Growing in Grace
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. –2 Corinthians 4:16
One dinnertime, shortly after my cancer diagnosis, when all my children were gathered around the table, I saw the older ones put food on my youngest daughter’s plate. I was greatly comforted to know that Mimi, who was just seven, would be cared for by her achis (older sisters). In that moment, God let me see that whatever happened, my children would take care of one another. His grace would be sufficient. All things would work together for the good.
“Don’t waste your cancer,” John Piper wrote on the eve of his cancer surgery. By living well with cancer rather than dying from cancer, Piper believes that Christians with cancer can glorify God.
Certainly, no one would choose cancer! But during radiation, I experienced the precious warmth of God’s great love for me and the embrace of his grace and mercy more than at any other time of my life. When I felt physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted, frustrated, or depressed, God was my constant companion. As I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he joined me and walked with me.
Looking back, there are many things in my life that I would not have chosen for myself, but these circumstances always made me grow, leading me to deeper knowledge of God and a fuller experience of God’s love.
When I felt weary, tired, worn-out, and wanted to give up, God said, “Run to me.” When the burden was heavy, and I felt weighed down with anger, sadness, worthlessness, and self-pity, God said, Come to me. You are my beloved. I am with you always. I love you. I forgive you. I treasure you. You are precious to me. I put you here for a purpose. I will enable you to accomplish the purpose. People will glorify me because of you. Stop struggling. Come to Me, and I will give you rest—from working to please people, from struggling against anger and anxiety, from striving to be right, from seeking after affirmation (drawn from Matthew 11:28–31).
For it is cumbersome to lug around heavy baggages! We will be hindered from moving on. This is why seasoned travellers only pack essentials. They know exactly what they need—and also what they don’t need.
Hebrews 12 teaches us this same principle for our spiritual journeys:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (vv. 1–3).
Hebrews 11 describes this great cloud of witnesses as great men and women who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground (vv. 33–38).
These people threw off everything that hindered them from obeying God. They persevered in their goals, hanging on to the promises of God.
Today, Christians are called to the same path. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the example of true obedience to God, the Father. Jesus endured the shame and suffering on the cross to fulfill God’s salvation plan for mankind. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God in heaven. When we fix our eyes on Jesus and remember how he suffered and persevered to the end, God promises that we will not grow weary. We will not give up. Each one of us has been called to glorify God.
In the Old Testament, prophets were called to make known the Sovereign God to obstinate people who would not listen. Most of the prophets were exiled—Jonah swallowed by a big fish, Daniel thrown in lion’s den, Jeremiah thrown in the pit to starve, Ezekiel told his wife would die, Hosea told to marry a prostitute! None of them volunteered to be God’s prophet, but God called, and they obeyed.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Each problem we experience, each grief we bear, every frustration and disappointment in our lives is an opportunity for us to experience God. In sorrow, he gives comfort. In despair, he gives hope. With unlovable people, he enables me to love. For each dilemma, he gives wisdom. In trouble, he gives peace.
When we face difficulties, God is glorified—not because the problem goes away, but when we live out of God’s amazing grace, when we become joyful in spite of our circumstances, when we give thanks in everything.
It is easy to be happy when life is rosy, because we don’t need God and can manage on our own. But when there is financial trouble, when relationships are broken, when sickness comes knocking, when our children do not get healed from a terminal disease, when our families are not spared from the tragedies of fire, earthquake, and other natural calamities, we can shine amidst the darkness as we stand firm in faith, hope, and love, trusting that the God who loves each one of us will lead us through the ups and downs of life.
Just as it takes hot water to bring out the taste in teabags, our lives will have more impact and show forth greater glory when we hang onto God in the midst of difficulties.
We all have a “cancer” in life, something “toxic” in Pinoy culture. But we can all invite God to transform what is malignant into something benign—or even good.
For God’s grace is sufficient. He sees us through the long dark tunnel. With each difficult challenge, he enables us to overcome by nourishing us with his Word. As we read his promises, trust in his word, and obey him, we will experience how “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Dear Jesus, I come to you with my heavy load. Help me take on your easy yoke and know your rest. I have trouble in the world. Help me take heart and know your peace. Amen.