It was exactly 7 years ago that my husband, Rob, was diagnosed with cancer. His ocular melanoma was discovered when he went to see his eye doctor about some minor shadowy vision he had been experiencing. He was quickly referred to and examined by a retina specialist whose strained countenance displayed the devastating reality we were facing. We walked out of his office in stunned silence, and sat on a bench in the sunny foyer to pray and try to process the diagnosis that had been pronounced over our lives. On that day in February 2011, our “normal” life came to a screeching halt.
When we arrived at home, I made a bee-line to the computer to google my way to some medical facts that would help me better understand this menacing and mysterious cancer. There was no optimistic news. The days that followed were dark and disorienting, but our merciful God convinced us of one powerful and guiding truth: Our battle was not going to be against cancer. Cancer was not our enemy.
God’s merciful instruction to our fearful and weary hearts was that the battle we were facing was one that could end in absolute victory. The battle we were going to face was (and is): What is going to rule our hearts and minds?
Proverbs 4:23 gives this instruction: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 emphasizes the priority of the heart: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”
In a sense, our hearts felt up for grabs: would we allow Jesus to reign on the throne of our hearts, or would we allow fear, despair, hopelessness, and anxiety to rule? There was no way we could control the outcome of a rare cancer diagnosis, but there would be a promised victory in our hearts if Jesus remained on the throne.
The battle for my heart still rages. The “battlefield” several years ago was cancer. The “battlefield” now is widowhood. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. That’s the battle. Your battlefield may be a different one than the one I face. Your circumstances (the “battlefield”) may be unemployment, infertility, a broken relationship, parenting heartaches, job disillusionment, or a health crisis. Our battlefields are different, but the real battle we face is the same: the battle for our hearts and minds.
This quote from Nancy Guthrie describes so accurately the truth of my own weakness in the battle and the strength of the One who has promised to never leave me or forsake me: “… I am not strong. However, I am tethered to Someone who is strong. I am not holding on to hope in terms of a positive perspective about the future or an innate sense of optimism, but rather holding on to the living person of Jesus Christ. I am grabbing hold of the promises of God, His purposes, and His provision, and refusing to let go.”
I recently came across an email that I wrote to a friend during the final weeks of Rob’s life. In part, it said, “These have been exhausting days, but God has been near. I think we are blessed to have such an acute awareness of the preciousness of time. I find that I need huge chunks of time to read Scripture and Scripture-saturated books. My mind wants to take me down the path of despairing thoughts at every turn. But God’s Word continues to be life-giving and heart-sustaining. I pray that the truth of Psalm 59:16, 17 will continue to be my experience: “But I will sing of Your strength; I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning. For You have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to You, for You, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”
I still occasionally get knocked down on this unfamiliar battlefield of widowhood. I’m sure that you find yourselves wearied and beat up on the battlefields that you are experiencing. One of Satan’s schemes against us is to distract us from our focus on Jesus, and to keep us preoccupied with the thought that a change in circumstances would solve all our problems.
Peter took his eyes off Jesus and was focused on the waves that threatened his safety. That’s when he sank. And that’s when we sink too. John Piper says, “If we don’t ‘call to mind’ what God has said about himself and about us, we languish. Oh, how I know this from painful experience. Don’t wallow in the mire of godless messages in your own head.”
The suffering and hardship of this life are a ‘normal’ part of our fallen and sin-scarred world. Our best efforts at planning and ordering our lives cannot prevent unanticipated and unwelcomed trials. Battlefields are treacherous. They are filled with hidden dangers and heart-wearying pain.
But the actual battle, the battle for our hearts, can be won, even if no change in our circumstances ever occurs. That’s when we discover the hidden riches of the abundant grace of God, and the nearness to God that He promises in His ever-living and powerful Word. It’s in His Word that we learn of the character of the One who holds us and keeps us. My faith would be shipwrecked in a moment if I depended on myself or anyone or anything else.
Who or what will we trust for strength, security, and answers to our searing questions and disconcerting doubts? That’s the battle, and by God’s grace we can commit our way completely into the loving care of our merciful and ever-faithful heavenly Father:
“Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”