Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)
My passport had just arrived in the mail. We had booked our flights to Europe and on Christmas night, we would be off on a romantic adventure somewhere over the Swiss Alps; my first time outside of Australia. Then it started.
First came the overwhelming chest pain. Next thing I knew, the doctors had found a shadow on a CT scan. More tests. Results seemed to take forever. We’ve found a mass the size of a mandarin in your thymus gland. I had managed to convince myself that this wouldn’t be a major issue. More tests. Scary tests. Well-meaning cliches didn’t seem enough anymore.
“You’ve got something called Mediastinal Large B-Cell Lymphoma.”
Cancer. Rare cancer. Aggressive cancer.
No more words. No more plans. Just a big scary diagnosis and a lack of control.
Moments like these remind me that we are at the mercy of a God who both loves us, and has planned all things for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). His plan always prevails, even when mine does not. The tight grasp I held on work, ministry, marriage, having children, finances, health and my fitness suddenly lost its firm foundation.
Yet the firm foundation of Jesus stayed secure.
Jesus Is My Foundation
Christianity might mean many things for you. It’s certainly not a religion for those who have it all together, or for that matter, all that easy to follow Jesus. It’s impossible to come to God having it all together. Jesus himself described those who follow Him like this:
‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Mark 2:17)
I’m not a Christian because I am a good person, or because I lead worship on a Sunday, although many of you may think that I am a good person. In fact, the opposite is true. I am a Christian because despite how hard I have tried, I cannot be good. I am spiritually sick, in need of a physician.
I’m stuck in a selfish rut, neglecting the truth, walking without hope, damned to my own devices and holding no answer to my lifelong search for lasting joy. I cannot please a Holy God when I find myself not only unholy but dirty, and ashamed of my filthy rags. I need the perfect, blameless, sacrifice of Jesus on the cross where my brokenness was exchanged for his perfection before God. I need Jesus.
One of my favourite songs, No Greater Aim, by Austin Stone Worship says it like this:
Once my heart was lost, tangled deep in sin
Wandering far from grace, and veiled in shame
Yet with boundless love, you have brought me home
Now my greatest prize is to know your name
Still, sometimes, I feel like my faith leaves me with more questions than answers. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know this, and ‘call to mind, therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:19-20)
A Treasure Greater Than My Questions
Whilst cancer diagnoses raise deep, serious, faith-piercing questions for me, that doesn’t have to lead to the suggestion that God is not good. In Him, I have found a treasure worth selling everything for.
Cancer is devastating. It’s painful and confusing, and scary. Yet cancer has never been my biggest problem—my biggest problem, always was that my sin kept me from God. The treasure I hold onto is that because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, I can be reunited with God, called a daughter of the King, a part of his family, and have my stains of sin removed. Washed white as snow.
In the Bible, Paul explains it like this:
‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword… For I am sure that neither death nor life, now angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
Christians have a view that our lives on earth are only a portion of the eternity we will spend making life about Jesus. Whilst life is for living, it is also a gift from God, to be used for Him. We were created for His glory. Therefore I can experience joy even in cancer because even if the worst thing happens in the here and now—my cancer is not cured and my life ends here—I know I’ll still have the greatest treasure: union with Jesus.
Again, No Greater Aim:
Knowing you Jesus, only you
There is no greater aim
In your presence here, my joy is found
There is no higher gain
Oh my soul cries out just to know you more,
To be tethered by unfailing love
Though the fires may flash, mighty thunders roar
Still, my hope’s secure in Christ above
Your love is higher, your glories brighter
And my hope is set on you
My greatest longing is found in knowing
That my hope is set on you
Our sense of control in life must be flexible, grounded in the subtle yet firm truth that God is the one who holds not only us but indeed our tomorrows. James and I both enjoy reading about missionaries who have given up their all for Jesus and found the greatest of treasures in knowing him.
John Paton was one such missionary, who travelled to Vanuatu to spread the gospel. He wrote of his trust in God’s sovereignty over all things, including various tribes who competed over how to kill both him and his native friend like this:
I realised that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leaves the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth.
More Than Merely Knowing
The danger for me comes in knowing that God is good and hearing it in his word, yet struggling to believe it in moments where my whole body longs to be well. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I want to love and treasure him.
I know that God is good. I know that he is working all things for my good and for His glory. Yet, there are moments where my heart betrays me. There are days where I find it hard to trust in faith. There are days where I have to let Jesus cling onto me.
Yet even these moments are yet another reminder of what is to come:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-25)
Hope becomes essential in these moments of struggle and groaning. We hope in what God has promised in his word, and ultimately we hope even in death because of what God has prepared for those who love him. This hope may be rocked by suffering, but will not yield its firm foundation even when cancer or death arrive at your doorstep unannounced.
May my life be steeped in unceasing praise
Til in death we’ll meet on heaven’s shore
Oh that glorious day, ’tis your face I’ll see
And in your arms, I’ll sing forevermore
This article first published at stirringouraffections.com