Lessons Learned

God’s has a specific goal for all aspects of our lives.

God has a distinct plan for each of our individual lives as stated in Jeremiah 29:11-13; “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.’” God’s plan consists of two main goals; a) to glorify Him and His Son Jesus through all aspects of our lives including sickness and disease; and, b) to allow God to work everything for our own good according to Romans 8:28, “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” If we submit to God’s purposes for our lives, every facet will revolve around these two goals.

Diseases and adverse conditions can have positive purposes. “Bad” things do happen to good people.

Cancer and other medical crises generate extreme sensitivity to the presence of God and Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Disease can be used for the glory of God as was the case when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:4) and the healing of the blind man whom the disciples thought was born blind because of either his sin or the sins of his parents (see John 9:1-3). God uses sicknesses to glorify Himself, to increase our faith to new levels with or without physical signs, to allow others to see Jesus in us, and, to make us more sensitive to people around us and their specific conditions.

God’s purposes can often be to change us rather than our circumstances.

We know that God has specific plans for our lives and knows in advance what we have to experience, both positive and negative. God told Moses in advance that Moses was to specifically lead Israel out of bondage. Yet Moses loudly proclaimed his weaknesses to God basically saying, “I can’t do this, You need to find someone else.” But as we know, Moses’ and Israel’s circumstances did not change but God changed Moses by showing him a series of examples of God’s power. So while our own circumstances may not change, God may use other people, methods, events and especially His Word to change us inwardly, “perfecting” us for any task we need to accomplish according to His will.

God speaks to us about our conditions predominantly from or through His Word.

God speaks to us from or through His Word, the Bible; through prayer as we listen to His voice; through our circumstances; and, through pastors, friends and mentors who can speak truth into our lives. He may also use an experience that we or others have had, but these are always coupled with a specific promise or scriptural reference. This is a recurring theme. A message from the Lord must always agree with His holy Word which is the standard of reference.

We have the assurance that through our faith in Jesus, we will live forever, in a new heaven and a new earth with a new, perfect body.

Knowing that our days are truly numbered, we all will eventually die of one cause or another. Having the assurance of eternal life in spite of potentially life-threatening conditions, totally changes our outlook. This assurance based on God’s Word removes the fear of death (though we often fear the process of dying). It also gives true inner peace knowing that the best is yet to come in a blink of an eye when we are transported from this life to the next, immortal phase.

Issues and relationships in our lives should be envisioned in the context of eternity.

Cancer has changed my perspective from an earthly one (focused only on my secular life and my retirement years) to issues that have eternal significance, such as where we will spend eternity (in a new heaven and earth or in the absence of God’s presence in hell). It also challenges me look at the specific parts of God’s plan for me and carry them out. These include seeing and loving my wife, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors as God sees them in order to allow Jesus to be seen in me even as imperfect as I am. My foremost desire is for all individuals in my sphere of influence to come to personally know Jesus and God the Father. I want all my family and friends to be forever reunited in eternity with new bodies. My pastor has recommended that we all write a “legacy letter” as a written record describing the most important events and issues in our lives for our loved ones, family and friends to read and remember.

Cancer also makes us very much aware of our mortality. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Today is what we have. We must make the best use of the time. This may sound trite but it really isn’t. We should be thankful for the major things in life such as a good home, family, provisions etc. but also for the beauty we see around us daily in nature and in other people. Personally, I am thankful I can rise up in the morning without significant pain. I must look upon those with whom I come into contact from the point of view of caring for them as individuals and realizing that they have needs and concerns which I can possibly affect. I don’t look ahead 20-30 years any more even though I plan for my immediate family. I think more seriously about the issues in life which have eternal significance, such as God’s specific plan for the next year(s) of my life, and the nature and reality of “eternal life” which God promises to us in John 3:16 through placing our faith in Jesus. My earthly life had been reduced to 4-month intervals (between PSA tests) with hopefully-anticipated extensions for many years. The concept of possessing eternal life is coming into better focus as time goes on and I am rejoicing more and more in that anticipation.

Make the most of our life span.

While we should live our lives in the context of eternity, eternal life starts now. Therefore, while it sounds trite, make the most of every day. Personally, I should live as if I have only a year left but anticipate more pursuant to God’s continued faithfulness and healing. I should share my legacy in as many venues as possible. Moses, writing in Psalm 90:10-12 states, “the days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength, they are eighty years;…….so teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

We must always have a goal in sight, something for which to aspire.

When we are children, we aspire to be teen-agers. When in school, we aspire to graduate. After graduation, we aspire to a successful career. When single, we aspire to be married and have a family. After raising a family and having a successful career, we aspire to retirement. When we retire, to what do we aspire?????? If we don’t have aspirations, we cease to live. Even being retired and having medical issues, we need to identify potential aspirations; such as, fulfilling a successful marriage or meaningful family relationships; or, using the talents and knowledge we have been given or acquire to glorify God and to benefit others.

We must learn to surrender to God’s plan; to be able to say “not my will but Thine be done.”

This is a difficult concept for me. My humanity wants to dictate its own destiny. I am reminded of Jesus just before His crucifixion. Being born into this world, Jesus had a dual, God-man nature. As such, He sincerely and lovingly empathizes with us in whatever we experience. He knew that He was about to be crucified for the sins of the whole world and His human side desired any alternative ways out if possible. But God His Father had instituted Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for all of our sins, past, present and future. So God’s plan had to be carried out. Nevertheless, Jesus could pray “not my will but Thine be done”. If I have to come to the place in my life where I truly recognize from my heart that God’s ultimate plan for me is the best, then I can say as well, “not my will but Thine be done.”

Miraculous deliverance from cancer does occur today.

Do miracles still happen today? Are people healed of various cancers? Yes!  I personally have directly or indirectly witnessed several such dramatic healings. But these are generally not the rule. Many cancers are curable and treatable with proper medical care and can be controlled until one dies of another cause. But even if a miracle doesn’t happen, we can still experience ‘miraculous” events. Even the absence of a miracle can be positive and life-affirming when we can say “Lord, not my will but Thine be done” or as Job concluded, “the Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Prayer and anointing with oil according to James 5:14-15 can have dramatic results.

The passage states: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” This practice is carried out in many denominations. It has often led to dramatic deliverances from various diseases. It should be noted that the prayer for the sick is to be offered by the elders or pastor(s) of a church, and they must believe (the prayer must be offered in faith) that the person can be healed in accordance with God’s will. I believe that everyone who has a relationship with God / Jesus, should exercise this prayer and anointing if they have a serious illness. I personally know of several individuals who have been healed through this process.

The process of the testing of our faith leads to its endurance, perseverance and perfection. We must “walk by faith and not by sight.”

James 1:2-3 says that we are to “consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (“patience” in the King James version, “endurance” in the New American Standard version). “Perseverance” (patience) “must finish its work so that you may be mature” (“perfect” in the King James version) “and complete, not lacking anything.” Once we come to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus, God’s plan becomes the perfecting of our faith. All things work toward that goal. These years comprise one, large “maturing / perfecting project.” In the earlier part of my life, God had delivered me fairly quickly from my problems. I could usually “see” the solutions coming on the horizon. Since 1990 and continuing to this day, I am being taught to walk “not by sight”, meaning not by only trusting visible signs of deliverance, “but by faith” even when positive signs are not visibly seen. It doesn’t always matter how one feels emotionally; God can still speak in a mighty way when we least expect it. (See the Jan. 11th, 2004 entry in My Story.)

I have often noticed that when I receive negative news, my faith falters. This serves as a reminder from the Lord of the weakness of my faith. Then the very next day, I often receive positive news, at which point God taps me on my shoulder and says “see, your faith in Me wasn’t as strong as I’d like it to be.” Put another way, when I experience a victorious day, Satan or the flesh comes to challenge my faith and ruin my enthusiasm. God then shows me the extent or lack of my faith.

What God can accomplish through me and my life experiences is directly proportional to my level of dependence on Him. God’s power is perfected in weakness (my own).

Do not place our faith in “faith”.  Our faith must synchronize with God’s written or spoken Word.

One often hears the phrase “if only you have enough faith, you can expect a miracle.” This mis-used statement indicates placing our faith in the concept of faith itself, not in the object of our faith, namely God and Jesus. Faith must be synchronized with God’s perfect will for our lives.

 We must deal with fears, negative thoughts and poor or false expectations by replacing fear and anxiety with praise, worship and trust in God’s character and His Word.

 How do I handle unexpected bad news it when it contradicts my own expectations? We all go through doubts and fears. Can God heal me? Will He heal me? What will be the result of my next test? Will I die of this disease? How will this affect me and those around me? Why did God allow this to happen to me? In the absence of prayer and worship, anxiety and doubt grow unobstructed. Doubts and fears have to be replaced by a deep trust in God’s Word, His plan and His character. The principle of substituting one habit for another is a valid one. I should respond to troubling times by replacing anxiety and fear with praise, worship and trust in God’s Word. Even in darkest hours, worshipping God fills the heart with joy and the mind with peace. It is hard to despair when honoring the Lord for His love and strength. We can dispel doubt by recalling His past faithfulness and ease our frustration by committing our future plans to Him. Praise is not the obvious reaction to hardship but it is the wisest response.

We should not focus on our circumstances, emotions and fears, but trust instead on God’s promises in His Word.

Do we ever wonder why our faith seems so strong one day and so weak the next? There may be many reasons for this-but often the cause is our tendency to be ruled by our circumstances or our emotions rather than by the truth of God’s Word. When we focus on our circumstances, we are actually choosing to feel anxiety and doubt. These emotions do not belong in a Christian believer’s life. It’s easy to feel close to God when everything is going well. But what happens at the first sign of trouble? We become unsettled and filled with doubt, wondering if God has abandoned us and we fall back on our own wisdom and resources instead of His provision. Instead we should trust in the promises God has given us. He has filled His Word with scriptural anchors (see scriptural medicines) to keep us steady in the faith.

Focus on what God has done previously to deliver us.

Many times in the Old Testament, God instructed Israel to erect a monument in a specific location in remembrance of God’s previous miraculous deliverance at that site. The Old Testament prophets and authors constantly reminded their readers to “remember when God…..”. We are instructed to focus on and remember what God has done previously for us in our lives and how He has delivered and spared us in the past. His faithfulness remains to this day and forever. Celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Celebrate God’s characteristics.

Itemize, thank and praise God for His many qualities and characteristics such as His faithfulness, mercy, love and trustworthiness. He will be faithful to see us through any situation. Celebrate God’s faithfulness while awaiting His promised help.

 Learn to experience the peace of God.

There is a peace that only God gives. I must focus my eyes on Him and Him alone. Even though it is hard to not think about the fact that there are cancer cells in me, I cannot obsess on such thoughts. Why live the remaining years of my life in such an apprehensive state?  Instead I should receive the gift of peace offered in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled nor let it be fearful.” (See the My Story entry from January 15th, 2004).

Learn to cope with life’s “thorns”.  Acknowledge our own weakness.

Many of us are given “thorns in the flesh”, namely conditions which we’d rather not have but which God has not chosen to remove. Mine has been prostate cancer. The apostle Paul had his “thorn” which most likely could have been a condition involving his eyesight. But through it all, God’s message is that “His grace is sufficient” and His “power is perfected in our weakness.” When I am weak, then I am strong. Recognition of my helplessness unleashes God’s power. When I try to solve any problem independently, God cannot work freely. In the past, when I have had no ‘thorn’, my prayer life and dependence on God decreased. I need to affirm as the apostle Paul did, that when I am weak (in myself), then I am strong (in Christ). (See the My Story entry of Jan. 21st, 2004)

Lay our burdens down at the foot of the cross.

Jesus is the burden-bearer. Our condition is also His. He has promised to carry us through any of life’s issues. But our responsibility is to lay the burden down and not insist on carrying it ourselves. Only this way, can God be glorified alone.

Learn how to pray fervently.

James 5:16 says that effectual fervent prayer avails much. My prayer life must be consistent, fervent and earnest not sporadic. I must pray this way for others too. I maintain a list of cancer patients of whom I am aware. I must keep praying fervently for them as well as for myself. When I don’t pray, I do not experience God’s peace. (See the My Story Jan. 18th, 2004 entry).

I must acknowledge God in all things.

Proverbs 3:5-6 states that I must trust in the Lord with all my heart “and lean not to my own understanding.” I must “acknowledge Him” in all my ways and then He will direct my path. A major lesson I am learning is to acknowledge God in all my physical battles. This enables Him to be glorified through them.

Be thankful for everything, taking nothing for granted.

I remember my father thanking God every morning for a day filled with God’s grace and mercy and in which he could be totally functional and without pain. I should greet each day accordingly. I have so much for which to be thankful including a wife whom I cherish, many supportive and sincere friends, a life-changing Christian heritage from my parents, a career that I could not have planned nor imagined for myself, a sunny Florida retirement environment and most of all, an eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth with a new body to which I can aspire.

Maintain joy and humor.

Diseases are serious. But there is so much joy and humor around us to which we must always be sensitive. Personally, I have always been somewhat humorous hence I cannot allow this gift of humor to be subverted.