroes of faith, and I feel so ordinary.
Here is an amazing fact. These people of faith were not super heroes. They were everyday, ordinary people who trusted God day by day by day. And even in that statement is a reminder of a truth that will help us build our faith and trust in God. That truth is simply this: Faith is a day by day walk.
Lessons of Real Faith
So Lesson Number One of real faith is this: One day at a time. We cannot worry about things coming up on the horizon of our lives. We cannot be anxious about what will happen next month, next week, at the next doctor’s appointment, at the next scam. We cannot even worry about what is coming up tomorrow. Sure, we make plans and schedules. We make the medical appointments. We plan for who will fill in for us at work while we are taking a treatment and who will take care of our children when we are not feeling well, etc. But after we do what we can on a practical level to be prepared for upcoming events, we cannot afford to spend an ounce of energy worrying and fretting. Instead we deal with the circumstances of today only, and we choose to trust God moment by moment. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 instruct us to live in the present. Read this verse, and write out how you think Jesus would have you obey what He is saying here. Be specific about what you struggle with and the ways you can apply this verse in your life right now. For example, I would write here that when I wake up during the night and begin to worry, I will choose to do something to take my mind in another direction even if it means getting up out of bed to read or, dare I say, to do housework!
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34
What specific ways would Jesus want you to refrain from worry in your current situation?
Lesson Number Two of real faith is one we’ve already talked about when we read Psalm 9:10 in Chapter 3. Let’s go back and read that verse again.
Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10
What does this verse tell us about how we can live out real faith in real life?
You see, real faith doesn’t happen by flexing your faith muscles, gritting your teeth and repeating over and over to yourself that you will have more faith. Instead, Lesson Number Two of real faith is this: Know the Lord. Real faith flows out of a growing relationship with the Lord. The verse says “those who know Your name will trust in You.” To know Him is to trust Him. So how do you know the Lord? That question can be answered with another question: How do you get to know anyone?
Write some things you do when you want to get to know someone in a friendship:
Most likely your answers focused on spending time with the person you are getting to know. You find out all you can about the person. You discover what they like and what they find annoying. You do things together. You find reasons to be together. You share your deepest feelings and thoughts with each other. If you have problems, you talk about them. With a person you know at a deep level, you aren’t afraid to discuss your innermost feelings and needs.
So make up your mind now to spend time getting to know the Lord. Find out all you can about Him in the place where He has revealed Himself: the Bible. Talk to Him anytime and all the time, anywhere and everywhere. You can talk to Him when you are alone, when you go to bed at night, while you are driving your car, when you wake up in the morning, and even when you are in a busy place with people all around. Tell Him that you love Him, and bask in His love for you. Tell Him what is bothering you and what your concerns are. Tell Him when you feel afraid or lonely. He wants to be your constant companion.
In the Midst of Trouble
Throughout the 30th chapter of Isaiah the prophet describes a tumultuous time that is coming upon the land of Israel. Yet in the midst of his description of the coming trouble, we find an amazing passage.
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him! O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:18-21
What is the desire of the Lord’s heart?
Though this passage is a prophecy about Israel at a specific time in history, I believe within it is a timeless principle that applies to God’s heart for His people in all places and times. That principle is this: Especially in the midst of trials and hardship, the Lord longs to show you grace and compassion. He is very near during adversity, and as soon as you cry out to Him, He will answer. Look at the last part of verse 18 again.
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him! Isaiah 30:18
These blessings are promised to those who do what?
To wait on Him implies spending time with Him, not demanding that He do things as you dictate, but allowing Him to graciously pour out His love and grace into your life. Press into Him with a desire to know Him more and more. The reward will be amazing. You will find yourself thinking and living in the reality of who He is, of His love for you, and of the peace that only He can give.
Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for Your love and power.
Thank You for Your heart that longs to be gracious to me in the midst of the adversity
of cancer. I believe that when I cry out to You, You hear me, and You rise to show me compassion.
Lord, I want to know You more so that I will grow in my faith and trust in You. Help me to walk with You day by day without being anxious about tomorrow. Help me not to be afraid but to keep the eyes of my heart on You.
I thank You and praise You because You are sufficient for every need I have. You are the sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe and yet You care for me, even for me. Thank You, Lord.