In the last few weeks, I received word that prostate cancer had unexpectedly recurred in two men I know. Both men understandably expressed discouragement, apprehension and fear. What now??? I experienced a similar recurrence in 2003 (see My Story, 1994-2003, “December, 2002 – January 11th, 2004. The cancer recurs. What do I do now?”.) In addition to the emotions experienced by the two afore-mentioned men, I experienced anger at God for allowing His seemingly curative surgical process to fail. But looking at this situation now eight years later, I see not only how God can allow us to experience many years of normal life through the use of existing and newly-approved medical treatments, but how He can use such seemingly negative outcomes in our lives to glorify Himself to people around us.
Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, tells a story about receiving a gift from her aging mother. The gift came wrapped in a plain brown paper bag packed with lots of decorative wrapping paper. After examining the contents of the bag and finding nothing of value, Anne Graham Lotz was about to discard the package as a mistake when her aging mother informed her that the package contained a small yet very valuable and historical ring. Anne Graham Lotz had nearly missed a very valuable gift simply because it had come packaged in a common, un-appealing, brown paper bag. The moral of her story was as follows: what “gift” have we been given by God wrapped in an un-assuming package and can He use such a “gift” to bring honor and glory to Himself and fulfillment to our lives if we choose to use it as such? Amazingly, recurring prostate cancer could be such a gift.
Following the recurrence of my own aggressive prostate cancer (my PSA was doubling every three months) in 2002-3 after a very promising and successful radical prostatectomy surgery in 1995, I received an unsolicited, encouraging letter from a friend. The letter writer pointed out to me that every time an angel appeared to someone in the Bible, usually the first words spoken by the heavenly being were “do not fear” or “don’t be afraid.” Familiar Biblical recipients of such angelic messages include Hagar, Gideon, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds in the field, and the two Marys at the tomb of Jesus. I was informed that the phrase “do not fear” is cited 365 times in the Bible, once for each day. This is because God knows how prone we are to fear, anxiety, apprehension and mis-trust when we encounter something we do not understand or expect. But when the phrase “do not fear” is stated, it is invariably linked with a specific characteristic about God or Jesus, such as their presence, power, past performance or promises. Words such as “do not fear for I am……” or “do not fear for I have…..” appear countless times. For example, Isaiah 41:10 states “do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Such personal knowledge of and trust in the natures, characteristics and promises of God and His Son Jesus are the antidotes to fear and apprehension.
What can the Lord do with your unexpected, un-welcome “gift” of recurrent prostate cancer? Psalm 90:10 states that “as for the days of our lives, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years.” I turn 70 next month. Our biological clocks are running. In our cells, our telomeres are shortening. We have the remainder of our earthly life to look forward to followed by our eternal destiny which depends on our relationship with God through Jesus. Instead of our disease, our focus should now be on actions which will benefit our family, friends and acquaintances in this life and especially actions which will have eternal significance for ourselves and those around us. Let all we do glorify God and Christ. Examples of this abound in the Bible. In John 11, Jesus was urgently summoned to the house of his close friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Jesus delayed and meanwhile his friend Lazarus died. After the crowd accused Jesus of arriving too late to help, Jesus said in John 11:4 that Lazarus’ sickness was not intended for “death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God (Jesus) might be glorified thereby.” Lazarus was raised from the dead and went on to fulfill his life. Likewise, the man born blind from birth in John 9:1-3 was healed so that the works of God might be glorified in him. If that were not enough evidence, look what Jesus could do with five loaves of bread and two fish which were used to feed over 5,000 men in addition to women and children. So what can He do with your “brown bag gift”?
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus provided the right perspective on life’s happenings that we perceive to be hard to manage. He can handle anything and that’s why He said “come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Approach the Lord in prayer and cast our burdens upon Him so that He can sustain us. Remember He can use the “gift” you have been given in a brown paper bag to bring glory to Himself and God the Father.
All of us who have received the “gift” of prostate cancer have an assignment. First, we have to make sure our relationship with God through faith in Jesus is intact. If it is, then we should remember to list God’s and Jesus’ characteristics and remember how they have helped us in the past. Finally, we must lay our situations down before the Lord. What’s your brown bag gift and how will you entrust it? Existing medical treatments are available and new ones are progressing through clinical trials. Two treatments have been approved by the FDA this past year alone. God also uses wise, compassionate and knowledgeable physicians to treat and support us. God will sustain you and more than likely, you will be able to outlive this disease with many productive years ahead. Whether our cancer is cured, in remission, under treatment or has recurred, God still loves us so unconditionally that He offered up His Son so that through faith in Jesus, we may have a deeply personal relationship with God, the Father. In addition, He still has a master plan for our earthly life and the promise of eternal life in perfect, cancer-free bodies. You may think you have seen better days, but the best is still to come to those who know God and His Son, Jesus. He can best transform us into men whose lives will be productive, fulfilling and glorifying to God. Don’t give up!!!