Having cancer isn’t much fun. From time to time I follow a forum where people share their stories of having cancer, or of caring for those who do. Some of these stories are heartbreaking. The pain, the fear, the loneliness, the hopelessness, the cruel and depersonalising invasion of cancer through the body. Once active, strong, happy individuals, being reduced to feeble shadows of their former selves.
What has both surprised and encouraged me, is how often people are asking others to pray. “I have scans tomorrow – please pray.” “My husband has developed pneumonia – please pray that it will clear up so he can continue his treatment.” “I’m so afraid of the prospect of losing her – please pray that I will be strong.” “My kids are really feeling it – please pray for them” “It’s spread into the brain. I’m so terrified – please pray for me.” “There doesn’t seem to anything left we can do – please pray.”
It’s not just the requests for prayer. It’s also the offers to pray. People will share their struggles and sometimes others reply, saying that they will pray for them. Sometimes people share that they’ve been praying for someone. Sometimes they even share what they’ve been praying.
I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have been praying for me. Many of these I know about. Friends, family, people at church. I’ve been amazed to discover that I’ve got a spot in people’s prayer diaries. Some people have told me they pray everyday without fail – and I believe them. Others have said they pray every now and then, when they think of it. Some pray when they get news or when they read this blog. I was remembering tonight, as I visited the NTE conference with around 2000 other people, that 1500 or so students had gathered in small groups to pray for me at the same event last year.
Over this weekend I’ve met four strangers who, upon being introduced to me, said that they (and sometimes their churches) had been praying for me all year. A couple of months back I sat beside visitors at church who, when they discovered who I was, said it was so good to put a face to the name because they’d been praying for me for some time. These serendipitous experiences have been happening all year. What a blow out! So many people have been praying. People I’ve never met, who’ve never met me, but who’ve been moved to speak to God on my behalf. I’ve felt so privileged and have been so encouraged by this news.
Over the years, and even now, our family has also been praying for others with cancer and serious illnesses. We’ve prayed for my dad, Bronwyn, Peter, David, Judy, Nanette, David, Ed, Jenny, Eleanor and others. Some of these people are in remission, others are still fighting, and some have lost their lives. We also remember their families in our prayers. Sometimes I offer to pray for people I’ve met through forums, facebook, or the blog. I try to pray immediately after I make the offer, so that I don’t forget!
Our Heavenly Father is the one who holds our lives in his hands, so it makes enormous sense to speak to him about such life and death issues as cancer. I ask God to heal people, I ask him to heal me, and I ask others to pray for my healing. But I also ask God to work within my heart and mind, to change the way I think and feel about things. I want him to help me trust him, to rely upon his goodness, to treat others with love and kindness, and to hope for eternity in him. God may choose to heal me, and I hope he does, but whatever happens I pray that he will be honoured in my life and others.
So please pray and please keep on praying. Not just for me, but for yourselves, for others, for those with cancer, for their families and friends. And don’t limit your prayers to matters like cancer, even if your whole life is consumed by it. God says we can approach him on any matter. Nothing is too big or too small. So let’s pray, not as a last resort, but because God is more willing to do good in our lives than we are to ask him.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Clearly God is inviting us to pray, but how long should we keep on praying? If we’ve prayed a few times and it hasn’t been answered, do we continue? Jesus prayed three times that God would take the cup from him. Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be removed from his flesh. Does this suggest three strikes and you’re out? Is it unreasonable for me to pray for the same things day after day after day? Is it wrong for me to request your continued prayers if you’ve been praying for a year already?
Doesn’t Jesus say we won’t be heard for our many words? It is true that Jesus said:
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
It’s not the amount, or the frequency, or the specific words we pray that guarantee a hearing from God. He already knows our needs and invites us to humble ourselves before him. We are to come before God as his dependent children, trusting in his goodness, and seeking his will, as we present our requests. With this attitude, Jesus invites us to persist in our prayers:
Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)
In fact, we could do a lot worse than to follow the example of Ephaphras, who kept working hard to pray for others:
He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians 4:12)
And the Apostle Paul’s faithful persistence in prayer:
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)
But did you also notice what these guys were praying about? As huge as cancer is, there are bigger matters still. These are prayers that God will make our lives count, that we will persevere, stand firm, and bear good fruit in our lives. As much as I want you to keep praying for healing for people, including me, who have cancer, I’d ask you to pray for these things even more.
Thank you so much for praying, and please don’t stop!