Tag Archives: cancer

Isaiah 35

A Promise From 700 B.C.

(A five minute read)

Some encouragement is eternal, just like some truth.

When I faced a medical crisis three years ago, Isaiah 35 was my cane when I felt weak, and a steadying hand to the elbow when I couldn’t move forward. It brought life when it seemed there could be death, and completed a picture for me of how God answers prayer.

In June of 2019 I had surgery to remove a tumour from inside my bladder, and spent the rest of the year receiving chemotherapy and chemo-radiotherapy. My wife Melanie and I had already struck the match of faith even before the surgery, and His heat came, as we knew it would. And then God showed me the riches of this passage.

Isaiah 35 is superficially about the future glory of Zion, God’s permanent capital. But at my personal level, it became a byword about hope for restoration and revival.

The prophet offers a picture of how God promises to answer when we cry for help. Then, when He comes in response to prayer, miracles happen. Jesus promised the same when He taught, ‘Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ *

I cried out to God repeatedly. He answered through this scripture.

1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;

2 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God.

The overwhelming nature of God’s promises are shown in the superlatives in the first two verses: glad, rejoice, blossom abundantly, joy and singing, glory, excellency. These are reliable even in our greatest times of spiritual barrenness.

3 Strengthen the weak hands, and support the feeble knees.

4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not. Your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.”

God comes to those who are obedient and faithful, and who cry out to Him, even from a place of desperation or fear.

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

6 Then the lame man shall leap as a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For in the wilderness waters shall break out and streams in the desert.

Then’ shows that the healing that happens next is a result of our obedience and faithful prayer. After He comes, then the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf are opened, then the lame walk and the mute speak.

These verses also show that God is not just a Healer, but also heals us beyond what we ask for. The mute may wish to speak, but He also has them sing! The lame may wish to walk – He also has them leap!

In my spiritual wilderness, when I needed a drink, He brought an oasis, He came to me and said, ‘You will spring to new life.’ He always thinks bigger than I do.

7 The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

The word translated ‘jackals’ is the Hebrew word tannîym, which is doubled in the text for emphasis. It’s often translated as ‘dragon’, which of course is symbolically the devil. In this passage, God transforms a place where only hideous creatures will dwell to one full of gentility and life.

8 A highway shall be there, a roadway, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass on it, but it shall be for the wayfaring men, and fools shall not wander on it.

Highway’ here does means a thoroughfare for travel, but the word translated as ‘roadway’ is the Hebrew derek, which means a course of action, or what we might today call a lifestyle. The wayfaring men are those who choose this path to salvation that God has offered and set out on it in obedience, not knowing their destination, but trusting that it is good.

9 No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up on it; these shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there,

10 and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

I’m one of those ‘ransomed of the Lord.’ When Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for my sin, He bought the rights to my life (and yours). The passage ends with the greatest news of all, that in the end I’ll return to God, meaning I’ll repent of my wrongdoing and turn back (Hebrew shoob) to God, who will be waiting with open arms to restore (Hebrew shoob) me.

Hebrews chapter 12 offers a wonderful New Testament parallel to this. It reads:

‘Now all discipline seems to be more pain than pleasure at the time, yet later it will produce a transformation of character, bringing a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who yield to it.

‘So be made strong even in your weakness by lifting up your tired hands in prayer and worship. And strengthen your weak knees, for as you keep walking forward on God’s paths all your stumbling ways will be divinely healed!’ **

To which I say, ‘So be it!’

Adapted from my memoir The Lie Called Cancer. Read more here.

* Matthew 6:10
** Hebrews 12:11-13

People with their hands raised

Surrender to Win

(A six minute read)

There was an obituary this week of someone who died from cancer. Yet again, the deceased was proclaimed to have ‘lost a battle’ with cancer. Why is it about winning or losing? Why is this dichotomy even mentioned at all?

Cancer treatment consumed my attention for eight tough months in 2019. But it also consumed my prayer life, and the prayer lives of many who love me. Our declaration was this: ‘Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.’

Very simple yet very powerful. It reminded me of my identity and kept my eye on the solution instead of the problem. This, I have found, is the essence of evangelism.

Please – feel free to come to me with your problem. But when you are done describing it, then let me empathize, so we can turn our attention (through prayer) to the one who can solve it, the one who saves us. This standing at attention is also the essence of evangelism.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says the shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep and goes after the lost one. That’s what he did when he rescued me all those years ago. If you know Jesus, you know that’s what he did for you too. If you don’t yet know Jesus, ask sincerely, repeatedly and he’ll come and do it for you too.

That’s right. You have to surrender to win.

Meanwhile, Back to Cancer

Since my own deliverance from cancer two years ago, God has brought me in contact with an inordinate number of people who either are being treated for cancer or have someone dear to them who is. I share my healing story, and we pray. This is so we tell God we recognize his innate goodness, and thus can make the demand that he do it again. We have the authority.1

But this authority doesn’t come because we do spiritual battle to obtain victory. It’s because we recognize Jesus’ victory at the cross, and so we begin there. We surrender to him in order to release his victory into the earth.

We surrender to win.

This is why my teeth grate when I see that term ‘lost a battle with cancer’ because this warfare language diverts us from the truth. It distracts us from where we should focus: on the healer instead of on sickness. Focusing on disease makes the disease into the most powerful thing. Focusing on the healer reminds us of the most powerful Person. It keeps us right-side-up. It keeps the disease from infecting our identities as well as our bodies.

If I speak of ‘battling cancer’, it implies I think cancer has a good chance of winning. Or, that I somehow fail if I feel unwell, or ultimately don’t live. Likewise, ‘fighting cancer’ implies that it’s a battle I chose to engage in. ‘Surviving cancer’ makes it sound like that outcome is somehow merely a product of luck or coincidence or random chance.

I grieve with anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, but I don’t find the idea of dying from it in any way ennobling. It’s not my place to fight, but to surrender.

About Identity

Many people refer to cancer as ‘my cancer’, as though they’ve taken ownership of it and grafted it onto their identity. They’ve allowed it to change how they see themselves. I know one man who bought a personalized car license plate that read ‘Sur5or.’ He couldn’t wait to have people ask him about it!

Truth: receiving a cancer diagnosis and getting treatment took up gross amounts of my 2019, and made life painful and inconvenient. Further truth: this was far from the most important thing to happen to me that year. When I’m not praying with someone about it, I rarely think about it at all. Ultimate truth: Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.

More Unhelpful Ideas

Those of us being treated for cancer are described as ‘brave’, as though we had a choice about being treated.2 Calling it ‘The Big C’ brings in the Bogeyman Effect, meaning that cancer is a malevolent force that’s incapable of being tamed or controlled.

And then there are the day-to-day phrases, which are also unhelpful. ‘Coping’ implies that overcoming cancer is somehow not possible, and that I’m in a passive, powerless state.

To ‘deal with it’ says that it’s a nuisance that cannot be controlled.

‘Living with cancer’ tells me that it’s an invited guest.

Finally, for me to say ‘I have cancer’ has me stating that I’ve taken ownership of it. I refused to do that.

December 22, 2021 will be the two year anniversary of the day the Lord told me unequivocally that I was healed. Cancer will never plague me again, I’m certain of it. On the other hand the doctors will never proclaim that I’m ‘cured’ or ‘healed.’ They will only edge out far enough to say I’m ‘in remission.’

I find no freedom in that. ‘Remission’ keeps me in a waiting room and off the train. I remain captive to the idea that cancer will never go away, that it may be lurking around the corner. I’d be no healthier than the paranoiac who compulsively peeps outside to see who might be watching.

Even if I were to say that I ‘beat cancer’ there’s still an assumption that somehow I waged a battle I chose, that it was a war of my choosing. As I mentioned, my best option wasn’t to fight, but to surrender.

That’s the Biblical way. I can’t successfully attack the devil, I can only ‘stand’ against him, or ‘resist’ him3.

Speak Life Not Death4

Warfare words tell me nothing more than I’m afraid of cancer. I once was approached by a friend who ‘caught a cold.’ ‘Why did you have your hands out?’ I asked. The medics tried to give me a diagnosis of cancer, and I refused to accept it. I was treated at Guy’s Cancer-Free Centre5 in London, whose logo proclaims simply, ‘Guy’s Cancer.’ Fine – I didn’t want the cancer. I gave it to Guy.

I have yet to say ‘I have cancer’, ‘I had cancer’, ‘I am (or was) a cancer patient’. I would certainly never label myself a ‘cancer victim.’ It’s definitely not ‘my cancer.’ But I tell the truth. I tell people ‘I was treated for cancer.’

Crisis provokes one of two responses in the human heart. Face up to it, or run and hide. Here is our choice then: Turn to God and lean on him, or turn away and blame him for my problems. Faith or fear. Surrender, or fight. Those are my only options. There is no ‘wait and see.’ One of them always comes out in the end.

I decided in 2019 that I must embrace the way of faith, and reject fear. My expectations were to be set by God’s promises. He hadn’t carried me this far in life to drop me now. I spoke His truth, even when I didn’t believe it. I relied on Scripture, not medical journals for direction.

I surrendered, and won. I won the moment I surrendered.6

1. See Luke 10:19, Mark 16:17-18, Acts 1:8 and Acts 3:1-10
2. I guess we actually do have a choice. Christian Scientists take note.
3. See Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5
4. See Mark 11:23, Proverbs 18:7, 20-21
5. It’s actually named Guy’s Cancer Centre but I didn’t go there to get cancer, I went there to get free.
6. Psalm 37:5

This essay is adapted from my book The Lie Called Cancer.

Photo: Luis Quintero via Pexels

A piece of straw on the ground

Brother Lawrence Did Me Right

(A five-minute read)

A seemingly impossible task

Beginning at the New Year, my first day out of radiotherapy, I began a 40-day devotional by Harold Myra based on the writings of Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite monk featured in a now-beloved tract called ‘The Practice of the Presence of God.’

It’s a combination of conversations he had with his friend Father Joseph de Beaufort and letters Brother Lawrence wrote to others.

The essence of his teaching is how to align myself for an ongoing conversation with God. In those moments when I forget (and they are frequent!) I simply come back round, apologize for turning away, and start over. God’s grace is endless for this, because He greatly desires to be in a relationship with me, with you, with all of us.

In one famous passage it’s written of Brother Lawrence, ‘that he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.’

How can I come to such a simple and unassuming place in life?

Brother Lawrence taught me how: go forward by going backward. Define the goal and then step backward to where I stand. Then I retrace those steps back to the goal. I have a lifetime to arrive.

When I first approach God I’m in an unregenerate state (that’s a fancy theological word meaning I’m not born again in Christ). I’m stubborn and sinful, and stand obstinately in opposition, refusing to accept His love.

Then, for some reason, perhaps a personal crisis, perhaps an ‘aha’ moment, perhaps the silent inward working of the Holy Spirit, I decide to respond to God’s invitation and pursue Him.

That pursuit can only come after a long sequence of changes in me, as I retrace the steps toward the goal. Here’s how it works.

A process for pursuing God

I can’t pursue God until I desire Him.

However, I can’t desire Him until my desire for other things lessens.1

My desire for other things doesn’t diminish until I recognize who I truly am (in Christ).2

That true identity doesn’t become clear until I understand why I was created.3

An understanding of my purpose in life only appears when I decide my way isn’t working, and I humble myself to receive God’s grace.4

It’s a not-so-vicious circle. It began on my knees, but it actually took me somewhere. The Bible instructs us to do things ‘heartily as for the Lord’ and not for men.5 So even if I’m doing work for someone else, I pursue it as though I’m serving Christ directly. Even if I am merely picking up a piece of straw.

The phrase ‘as for the Lord’ in the Modern English Version is rendered ‘as to the Lord’ in the New King James and ‘as though you were working for the Lord’ in the New Living Translation. The Passion Translation suggests ‘as though you were doing it for the Lord Himself.’ The Message Bible reveals that I should ‘work from the heart for my real Master.’

Through it all, I must remain conscious of my imperfection. God can only use me if I’m aware of how inadequate I am. I stand best when I stand on my knees.

This post contains material written for, but not used, in my memoir The Lie Called Cancer, now on sale.

1. 1 John 2:15 – ‘Do not love the world of the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’
2. Romans 8:5-6 – ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.’
3. Proverbs 19:21 – ‘There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord will stand.’
4. Psalm 38:17:18 – ‘For I am ready to stumble, and my pain is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I am anxious because of my sin.’
5. Colossians 3:23-24 – ‘And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ.’