A Sickness Not Unto Death

A Sickness Not Unto Death

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IMG_6083fAs many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer in June and had my thyroid surgically removed. Two weeks ago I swallowed a tablet of radioactive iodine to kill any remaining thyroid cells.

Late last week I had a full body scan to see if there were any other discernible tumors in my body. Thanks be to God, there were not. As you can imagine, we are greatly relieved that we are not facing any immediate risks.

Much Better News

I received even better news earlier in the week, however, when I read Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional on the death and resurrection of Lazarus:

“This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4).

From our Lord’s words we learn that there is a limit to sickness. Here is an “unto” within which its ultimate end is restrained, and beyond which it cannot go. Lazarus might pass through death, but death was not to be the ultimatum of his sickness. In all sickness, the Lord saith to the waves of pain, “Hitherto shall ye go, but no further.” His fixed purpose is not the destruction, but the instruction of his people.

The limit is encouragingly comprehensive. The God of providence has limited the time, manner, intensity, repetition, and effects of all our sicknesses; each throb is decreed, each sleepless hour predestinated, each relapse ordained, each depression of spirit foreknown, and each sanctifying result eternally purposed. Nothing great or small escapes the ordaining hand of him who numbers the hairs of our head.

This limit is wisely adjusted to our strength, to the end designed, and to the grace apportioned. Affliction is not haphazard–the weight of every stroke of the rod is accurately measured. He who made no mistakes in balancing the clouds and meting out the heavens, commits no errors in measuring out the ingredients which compose the medicine of souls. We cannot suffer too much nor be relieved too late.

The limit is tenderly appointed. The knife of the heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than is absolutely necessary. “He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” A mother’s heart cries, “Spare my child;” but no mother is more compassionate than our gracious God. When we consider how hard-mouthed we are, it is a wonder that we are not driven with a sharper bit. The thought is full of consolation, that he who has fixed the bounds of our habitation, has also fixed the bounds of our tribulation.

A 100% Chance of Living … and Dying

Spurgeon’s insight into God’s loving and sovereign control over every detail in our lives, including our illnesses, is a great encouragement to Corlette and me as we look beyond these recent medical procedures.

Although we are aware of no immediate risks, my cancer is still rated as stage IV. Based on the size of the original tumor, the number of lymph nodes infected, and my age, the doctors predict that some thyroid cells probably survived the radiation treatment and will trigger more tumors within five years.

I have a particular gene that could cause this to happen more quickly and make it difficult to stop. But in most cases this is a slow process that can be addressed through careful monitoring and repeated treatments.

Of course God can trump all of these predictions. He has the power to immediately and miraculously heal me, which we pray he will do. He could also bring complete healing or incremental successes through natural processes and good medical care.

On the other hand, God could take me or you home at any time. The fact is that each of us has a 100% chance of living every one of the days he has assigned to us, and a 100% chance of dying the moment our time runs out (Ps. 139:16).

More importantly, if we’ve put our trust in Jesus Christ, we have a 100% chance of being instantly transported into his glorious presence the moment he draws our lives in this world to an end (John 3:16). That is the only statistic that really matters.

Pray for a Life that Reflects and Glorifies Christ

I would of course appreciate your continued prayers for good health. At this time I feel fully energized and am eager to love my family and press on with the new ministry God has called us to serve.

But I would be even more grateful if you prayed that my life (and yours!) would reflect and glorify Jesus Christ every day that he gives to us.

To put it another way, please pray that the promise Jesus made about Lazarus would be fulfilled in my life as well as yours:

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

As John 11 indicates, Lazarus did die. But Jesus brought him out of the tomb to display his power, to give us a foretaste of the resurrection, and to bring glory to his name (John 11:40-44).

Jesus has done the same thing for all who trust in him. Through his death and resurrection, he has brought each of us out of our own tomb of sin and darkness, given us a new life, and empowered us to display the glory of his transforming grace in our lives (Col. 1:13-14; Rom. 6:4-5).

So even as we pray for good health and length of days, let us pray even more earnestly that God would give us grace to glorify him by living out these truths every moment of our lives:

“Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:24-26).

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:8-11).

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:1-3, 12-14).

This is how God calls us to live and die. It is a path that leads to unshakeable peace and a rich and meaningful life … and an even better life when he calls us home.

Thank you for your many prayers and words of encouragement. The Lord has used them to lift our spirits and keep our focus on him.

I’ll let you know if there are any new developments health-wise. For now you can assume that no news is good news.

But more importantly, I hope to let you know how God is helping us to live out the truths described in the passages listed above.

– Ken Sande

If you are facing struggles of your own, I encourage you to see my earlier post, Cancer Is All about Relationship, and to read Jerry Bridge’s excellent Bible study on suffering, Trusting God, Even When It Hurts. For a marvelous example of how to face terminal cancer, see Kara Tippet’s blog.

Reflection Questions

  • Reread Spurgeon’s devotional on John 11:4. How should this perspective of God’s love and sovereignty change our attitude toward illness and other types of suffering?
  • How would your life be different if you fully embraced the Scripture passages listed above?
  • Do you know someone who is going through serious illness or suffering? Consider sharing these thoughts (as well as those in Cancer Is All about Relationship) with them as way to remind them of the hope they can have in Christ.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2014 Ken Sande

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13 Responses to "A Sickness Not Unto Death"
  1. I’m not sure I find this of comfort … I think in the throws of my difficult life trials these past 18+ months with not much hope in sight … it makes me feel like if God is in charge, then this is where He wants me to be and that’s scary. I am about to lose my home, my family and I am trying so hard to stay His course, praying for my heart to stay strong and devoted to Him, but it feels terribly unfair when I see others who pay no mind to Christ have so much. I know, first world problems, but this is uplifting if you are on the other side of an illness or tragedy, but while you are in the throws it almost feels for those of us new to the faith as if no matter what, this is it. I will continue to pray, praise and worship God, for I know my life would be a million times worse without Him….my spiritual therapy if you will, but I’m heartbroken that my current tragedy/difficulty is preordained and honestly leaves me feeling a lot less hopeful.

    • Dear Kim. I’m sorry to hear of the great suffering you are going through. It must feel like the whole world is closing in around you. Many people in similar situations have struggled to understand why a loving and all-powerful God would allow his children to go through such trials (see Psalm 73). I’ve always found comfort in knowing that even the extreme suffering of our Lord was not by chance but happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), which he put in place before the foundations of the world for our salvation. When I come to issues I can’t fully understand, I also find comfort in Deuteronomy 29:29. Jerry Bridge’s book, Trusting God, Even When Life Hurts, is also a great help. Corlette and I will be praying that God would meet you in your pain and bring you his comfort and peace.

    • Dear Kim,
      May I clarify something? In my (imperfect and still developing) understanding, which I have learned through great suffering of my own, there are 3 main sources of our suffering.
      1) As in this article we just read, yes, sometimes it is ordained by God to purify us, just as olive oil is made by crushing the olive, perfume by crushing the rose petals, a diamond by incredible weight on coal followed by precise cutting, etc. Or sometimes, as in Job’s case, it is allowed by God to test us and prove what we are made of. (See the first and last chapters of the book of Job.) Or God, having an infinitely bigger picture than we do, may have other reasons. We often don’t understand all the “why”. But we know that He is good.
      2) Then I believe some of our pain is a direct result of our own actions and choices. A simple example: if I lose my temper and pound the table for emphasis, hurting my hand, that was not ordained by God! That is simply a direct consequence of my choice and action. That is a simple example, but it can apply to many and more complicated areas of our lives. Our financial choices and habits can lead to stability or bankruptcy. Our work habits can lead to a promotion or being laid off (or worse). Etc.
      3) Finally, the Bible tells us that we have an enemy who hates us, and who “prowls about like a roaring lion”, seeking who he can devour (1 Peter 5:8), a “thief” seeking only “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He loves to mess up what is most precious to us. This is why we pray for protection, and why we commit ourselves to God.
      Sometimes, our suffering can be a result of all 3 of these areas mixing together… Take that hurting hand example: our enemy could very well have played a part in the circumstances that led to my getting angry. Then I chose to react the way I did. Then God can use my hurting hand to speak to me and help me learn from this, and hopefully react in a better way in the future. But let us be clear: God did not cause me to hurt my hand!

      BUT HERE’S THE KEY, KIM: despite these sufferings we endure while on this earth, no matter their source, WE HAVE HOPE.
      One of Jesus’ names is “Immanuel”, which means “GOD WITH US”. He left heaven to come suffer with us, to beat Death itself, to offer us hope, life now and forever, friendship with Him, healing, etc.
      In contrast to our enemy (who seeks to kill and steal and destroy), the second part to that John 10:10 verse (mentioned above) says: “I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
      And in another key verse, the apostle Paul said to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. … What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28, 31-32)
      And I Corinthians 10:13 which says,
      “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
      In a letter to the Israelites when they were suffering in exile, God spoke through Jeremiah and said, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
      The Bible is full of such passages of hope in suffering. Victory over trials.

      So don’t lose heart. Jesus/Immanuel is with you. His last words recorded in Matthew (28:20) are, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

      (Dear Lord, please be with Kim as she walks through these difficult times! Strengthen her with your Spirit, that she may have the strength, courage, understanding, patience, and everything else she needs, to get through each step of the way, Your way. In Jesus’ precious name we agree and ask for this together, Amen.)

      • Dear Rachelle … what a blessing, thank you for taking the time to write, to care and to pray for me! There are no words … I have printed this and have it on my bulletin board. Every time I read it, I have a new perspective/understanding and hope. I am truly filled with gratitude and very thankful for your note.

  2. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord:…. 2kings3:18
    My prayer is with you, your family and you ministry! Yes God is able!!!

  3. Nine years later I am still cancer free but aware that I have only one reason to boast – the Savior who gives me length of days. We are immortal until Jesus is done with us. Thanks for this post, brother. Praying for your complete recovery.

  4. Praise God for this miraculous healing, and for allowing you to use your illness to help encourage and strengthen others in similar situations, to provide hope, for the glory of God! Will continue to pray that you will stay faithful to His calling, and that the healing will be complete. God is so good!

  5. I was at a couple of your classes at the Winston Salem Homeschool conference in 2013…found out earlier this year I’d developed my second and third separate cancers..I identify with so much of your thoughts and especially feeling so blessed by our good God in the middle of this storm/refining fire! Prayers for you and your family!

    • Thank you, Laura. I’m sorry you’re going through cancer again, but I’m glad that you feel the closeness and goodness of God. I do too!

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