For most people, there is a routine to the days of our life that is somewhat comforting. We make arrangements for the days, weeks, and months that lie ahead and try to organize our lives so that we can accomplish our plans. However, there are times when an event happens, or we receive news, that means life is turned ‘upside down’.
In May 2014, my life took an unexpected turn. I noticed a small growth in my upper body, and I thought it may be due to my recent exercise routine at the gym. Over the next few days, the size of the lump grew, and it was increasingly evident that it was not due to my bench-press ability After a few trips to see medical personnel, I was given the diagnosis that I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.
As you can imagine, I was shocked to hear that I, a relatively young and fit man who had not smoked or drunk alcohol for over 20 years, had cancer It seemed somewhat surreal, but I knew it was reality. The consultant told me that I would receive a course of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. My sense of curiosity caused me to ask, ‘What will happen if I do not take the treatment?’. The reply was short and clear, ‘You will die’. Refusing treatment was never in my mind, but his reply underlined the seriousness of the situation.
It is in times of difficulty and suffering that we often reflect on the person of Jesus Christ; His character, works, and promises. Things that seemed important to us fade into the background, and those that are of eternal value come to the forefront of our minds. Although many people have passed through far greater trials and difficulties than the one I was facing, it was the most serious personal one that I had encountered.
Our beliefs are tested when we are faced with the unknown and circumstances seem outside of our control. Of course, the reality is ‘you do not know what will happen tomorrow’, Jas. 4. 14, NKJV. I understand that my theology, those realities I had learnt from scripture, would now be tested. Would the truth I held in my mind, find application in my life? Was it just ‘head knowledge’, or was there reality?
The scriptures proved to be a great comfort to me throughout my treatment for cancer Even when I was too tired to read, or the drugs had caused ‘brain fog’, I was able to meditate on God’s word. There are many verses that God graciously caused me to consider, but I would like to share a particular one with you.
In the garden of Gethsemane, our Lord Jesus was about to be arrested, placed on trial, crucified, and then suffer in His body the wrath of God. He would completely propitiate God for the sins of all who would ever believe, so that they would never face that wrath. This was the work that He had been given to do. It was the path marked out uniquely for Him, yet, in the garden, He prayed:
‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’, Matt. 26. 39 NKJV.
Of course, there was never a desire in His mind to not accomplish the work He had been given to do. There could be no conflict in the Godhead; all three persons act in perfect harmony. We can see, though, that Christ, in His humanity, voluntarily surrendered His will to the will of the Father.
No-one can equate their suffering to the Saviour’s, but the lesson I learnt from my Lord’s prayer was that there is a path that our loving heavenly Father has decreed for us to walk. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord taught His followers that, ‘The disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master’, Matt. 10. 24, and although, contextually, that statement is regarding persecution for being a believer the general truth is still true. The believer has not been promised an easy path through life. Many of the trials and sufferings that impact non-believers will also come to the Lord’s people. What should be different is how we think, speak, and act when they come.
Would I have chosen a path that meant I would have cancer and suffer a loss of health, because of the treatment? No. But, by God’s grace, I was able to consider my Lord and His words in Gethsemane. There was a trial that God had ordained me to pass through. He had not forgotten me, but would use it for my ultimate good.
Our will, unlike the Lord’s, is not always perfectly aligned with our heavenly Father’s. So, it took me a little time to appropriate the truth of this scripture and others for myself As I looked to Jesus and His words, I knew that I could, by God’s power and grace, walk the path that He had decreed for me, not through resigned acceptance but because I was looking to Him.
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