“Everything is going to be just fine.” This was the ongoing mantra repeated by well-meaning friends when Sandy was diagnosed with cancer. Inside, we wanted to scream. But, honesty can be difficult in an environment in which it may appear unspiritual to question the sovereignty of God. I wanted to ask at which restaurant God was eating out at when the cancer first appeared.
Sandy was a woman whose life’s potential seemed barely tapped. How could God callously allow life to get so far off course in such a cruel manner? She was supposed to be at the prime of her life; it was too early to be thinking about sunsets. Our hearts wailed for her to God. We wept for all the things that might never be and for all the plans they had been so carefully laid out. Sandy had foreseen a life filled with family, work, church, and ministry. There was no time for doctors’ waiting rooms, endless consultations, and internet medical research. Who had so cruelly rearranged the calendar of her life?
Maybe some of these same doubts tempted the Apostle Paul during his lonely nights chained like a criminal in a cold, damp prison cell. Can you hear the pain in his voice when he wrote, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me…”? (II Timothy 1:15) In I Corinthians chapter four Paul describes going hungry, thirsty, wearing rags, being brutally treated, and being homeless. This doesn’t seem to jive with the comfortable warm and fuzzy brand of faith that many of us want to cuddle up to. If Paul was ministering today, many believers might consider him washed up because he was a jailbird sidelined off the fast track of popular ministry.
Was God caught unawares when Paul was grabbed by an angry mob and stoned? Was God oblivious when Paul’s name was slandered and maligned by the religious authorities? Was God unmindful when Paul was lonely and consumed with concern for his spiritual children being encircled by the wolves of Satan? Let’s look at the testimony of Paul’s writings. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…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.” (Romans chapter 8). It isn’t just the pleasant things God uses to work for the good; it is also the unsightly, the painful, and the agonizing occurrences of life. Things like prison cells, angry mobs, and yes, even cancer.
God never called Paul to a comfortable American dream of two kids, two cars, two homes, and a double income with a comfortable retirement account. God didn’t even call Paul to acclaim and fame. The religious authorities of that time questioned Paul’s credentials and downplayed his preaching abilities. That’s a low blow for a minister!
What kind of life did God call Paul to? A life of obedience filled with huge mountains of dark circumstances. Paul’s writings are filled hardship and tears. Yet prison also gave birth to Paul’s observations of Philippians 3:8, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christi Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” The greenhouse for Paul’s writings on joy was a jail cell. Paul had discovered that real joy is not grown in the climate of easy circumstances.
The roots of true joy are made to run deep because they have been forced to search for the True Living Water. A Christian who grows these kinds of roots withstands the buffeting of the winds of fortune. This kind of root system enables believers to survive drowning in a sea of doubt, even when it looks like the ship is going down. This kind of root system enabled Sandy to live well through her last months on this earth even though her body was betraying her daily. This kind of root system enables one to reach out to the heights of heaven and to hold the Master’s hand. The price for this root system demands everything one holds dear, but the harvest is well worth the cost.