Are you facing a hardship? It’s a gift. Sounds crazy, I know. But go with me for a moment.
It’s been 29 months since my last cancer treatment. But the fruit (the effects of the journey) are visible nearly every day. Somehow in the middle of that battle, God said, “Your life will never be the same.” Well, now I believe Him. And now I thank Him, though at the time, I desperately wanted Him to get His hands off of my secure, predictable world.
Cancer killed just about everything in me—except me. The most frightening part of the experience was not the physical experience. The most frightening part of the journey was the spiritual side—the things cancer exposed, and the deep plowing of heart that God was doing while He sequestered me to solitude.
Two Sundays ago at EBC we studied “chastening.” Most Christians think punishment. It’s not. God doesn’t punish His children. Punishment is payment. Chastening is change. Punishment is authority causing pain to generate self-transformation—self-generated, behavior modification. Chastening is God doing the changing—God performing the nurturing and transformation. Chastening is a deeper, growth oriented, God-driven purging that has nothing to do with punishment and everything to do with fruit. Cancer wasn’t punishment. But it was chastening—and so is your hardship. For more on this you can listen here to the message—“Try Your Ways.”
You know what the chastening aspect of cancer uncovered in me? You know what God revealed in that deep plowing of soul? Stuff I still wrestle with every day. One day, He will give me final victory. One day, Jesus will deliver me from “the body of this death”—the power of sin in me will finally exhale it’s last breath. Until then, I continue to wrestle with these things on a daily basis. But at least I know they are there and can cast myself in utter, helpless dependence upon Him. As one author put it, every day I can “cry Uncle so I can cry Abba!”
Here’s what a cancer trial exposed in me…
Pride—the subtle belief that I was important to God and His purpose (in myself.) To God I am valuable, significant, important—but that’s because of Jesus, not me. I knew that—but I didn’t, not really. I could say it. I could teach it. I would even write it. But living it, seeing it, experiencing it in vivid 3-D reality is a whole different, humbling experience. God doesn’t need me. I need Him. I bring nothing to the table. I have nothing with which to impress Him. His cause is fine without me. Cancer freed me to relish the joy of being expendable— dispensable. It was a painful but Heavenly realization.
Fear—A good bit of my life—more than I care to admit, I lived in fear. The fear manifested itself in a variety of ways, and it wasted a lot of time, energy, and emotion. My greatest fear was fear of the “unknown.” I liked having a plan and a road map. Second to this was fear of man, fear of pain, fear of losing what I loved. Cancer was God’s gift of grace that exposed these fears and set me free from them. God used cancer to say, “You’re too fearful of silly things!”
Faithlessness—The flip side of fear is faithlessness. Fear is trusting self. Faith is trusting God. I thought I was living by faith, serving by faith, giving by faith. In some measure, I was. But cancer showed me how little I was truly trusting, relying, and resting upon God as my “all in all.” Cancer exposed that I was holding more tightly to “the life God had given me” than to “the God who gave me life.” Cancer graciously jolted me to my senses and brought me back to a position of being willing to trust God, no matter the cost.
Pettiness—I tend to be petty. Pride, fear, faithlessness sort of combine to create a very small, tunnel-visioned world—a bubble! They make you inwardly focused and narrow in perspective. They keep you shallow and bothered by things that are irrelevant. They blind you to needs, causes, purposes far greater—beyond your bubble. Cancer shifted the priorities radically. Big things became bigger. Small things became smaller. Values shifted naturally to their rightful place. Cancer blessed me with a different perspective on what I thought was important and what God says is important.
Idolatry—This one was the most subtle. Sure, I was worshipping God. But I didn’t realize how even good things had crept into dangerous positions in my heart. Vital spiritual priorities had almost imperceptibly shifted into an unhealthy order. My idols were accomplishment, control, ministry success, security, personal fruit. How were these idols? They were the things I was clinging to for identity, fulfillment, validation, and success. These were things I was “doing for God.” The gift of cancer removed all of this completely (it was a miserable loss at first) and left me with an identity in Christ alone. Cancer became a dear friend that reminded me how awesome Jesus is—all by Himself! He needs no augmentation! He is all in all.
Materialism—I was grateful. I thanked God every day for things He had blessed me with. But when He wanted them back, I wasn’t too excited to loosen my grip and trust Him. Why would God take back what He blessed me with? Why would He ask that? Perhaps to reveal that I was materialistic. This one surprised me, because I never set out to accumulate things. Cancer loosened my grip—on things, on life, on everything I called “mine”—except Jesus. This too was a wonderful deliverance. Cancer freed me from the otherwise imperceptible strangle-hold that less important things held on my life.
Presumption—I was making assumptions in life that were completely false. Perhaps the biggest false assumption was “I was blessed because God was pleased.” WRONG! WAY, WAY, WAY WRONG. Blessings come not because of me, but in spite of me. I’m blessed because God is good, chose to withhold what I do deserve, and then graciously gave me what I don’t deserve.
I had other presumptions. I presumed I would live long. I presumed my way was God’s will. I presumed my future was fixed. On and on I could go. Cancer brought me permanently out of my presumptuous, delusional, “me-world” into the realm of “If the Lord will, we will do this or that…” Cancer freed me to live in restful, unshackled uncertainty.
Busyness—I believe in hard work. I believe in passion and labor. I don’t believe in destroying myself. I took my health and energy for granted and pushed myself harder than God would have expected. Why? In part because I just love doing God’s work. In part because of the things listed above—idols. But deeper than that—when I’m flustered, anxious, fearful, tied up in knots trying to gain approval, impress God, or force progress—I’m actually working against Him. Exhaustion is a product of me trying to “get God in sync with me!” Rest is “me getting in sync with God.”
There’s a place where God does the work. He moves the pieces; He produces the fruit. It’s a move of God that I can’t manufacture. I can only cooperate and participate. It flows with or without me—I can only jump in, rest in Him, and let Him do the work. Cancer freed me from the anxiety of trying to exceed God’s expectations. It freed me to rest in God and let Him produce whatever He desires with my life.
What an embarrassing list! Pride, fear, faithlessness, pettiness, idolatry, materialism, presumption, and busyness. (I’m never reading this guy’s blog again! He’s a loser!)
So what do you call chastening? God calls it His love! And He says, “Don’t despise it…”
What do you call a whale that saves you from self-destruction? What do you call a fiery-furnace that introduces you to Jesus? What do you call a cancer that calls you into a deeper, more fruitful, and more restful walk with a living Saviour?
What do you call a trial that sets you free from idols you didn’t know you had?
You call it a gift of God’s grace!