God brings trials of various kinds into all our lives, and we are not to be surprised by this (1 Pet 4:12). But I admit that recent events in my family’s life have been quite unexpected and extraordinary. In His grace, the Lord has taught me many lessons through this experience, and I would like to share some of these with our readers.
My oldest daughter, Sarah (age 27), has been married to Luke for 6½ years. Up to this point, the Lord has not blessed them with children, and as February dawned, they had decided to see a fertility specialist. The doctor suspected that Sarah had endometriosis and ordered an ultrasound to confirm this diagnosis. When the ultrasound revealed that Sarah’s ovaries were five times their normal size, further blood tests and a CT scan confirmed a startling discovery: ovarian cancer. Our concerns about Sarah being able to bear children in nine months rapidly switched to concerns about whether Sarah would still be alive in nine months.
Through God’s kind providence, Sarah became a patient at the Mayo Clinic, whose oncology unit is ranked third highest in the United States. She underwent a three-hour surgery on February 20, during which both ovaries were removed along with her stomach lining, since these tissues were all infected by cancer. Imagine our joy when the surgeon shared two wonderful facts with us during our post-surgery meeting. First, there was no sign of any spread of the cancer to any other tissues. Second, the type of cancer was classified as a low malignancy form and chemotherapy would not even be necessary. Sarah is now recovering at home and her prognosis is very positive.
As our family has ridden the rollercoaster of emotions over these past three weeks, I have sought to hold on to the truth revealed in God’s Word. I have been encouraged to rest in the love of God shown in Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross; and I have been reminded of the magnificent power of God demonstrated by the empty tomb. Indeed, God’s Word, His love, and His power are never in short supply, and I can testify to this truth by pointing out several blessings, treasures of this trial, that God has showered upon me and my family.
First, God answers prayer. While I do not believe that God mandates a certain prayer regimen by His people to which He is obligated to respond, I do believe in the power of prayer. I have seen the truth of James 5:16b clearly displayed in these last two weeks: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Oh, how we prayed. Our family prayed and fasted as we looked to our Creator for healing; our church prayed corporately and individually; we gathered with our elders and prayed (James 5:14); many other churches prayed; many relatives and friends prayed. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that altogether thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world prayed for Sarah.
God uses the prayers of His people to help in doing His will. Jesus believed this (Lk 22:32), as did Paul (Col 4:3; 2 Thess 3:1) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb 13:18). This is why we prayed—humbly, expectantly, fervently. And God responded in ways beyond what we asked or imagined (Eph 3:20-21).
Second, God produces faith in our children. Parenting is not formulaic. We cannot force the truth into the hearts of our kids even though we seek to be faithful to our stewardship. Ultimately, only God can save them, and it is only by His grace that He generates spiritual fruit in their lives.
Though all our children have professed faith in Christ, Elaine and I continue to pray that they will grow and persevere in the faith and that they will love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Even when children have left the nest, what Christian parent ever stops praying like this? God has smiled upon us through Sarah’s cancer by revealing His gracious working in the lives of our children (and sons-in-law). To hear them express absolute trust and dependence upon God; to see them rest in His powerful and loving arms; and to observe them acknowledging the sovereignty and wisdom of God with not a single word of anger or denial or doubt toward Him shouts to anyone who wants to listen that God is great and glorious, loving and kind. Only God could produce this kind of faith in the lives of our children. What a privilege to have a front row seat to the awesome and inscrutable work of God!
Third, God providentially provides. God is ever at work preserving and governing His creation with absolute perfection and wisdom (Eph 1:11). We observe His work of providence, and we are often amazed by it. Though Sarah’s cancer was certainly a frowning providence, I did not want to miss the smiling providences of God which were many. Here are a few: 1) the ultrasound which revealed the infected ovaries when it was ordered for a different purpose; 2) the connection to the oncology unit at Mayo Clinic made possible through Sarah’s best friend from high school, who had worked in that area; 3) the expert care and surgical skill of the personnel at Mayo Clinic; 4) the blessing of technological innovations like Caring Bridge and Take Them a Meal which allowed us to spread the word about Sarah’s condition widely and quickly; 5) Christian friends in Rochester who opened their homes for our family to stay during Sarah’s time in the hospital; 6) excellent health insurance provided by Luke’s employer; 7) kindness from both Sarah’s and Luke’s employers allowing them to miss work during Sarah’s recovery; and 8) multitudes of friends and relatives who gave food and money so that the various expenses related to Sarah’s surgery could be provided.
Fourth, God uses His church. The lost world has no clue what they are missing outside the body of Christ. We, however, who love the church and are privileged to be a part of it have experienced the wonders of Christ’s love flowing to us through our local assembly as well as the larger universal body. Beginning with our brothers and sisters at Eden Baptist, we have experienced a deluge of grace in the form of meals, snacks, cards, gifts, and flowers. Extending beyond our local church, we have been amazed by the outpouring of love from our friends and relatives around the country and across the ocean. There have been 2500 visitors to Sarah’s Caring Bridge site. It took just a few hours to fill two weeks worth of meals for Luke and Sarah on Take Them a Meal. And most importantly, we have been very aware of the many prayers of the saints, poured out as a drink offering to the Lord on Sarah and Luke’s behalf. God’s Church has overwhelmed us by being obedient to its call to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 12:26).
These are just a few of the treasures I have found during this journey. Peter’s words are so true: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6-7).
This essay is by Jon Pratt, Vice President of Academics and Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Clouds and Darkness
Charlotte Elliot (1789–1871)
Clouds and darkness round about Thee
For a season veil Thy face,
Still I trust, and cannot doubt Thee,
Jesus full of truth and grace;
Resting on Thy words I stand,
None shall pluck me from Thy hand.
Oh, rebuke me not in anger!
Suffer not my faith to fail!
Let not pain, temptation, languor,
O’er my struggling heart prevail!
Holding fast Thy word I stand,
None shall pluck me from Thy hand.
In my heart Thy words I cherish,
Though unseen Thou still art near;
Since Thy sheep shall never perish,
What have I to do with fear?
Trusting in Thy word I stand,
None shall pluck me from Thy hand.