This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s…’ (2 Chronicles 20:15)
“Doctor Weissler is on the phone.” My husband, Gil, had taken the call while I was upstairs getting my luggage together for a trip to Asheville, NC. My denomination, the Anglican Church in North America, was hosting a gathering of its lay people and clergy from across the United States. I had been looking forward to attending this Provincial Assembly and one of my colleagues in Raleigh, the Rev. Dr. John Gibson and his wife, Lisa, were due at my house in thirty minutes to pick me up for the four-hour drive to Asheville.
I was surprised to be hearing from Dr. Weissler, my E. N. T. oncology surgeon, who last December had skillfully removed a massive tumor from the right side of my jaw, where it meets the ear. Just the day before this phone call, on June 4, I had undergone a CT scan of my lungs, done as a precaution. When a similar CT scan was performed before my surgery last December, it revealed the presence of two small “nodes,” most likely scar tissue in my lungs. However, medical protocol stipulated that a follow-up scan should be done six to nine months later, just to make sure those “nodes” were truly harmless. I had always assumed they were and had never worried about them.
“Two additional nodes have shown up on this most recent CT scan and the radiologist and I think you should see a thoracic oncology surgeon.” This surprising news was the reason for the phone call. I was stunned. “What about the two original nodes?” I inquired. “They’re fine; they haven’t changed. But the new one in the upper left lung is of concern. There’s also a smaller one in the right lung,” reported Dr. Weissler. “Hang in there; we just have to check these out.”
I recalled the pathology report on the tumor removed in December: ‘not likely to metastasize’ was the phrase that had given me comfort. My doctors were more worried about recurrence at the original site. For this reason, I opted to receive weekly chemo treatments while undergoing radiation, in the hope that the chemotherapy, when paired with the radiation, would destroy any microscopic cancer cells that may have been left behind when the tumor was removed. However it appeared now that one cancer cell, at least, had escaped, perhaps even before the surgery to remove the tumor, and had travelled to my lung.
I hung up the phone and Gil and I prayed. We quickly reached the decision that I should not change my plans. Before I left for the Assembly, I called my friend, Cynthia, who prayed with me over the phone and reminded me that God’s promises are irrevocable. It was Cynthia who laid hands on me and prayed last November, a week before my surgery, and afterwards my tumor visibly shrunk and the paralysis that had set in on the right side of my face, completely reversed itself. Many others, near and far, were also praying for me at that time – and I can honestly tell you that on the day of surgery a miracle occurred.
The tumor, which measured 4.2 centimeters once it was removed, was still very large and aggressive and Dr. Weissler had told us two weeks before surgery he would have to remove my facial nerve, along with the tumor. “The nerve runs right through the tumor,” he said. “There is no way to save it and get that tumor out.” However, once he had begun to operate Dr. Weissler discovered that the nerve did not run through the tumor. He told Gil, later, that he had no explanation for this surprising development. But we did: it was the hand of God.
So I set out for Asheville with the conviction that having acted mightily on my behalf in December the Lord would act mightily on my behalf again. While at the Assembly I spent some time alone in prayer in order to discern how I should pray specifically about the lesions in my lungs. I sensed the Lord saying to me, “Press in for your healing.” I was not sure how to go about doing that so I sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who led me to a familiar passage: 2 Chronicles 20.
As I began to study in detail this story of how God vanquished a mighty army bearing down upon the people of Judah, I saw in the faithful actions of King Jehoshaphat and his people a template for how to “press in” when an enemy, whether one on a field of battle, or one, like cancer, is threatening to take one’s life.
I noted how the first thing King Jehoshaphat did was call for a time of fasting and prayer. However, he did not begin his prayer with a cry for help. Instead, he began with an offering of praise. He called to mind God’s attributes, character and mighty acts: “O Lord, God of our fathers,” he prayed, “are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (vv. 6-7) By beginning with praise, Jehoshaphat reminded his people of how trustworthy God is, by recalling what God has done in the lives of their ancestors. Beginning their prayer with praise would help them to trust that God can and will act just as powerfully in their own day. I have learned over the past months that such praise is essential in prayer for healing.
Next, Jehoshaphat reaffirmed the covenant made between God and his people. By proclaiming anew that they would uphold their part of the covenant by turning to God, alone, when disaster came upon them, he was humbly reminding God, and all the people who had gathered, that God’s part was to save them. He declared in verse 9: ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this [temple] and before you— for your name is in this [temple]—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ (v.9).
And only then, after calling to mind who God is and what he has done in the past and what he promises to always do for his people, when they trust in him, did Jehoshaphat bring his petition before the Lord with these words: “…we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you…“Will you not execute judgment on them?” (v. 12) Once his prayer was over, he waited to hear God’s answer.
Jehoshaphat’s faith and humility were rewarded because the Lord responded by telling the people of Judah not to be afraid, “for,” he said, “the battle is not yours but God’s.” (v. 15) In the end, the Lord caused the armies that were bearing down on Judah to attack each other, so that, “when the men of Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were [nothing but] dead bodies lying on the ground; [for] none had escaped.” (vv. 22, 24). The Lord had acted mightily on behalf of his people, once again.
You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged… (2 Chronicles 20:17)
What we see modeled for us in this passage is how to trust in the Lord when facing a crisis, whether large or small. First, we prayerfully seek the mind of the Lord, sometimes with fasting, if the Spirit should lead us to do so. Next, in our prayer we offer praise to the Lord by calling to mind who God is and what he has done for us in the past, as well as for his people of old in the Bible. Then, we affirm that the Lord is our Savior and that we will trust in no one else for help and salvation. Finally, we petition the Lord with whatever it is that is troubling us, acknowledging our powerlessness and his sovereignty, asking him to act in a mighty way.
And while we wait for God’s intervention we do what he instructed the people of Judah to do: we stand firm and hold our ground, remembering that the battle is not ours, but God’s. After carefully studying this passage of Scripture, this is exactly what I began to do that day in June when I learned that my enemy, cancer, had returned.
Next time: more about how to press-in and stand firm when under siege.