"You have prostate cancer". I heard the voice on the other end of the phone and went into shock. My urologist had called to give me the results of my prostate biopsy that had been done 2 days before. The previous two weeks of my life felt like a horrible dream. It just happened that my wife had been reading through our health insurance policy as we were in the process of changing to a new policy with a lower premium, when she noticed that it would cover a PSA test. She suggested I go have the test since the new policy would not provide this benefit. I was in no hurry because I figured 'I'm only 45 and my doctor has always told me that without a family history of prostate cancer routine screening isn't necessary until I turn 50.' My wife kept bugging me about it until I finally agreed to make an appointment with my family doctor, mainly to appease her. I saw the doctor, had the DRE (digital retal exam), which he said was normal, they drew my blood, and I didn't give it another thought. Four days later, I had a message on my voice mail from my doctor saying that I should call him as soon as possible. After a couple rounds of phone tag I finally got him on the phone. He said, "Your PSA is elevated." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, normal is 0 to 4. Yours is 86." I nearly dropped the phone. Again I asked, "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?" He replied, "I'm not sure. You need to see a urologist immediately. I've made you an appointment for tomorrow." The urologist repeated the DRE which he also said was normal, and did a repeat PSA "in case there was a mistake with the first one". He called me back the next day and said, "Well, now it's 92." He recommended a prostate biopsy which was done the following week. Two days later I got the devastating news.
My mind was a whirlwind. I thought, "How can this be? There can't be anything wrong with me. I feel fine. Prostate cancer is an old man's disease. Men in their 40's don't get this." As I began to process the reality of having cancer, I went through a whole gamut of emotions. At first all I could think about was my children. I got very angry with God. I threw his word in his face, screaming through tears and with clenched fists, "You promise me a hope and a future (Jer. 2:11). Well, I don't consider dying of cancer in my 40's a hope or a future." I pleaded with him, "God, you have to let me live long enough to get my children raised; please, just long enough to get them raised." I was terrified of what my future might hold.
As I began to go through a process of seeking out treatment options, at first I felt that I was just shooting in the dark. I was told by my urologist that my cancer was very aggressive and that I had a "high risk" disease as indicated by something called the Gleason score. It can go from a low of 4 to a high of 10. The higher the number the more aggressive the disease. My Gleason score was 9. I had a bone scan and abdominal CT scan, both of which thankfully were negative, so as far as they could tell it had not spread. I saw 8 different doctors before I began treatment. One of them told me I needed surgery immediately; it was the only chance I had for a cure. Two others just looked at me, shook their heads and said, "I don't know what to tell you to do. We just don't see men like you, as young as you with such a high risk disease with negative scans." 7 out of the 8 told me that due to the aggressive nature of my cancer, surgery was not a good option for me. My head was spinning and I was so confused.
I began to cry out more desperately than I ever had before for God to meet me. I was forced into a position of having to trust God for direction as my very life now depended on it. This was extremely difficult for me as I was quite crippled in my ability to trust God at any deep level. From childhood through adolescence every significant male in my life was either cruel to me, used me for something and then wanted nothing more to do with me, or, as in the case of my father, was simply not interested in involving himself in my life in any meaningful way. Because of the things that happened to me growing up, the only symbol my heart could conjure up for "father" was of someone who was aloof, indifferent, capricious and arbitrary, someone who didn't understand me and had no real inclination to try.
This broken image of father transferred to my view of God. I got saved when I was 16. I was drawn to the love of God that I sensed in the other Christians that were part of the bible study group that I was attending that summer. I have since realized that I could only relate to God as he was mediated through other Christians. I had no idea how to relate to God one on one due to this chasm in my soul. My relationship with him was entirely dependent on other people being in my life and reflecting his love and presence to me. As long as I was in a good church, surrounded by strong Christians and well integrated in the body of Christ, my spiritual life was pretty well on track. If I found myself without these things, my walk with Christ was pretty much non-existent. Actually, I can remember only one time in my life when I had a significant encounter with God that was not directly mediated through another person.
When I realized this, I began to cry out to God to know him, really know him, like I knew I hadn't up until then. I knew we were supposed to come to him as little children but I had no idea how to do this in a truly open, trusting way, because of my broken past. I made the following journal entry shortly before all of this happened, which proved to be very prophetic:
Faith: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I've realized of late that my "faith" has been very much based on sight, rather than trust. When things look good in my life: I'm feeling strong, I have a handle on my struggles, I'm feeling close to God, circumstances in my life are going my way, etc., my faith is strong. As Michael W. Smith says in his song, "I conquer the world for a moment…. Then the moment is gone." I believe God is challenging me to reach out in true faith when things don't look so great and trust that he is truly good all the time and to trust all of the things that I know that his word says are true about him. This is a big stretch for me because I find myself needing so much reassurance all the time. As C.S. Lewis wrote, " When all evidence of God has disappeared from the universe, this is when we must look up and say, "I will trust and obey anyway."
One awesome thing that happened was a vision that someone had while I was receiving prayer the Sunday before the biopsy was done, before I knew I had cancer. The person who had the vision, (who, by the way, had never met me prior to this), said he could see me in a rowboat, rowing like mad upstream trying to avoid going over a waterfall that was right behind me. He said he got the impression that I had spent a great deal of my life doing this. He said at that point there appeared in front of me a huge and violent storm. Suddenly, I was faced with the dilemna of either plunging over the waterfall or rowing into this horrible storm. He said he felt the Lord was saying, "There's another option you haven't considered: get out of the boat." Four days later I found out I had cancer. I began seeking God to understand what he was trying to tell me through this vision. I thought, "Okay, if this scenario were real, and I did get out of the boat, what good would it do me? I would still get swept over the waterfall in the current which would obviously be extremely strong that close to a waterfall." Then he took me to the passage in Matthew 14:28 where Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the water, and Peter says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus did so. I believe the Lord was saying the same thing to me. The vision made sense to me then. My God came to me at such a dark time in my life, beckoned to me to come out of the fortress I had made for myself, and to give up all of the self-effort of trying to forge my own way through life, and lovingly beckoned to me to step out in faith and come to him on the water, to keep my eyes on him and find that he will sustain me and give my life real direction.
God was beginning to teach me what faith truly is. I began to see that faith is about realizing our desperate dependence on Jesus. I liken it to how a newborn baby is dependent on its mother for everything, even its life. A newborn child has no conscious awareness of itself as an independent entity. In fact, it has no knowledge of itself as even being separate from its mother. In other words, it has no identity apart from its mother. It does not reason or think through its own needs and wonder if its mother will meet them. It doesn't try to do all the right things in order to gain favor with its mother so she will love it and take care of it. It simply is! Its mother loves it and takes care of it and nurtures it – she in fact would even give her life to protect it if need be – simply because it exists and because she loves it. The child doesn't have to work up enough faith or belief that its mother loves it or that she will be willing and able to meet its every need. It simply receives that which its mother willingly and lovingly gives it. It cannot do anything to earn that love or anything to repay it. Its parents did everything that had to be done to conceive the child, nurture it within the womb, bring it into the world, and nurture it outside the womb until it is able to care for itself. That child is such a blessing to its parents that it is a pure joy for them to love and nurture and care for it in whatever ways are needed.
I believe our Heavenly Father sees us in this way. We who belong to him are his children. He loves us and nurtures us the way we love and nurture our children but in a far greater, more infinite way. I believe we are to depend on him the way an infant depends on its parents. Our faith does not empower God to work in our lives, but it does enable us to receive the love and care that we need, which He is so willing to give. We must be careful that we do not try to use our faith to wield some sort of power over God to get Him to act according to our desires; or as a way to manipulate him to get what we want from him, to get him to answer our prayer according to our will. The best indicator of our faith is not favorable circumstances. It's when things aren't looking so good that we must press in and trust God, not that he will do everything the way we want, but to trust in his will, even when we can't see what lies ahead.
It would seem that there are those who believe that if we can muster up enough faith, God will and must give us everything we ask for. In other words, if I am not healed of this disease, or if my financial problems don't get resolved, or my child gets on drugs, or any other "storm" comes my way, it must mean that I don't have enough faith, or that my faith is too weak to do any good. This is a very dangerous place to go because it ultimately places us in a position of control. It is in essence saying to God, "I know what's best for me and I can get you to do things my way if I can just increase my faith enough", as if faith were equivalent to willpower. I believe that at the heart of this "faith distortion" is the false belief that once I am saved that along with getting a one-way ticket out of hell, that God is supposed to automatically relieve me of all future problems, sicknesses, difficulties, heartaches and anything else negative. The so-called "faith" of this belief system is based on what I think God should be obligated to do for me, and not on the relationship itself. It is a mistaken assumption that if my faith remains strong enough, I will never have to weather any of life's storms. The ultimate question each must answer is, 'What is the object of my faith?' Do I have faith in my ability to believe God strongly enough to get what I want from Him? Or is my faith rooted in total trust in and dependence upon God himself? There is a big difference here. The former constitutes faith in my faith, something that I can ultimately control. The latter is something most of us will find much more difficult, namely placing myself totally in the hands of Another, whom I cannot control.
The extent to which we depend on our Heavenly Father in total trust and absolute submission is the extent to which we are open to receiving the good gifts that he is always desiring to give us. Sometimes, though, his gifts look very different than we would like them to look, and come packaged in very unexpected ways. As was stated earlier, our faith is what gives us the ability to receive that which he is so willing to give, namely more of himself. Broken though we are, he still desires to pour more of himself into us, his love and his power in ever increasing measure. The bottom line is that it's all about Him! (As John the Baptist said, " I must decrease; He must increase.") We must be committed to seeking him just for him, not for anything we might receive from him. He is the goal. He is the prize.
We must realize that we are mere infants in relation to God. We cannot even know our own hearts before him (Jer. 17:9). He is the one who searches our hearts and knows our hidden motives (PS 139:23-24). Because of the fall and because we are finite creatures, we cannot possibly know what we need in this life like our Father knows. The Bible says we are weak but he is strong. It is when we come to terms with our own weakness and yes, even embrace our weakness, that his strength is made perfect. It is not our strength that is made perfect when we attain a higher level of faith. The point is that IT IS HIS STRENGTH AT WORK IN US, not our own. We must not lose sight of the fact that "apart from [him] we can do nothing." (John 15:5). This is a most crucial understading that we as Christians must get. We can go no further in our walk with God in Christ until we do. I believe that what Jesus meant by this is that whatever we do or whatever is accomplished in us or through us is totally and completely his work. He just chooses to use us as his instruments through which to accomplish his purposes.
This is where we must be completely convinced that he is totally good, that there is no shadow of turning where this truth is concerned. As long as we don't have this truth fully settled in our hearts and minds, there will always be lurking in us doubts about his good will for us, doubts that he truly does mean for us to have a hope and a future, (Jer. 29:11), doubts that his plans for us are always good, no matter how the circumstances may appear. What this doubt constitutes is a sin of unbelief. This is where I was under bondage. I knew in my head that God is good; his word says so. (I John 1:5; James 1:17). In my heart of hearts however, I was in bondage to a lie. Because of the pain of my childhood I had, in the depths of my soul, constructed a very high wall emotionally around myself and had encased the core of my being in a protective shell. Unconsciously I determined that I would not allow myself to be hurt anymore. Ironically, I would let other people in, but never God. He used the cancer to finally break down my defenses to where I would allow him to tear down the wall and crack open the shell. This was a very awesome and deep work of God that has subsequently allowed the truth of who he is to go from being factual knowledge to experiential reality in the deeper places of my heart. He showed me that Romans 8:28 means "all things". It doesn't mean all things except cancer, or all things except financial problems, or all things except losing a child, etc. It means what it says: that God causes ALL things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Jesus was the ultimate example to us in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to the Father, "Not my will, but yours be done." He so trusted in the goodness of his father that he could face the most excruciatingly horrible of circumstances, namely the cross, and endure to finish the work of redemption.
Neither do I believe that we need have the attitude that only says, "Well, if it's God's will" and stops there. That can too easily become a cop-out or an excuse to accept something that may not be his will. He does, after all, commission us at times to engage in direct spiritual warfare, to specifically come against some stronghold in our own life, or on behalf of another dear soul. Isn't this why he commands us to put on the full armor of God? (see Eph. 6:11-17.) We must humble ouselves before Almighty God, settle in our hearts that no matter what happens he is good and he is still in control, and renew our minds with the truth that his will is always for our good. We must also develop the discipline of seeking his face and listening for his renewing word that he is always speaking to us. This is done by spending time in the Word and in prayer; not just in making petitions of him, but in listening prayer as well. In this way we align ourselves with him and then are most able to receive his direction and guidance. We must then be willing to go forth in practical ways to do whatever he may lead or direct us to do. We must spend time with the master so we will hear his voice when he gives specific orders. This is where the "stepping out" comes, where faith really becomes faith; in other words, where faith finds its hands and feet. (See James 2:17-26).
Hand in hand with his goodness also is his sovereignty. Webster's dictionary defines sovereignty as "supreme power or dominion". Inherent in this meaning is the concept of supremacy, preeminence, and transcendence. Not only does he hold all power in the universe, but he also has all authority as well (Matt. 28:18). In other words, He is LORD. As I said before, we cannot use our "faith" to force his hand. We can absolutely stand on his word and on the promises contained therein; after all, the bible says that heaven and earth will pass away, but [his] words will never pass away. He does, however, have the final say in what happens to us. He always answers our prayers. Sometimes the answer is 'yes', sometimes it is 'no', and sometimes it is 'wait'.
Sometimes, as in my case with cancer, his answer was simply, "Trust me." He spoke this to me by way of a vision: I could see God holding his hands together out in front of himself, like the Allstate insurance insignia (wow, now that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You're in good hands"!) Anyway, I was sitting in his hands with my back resting against his arms. I had the sense that we were moving along, quite fast, it seemed, through life. I was able to see everything around me very clearly. Very suddenly, however, we plunged into total darkness. I could no longer see anything although I still had the sense that we were continuing at the same rapid pace as before. I became quite frightened because I could not see where we were going or what was ahead (ie. the future; see Ps. 139:11-12). Then I heard the Father whisper in my ear, "Don't be afraid. I hold your life in my hands. Now you realize that you must totally trust me for your very life from here on. This is the truest test of your faith to date. I AM good. Trust in my goodness. I AM also sovereign; everything is ultimately under my control. Trust in my sovereignty. I hold you in the palm of my hands and in my everlasting arms you will abide. All the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be." (Ps. 139:16b.) God knew that what I needed was not an explanation, but a revelation of himself. In times of doubt, we need a new view of God and it pleases him to give it to us.
God began a deep work in my soul such that I was able to begin trusting him in ways that I had never been able to before. He continues that work today. I still get scared sometimes; I still worry sometimes. I get angry with God occasionally; I still ask 'why', sometimes pretty frequently. After all, I don't know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future. I see myself now as being branded as a bondservant of Jesus. I finished the cancer treatment in 2006 and today thank the Lord, my PSA is still within normal limits. My hope, though, is not in the cure; my hope is in the Christ, the lover of my soul. My joy and peace are not found in a normal PSA, but in the Savior's loving kindness and tender mercy that are His nature. He is my Papa God. He literally snatched me from the jaws of death and my life is his to do with as he pleases, whether I live another 40 years or I die tomorrow.