There is nothing so humbling in this world than receiving the news that the body harbors a potentially deadly disease. The range of emotions is intense as the mind desperately tries to process this new reality. I can remember sitting in that dark room in the emergency department, trying to maintain a grasp on reality as the doctor told me of her findings on the CT scan. It was the most surreal event in my life. Never before have I ever felt so weak and powerless. Thinking upon that moment now, I have to admit that I felt a lot like Gideon when the Angel of the Lord called him into God’s service. Lord, this cannot be real. I am too weak and powerless for such a venture. You misunderstand me God, for I am of weak stock and not only that, I am the weakest of that stock. Why me Lord? Why me?
I am too weak and powerless for such a venture. You misunderstand me God, for I am of weak stock and not only that, I am the weakest of that stock. Why me Lord? Why me?
I am not fit for a calling such as this. It has taken me some time to process the fact that having cancer is part of my calling; however, this disease did not take God by surprise and, if God’s word is to be trusted, he has plans not to harm but to prosper. I have held on tightly to that promise and I am eagerly awaiting the greater blessings.
Just like me, I am not so sure the Gideon was ready for God to call him into service. Here he is, using a winepress to thresh wheat in order to keep his enemies from seeing what he is doing. He did not think too much of himself and never figures that he would be called into greater service. When God did speak, the ensuing conversation is rather interesting:
Angel of the Lord: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Gideon: “But sir…if the Lord is with us, why has all of this happened to us?”
Angel: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
Gideon: “But Lord…how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Angel: “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (NIV Jdg 6.12-16).
Wow. The Angel of the Lord does not even address Gideon by name; instead, he addresses him by all that he has yet to accomplish. Mighty warrior. A word, based on Gideon’s testimony of himself, that he has never heard applied to him before. I cannot even begin to imagine the thoughts swirling around in Gideon’s head. It sounds like he has very little confidence in himself to accomplish anything mediocre let alone the great undertaking in which God is calling him. Once Gideon realizes that God is serious, he relents and saves Israel from the hands of Midian. A man who used to call himself the least is now the greatest among his brothers and has set set Israel free from bondage and oppression. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.
I can truly relate to Gideon and his demands of God to show him sign after sign, just to confirm that he was indeed hearing correctly. God, please do not walk away until I have given you an offering and please, oh please let me witness you consume the offering. Then maybe I will believe you are calling me. This cannot possibly be right, so Lord let me put this fleece out overnight and if it is the only thing damp in the morning then I will believe.
God, please do not walk away until I have given you an offering and please, oh please let me witness you consume the offering. Then maybe I will believe you are calling me.
Okay God, the fleece was damp and the ground dry, but you really cannot possibly be calling me, so let me just put this fleece out one more time and if the ground is wet and the fleece dry then I will believe. When we hold the view that we can only accomplish all we have been called to do through the power of our own strength we too, like Gideon, will have a hard time believing that God is calling us to do more with our lives than we are; it just seems impossible that God, who has the power to breath the world into existence, can need us to do anything to further his plans.
The diagnosis of cancer is God calling me to do greater things than I ever thought I am capable of doing. He has called me to battle against my own body, to find reserves of strength I never though possible in order to overcome the trials of radiation therapy and recover from a radical surgery. He is still calling me to have faith to continue the battle against the side effects of medication and to stand fast in the face of residual disease. All I want to do is call out to God and ask him who he truly sees me to be. Does he understand my weaknesses? Does he see my infirmities? Will he take pity on me and remove this disease so I no longer have to fight a battle I feel powerless to win? In his sovereign grace he has said no to all my demands and has asked me to continue in both faith and power to stand as a testimony to the riches and goodness that is available in Christ. It is an intense calling and one that, like Gideon, I constantly question if God has chosen the right person for the job.
This is something that my personal hero of the faith, Paul, knew intimately. He too was stricken and afflicted. He too felt powerless against its invasion of his body and cried out to God not once, but three times, to remove the thorn. Each time Paul called out, God answered with a resounding no. He told Paul that his infirmity was to his benefit and by patiently enduring, his life would bring glory to God and peace. How on earth can an illness bring peace to the sufferer? It seems to be one of God’s great paradox, through illness we will find peace and strength. It defies all we think we know to be true of the world; but that is God, his ways are not the world’s ways. For he tells us that:
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (NIV 1. Co 1.25).
He also tells us that:
“…God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (NIV 1 Co 1.27).
Since getting sick, I have discovered that I am a mighty warrior. I have discovered that I can endure pain I never thought possible. I learned that I can stand up to the most invasive surgery I have ever had and remain strong during the healing process. I have had nurses marvel at the strength I demonstrated during my stay in the hospital, and through that strength was able to be discharged long before they had projected. I have been able to battle though the long recovery and, even though I have fallen short on occasion, stand fast through the process. This has not been of my own power, it could only come from the power of Christ residing within me, keeping me strong, and fighting the battle for me (2 Co 12.9). This is the message that he wants me to share with those who are coming along behind. While the outlook may feel bleak, and it may seem like an illness cannot possibly bring blessing, I am here to say that it is the surest way to feel the power of God surging within you. He fills up those weak places and makes it possible to stand and fight. His strength makes it possible to face another day knowing that cancerous cells are lurking within the deepest recesses of the body. It is also a comfort to know that, despite how things may look through the eyes of the world, the battle has already been won and God is preparing a table in the presence of this enemy and we will feast (NIV PS 23.4.6).
Finally, through the trials and tribulations of illness, we are able to partake in the sufferings of Christ as he suffered in the body on the cross. To testify to this truth, Paul writes:
“For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve…” (NIV 2 Co 13.4).
It is at the cross, when Jesus was his weakest, that we can find healing for our exhausted bodies. He gives us his spirit which fills us with the same power that resurrected him from the dead (NIV 2 Co. 12.9). Therefore, since this power resides within us, we can rejoice with Paul in our weaknesses, hardships, and difficulties; for where we experience weakness, we will find incredible strength.