After five weeks of vocal problems a specialist let me know that I have a cyst on my left vocal fold that is damaging the right vocal fold every time I talk. I’m sure you can imagine all the thoughts that go through the mind of someone who uses their voice for a living. Obviously, it must be removed as soon as possible, and surgery is 9 days from now.
Practically, this means I must severely limit my speaking until the cyst is removed, and for several weeks following. So for the next month this extremely extroverted pastor will only be able to speak a few words per hour. I can’t quite express just how humbling and discouraging this has been. This means my wife will need to lead our eight children without my verbal support for most of the rest of the year. Our staff will have to endure the inconvenience of text communication. And it will be several months before I am back to full capacity. This assumes everything goes as planned.
My friend Brian asked a great question. Do you sense this is God trying to change your focus or the devil trying to threaten your calling?
How would you answer that?
Many Christians, of course, would say this is quite simple. Of course this is the devil. God gives abundant life, the enemy steals, kills, and destroys. Fight. Resist the devil in this. Others have a different emphasis. God is sovereign. He is a good shepherd and you can trust that nothing happens in this universe outside of his control. Relax. Submit to God in this.
This is why I appreciate how James exhorts us in both directions in the same verse: “Submit to God. Resist the devil.” (James 4:7)
It is a petty theology that makes no room for affliction and God’s ability to use it for his purposes and our good. If God wants someone like me to shift direction, or give myself to solitude, or re-examine my pace, or spend more time writing, or watching, or evaluating, or praying – I would love for him to send that message in a more enjoyable package. Like a fortune cookie. But honestly, I’m not sure I’d be listening. But I am now. I submit to God.
At the same time, it is an incomplete theology that leads us down a path of passivity where we settle for unholy fatalism. Paul had a thorn in his flesh – and he asked for it to be removed. God said no – so he asked again. God said no again – and he asked again. Jesus commanded us to ask and keep on asking, to seek and keep on seeking, to knock and keep on knocking. James 4:2 says our big problem is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer. “You have not…” not because it is not the will of God, but “because you ask not.” Thus, when it comes to difficult circumstances and our enemy the devil, we need to have a gear to get on our knees and fight. Jesus rebuked fevers as well as storms and demons. I’m with Jesus, and I’ll agree with anybody rebuking this cyst. I resist the devil.
This helps free me up to pray. Look at this.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication WITH thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
Brilliant. Do you have a desire? Ask … with thanksgiving. Do you want to start a company? Ask … with thanksgiving. Do you want children? Ask … with thanksgiving. Do you want a thorn (or a cyst) removed? Ask! Our failure to bring our desires to God is beyond foolish. I’ve often thought that if Eve wanted more variety in the Garden, I bet God would have created something new – if she would have simply asked. But she didn’t. She was too distracted with what God had not done. Can you see why praying WITH thanksgiving is so incredibly wise? It causes you to meditate on the fullness of God instead of the lack of your circumstance.
This is my “request”: May it be in my life on earth as it is in heaven. I ask God to remove the cyst, restore the voice, and amaze the doctors. I believe for healing, so we have 9 days to avoid a knife on my throat! Yet I also ask for Him to do His work in my soul, not just my body, so that he will in every way be my first love. I bring him my fear, discouragement, and doubts, but I come with thanksgiving … mindful that Jesus is the healer, His blood is sufficient, and He carried away our infirmities on the greatest Tree we call the Cross.
I truly covet your prayer. “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)