What was your first thought when you were initially informed that you had prostate cancer? Personally, mine was “can it be cured?” When reality and reason was restored, one of my predominant thoughts and prayers was (and remains) “God, please do not let me die of this disease.” More precisely, I don’t fear death itself but the process of dying can be very disturbing. Sadly, 24,000 American men succumb to prostate cancer annually. I personally have a prayer list of people I know who are battling various forms of cancer. I try to pray for each one on my list daily. My most important prayer is that they might all have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and thereby possess the gift of eternal life. Secondly, I pray that they may be healed of their cancer or that it could be treated as a chronic, non-life-threatening condition. I believe that God does miraculously heal cancer cases today and I know personally of several such cases but true accounts of such deliverances seem to be in the vast minority today.
My good friend and family physician reminded me that we all have to die of something. So given this fact, we should not obsess about the concept of death but instead focus on the wonder of knowing and trusting God and His attributes and promises and on living each day with no regrets. As a shining real-life example, I recently read about a minister named Ed Dobson who has been battling the fatal disease of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) for eleven (11) years. His story was published electronically on November 21st, 2012 in a daily series of essays entitled “Breakpoint” which was founded by the late Charles Colson. Many of you might remember Mr. Colson as the Nixon administration White House lawyer who was convicted during the Watergate scandal and served time in prison. Through his humbling experience, he came to a personal faith in God through Christ and dedicated his remaining life to ministering to prisoners and their families. The daily Breakpoint series (to which one can subscribe electronically) describes how we as Christians should adopt a truly Biblical worldview while functioning in this secular and increasingly non-Christian society.
The November 21st, 2012 Breakpoint essay describes Ed Dobson as not a typical victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dobson, a one-time mega-church pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan “has lived with ALS for over 11 years—it kills most people within five. And during this difficult season in his life, Dobson has refused to hide himself away while awaiting his death. Instead, he has grappled with this disease and has written a brutally honest, often unsettling, account” entitled “Seeing Through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart.” His book describes how he has found hope in the midst of daily struggles and fears for the future. As could be the case for someone with advanced prostate cancer, Ed Dobson realizes that ALS is a “dowward spiral, month after month. It is a fatal, terminal disease.” Like myself, he states that he has “never been afraid of dying, but was very concerned about the process of getting there.”
Unfortunately today many people die slowly, and the experience often shakes their faith including the faith of sincere, believing Christians. Instead of transformation at the end of life and the process of faithfully dying, many people sincerely question the goodness, mercy and intentions of a loving God. As in the case of Ed Dobson, many well-intentioned people pray fervently for the healing of their friends and family members (see James 5:14-16). When God chooses not to answer their prayers in the manner they expect (and I have recently lost three friends to cancer for whom I had been praying), people are often left with few encouraging words to say. “Although he would still like to be cured, Ed Dobson says he isn’t obsessing about it. Instead, he’s focusing on the wonder of God and on living each day with no regrets.” For Dobson, that means asking forgiveness of people he has offended, learning to accept the help of others, and remembering that the significance of one’s life does not depend on one’s health. Pastor Dobson states “I know that God and His grace are sufficient for the moment I find myself in. When I wake up tomorrow, whatever the challenges, I know God will be there and will provide His grace. This is my hope. This is my strength.” He is learning to trust God and give thanks in the midst of some supremely challenging circumstances. And that’s a lesson we will all have to learn some day whether we battle ALS or prostate cancer.
Itemized below are ten (10) lessons we can learn from Pastor Dobson’s on-going experiences whether we battle ALS, prostate cancer or another potentially life-threatening condition.
1. Make absolutely sure that our sole hope and faith rests in a personal relationship with God, the forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s death and the accompanying gift of eternal life made possible by His resurrection. As Jesus Himself has said, our good works, exemplary as they may be, are not sufficient to merit God’s grace and eternal life. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven;…..Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, ……..did we not in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.'”
2. As personal Christians, focus on God’s nature, character, His creation and His eternal plans and promises for us. In the words of an old song, “This World is Not My Home, I’m Just a-Passin’ Through”.
3. Live each day with no regrets. Live it as if Jesus were to return that very day (which is certainly possible). If at all possible, live at peace with all people.
4. Write a personal legacy letter to each family member, close friends and colleagues. Thank them for their roles in your life and share with them the specific aspects of your life which you consider most important. If you had only 5 minutes of their undivided attention, what would you communicate to them? Don’t wait until circumstances would prohibit you from sharing these most important thoughts.
5. Ask forgiveness from anyone whom you might have ever offended.
6. Learn to accept the help of others. Be as transparent as possible, allowing God and Jesus to be openly seen through your life and conditions.
7. Remember that your life’s significance does not depend upon the state of your health.
8. Trust solely in God’s grace and provisions which can be provided in many ways including through excellent health professionals.
9. Give thanks for all circumstances even though they may be challenging.
10. Life is comprised of anticipating specific events from our earliest childhood to our retirement years. Therefore, as members of God’s family through Jesus, always look ahead to our ultimate destination of a new heaven and a new earth containing all God’s natural creation to be experienced in a new eternal, pain-free, perfectly-functioning body; all of this to be experienced forever, with no end. This concept and promise is so fantastic our finite minds can only grasp a small portion of our true “inheritance” through Christ.