God's Sufficient Grace

Walter D. Copeland

Last July, I began experiencing a little discomfort after eating. It didn't seem too serious, but I saw my doctor. After giving me an ultrasound, he called me into his office. "You have multiple lesions in your liver."

The doctor was having some trouble giving me the news. I knew that he was a believer, and reminded him that death has been conquered through Christ. I asked him to be open and forthright with me. He said I had what looked like a serious malignancy.

A few days later, a CAT scan confirmed his thinking. All three lobes of my liver were covered with multiple malignancies. A subsequent test found several tumors in my stomach and stomach's lymph nodes. I began bleeding internally. In August, I was hospitalized. That's when I heard that I had "three months to live without treatment or maybe seven to eight months with treatment."

I was deemed terminal and inoperable. I began taking chemotherapy. They said I was too far gone for radiation. The chemo might prolong my life a few months.

In August, I sent an e-mail to every OP congregation and to other Christian friends around the world, asking for prayer. Hundreds of people began to pray. I was adopted by prayer groups in our churches and by others.

From the first day of this, I couldn't believe it was time to die. I had just been called to the OP church in Cape Cod. God was blessing us, and in the midst of his blessings, cancer strikes. But my congregation's prayers have been unceasing. Every night someone has provided dinner.

God graciously began to bless my private worship. It is one thing to worship privately when you are alive and healthy. It is quite another when life quickly flees. I began reading some deathbed accounts from the Puritan era. I discovered a deep peace that truly did transcend all understanding. I began to know the love that is unknowable. Just the simple statement, "In him is life," began to have profound meaning. God simply drew very close. It was as if I was truly resting my head on his bosom. It is my deep prayer that those of you who are going through similar trials would find similar blessing.

Dr. James Boice once said that God's will is so good, pleasing, and perfect, that if we could change anything in our life, we would only make things worse. I began to trust that. I began to praise the Lord for my cancer.

Some, like Dr. Boice, die very quickly. But others are healed. I do not understand why the Lord would take a man like Dr. Boice and answer prayers for others. We simply must praise God in all contexts, for all events, for all things. God is the reason there is goodness at all in this fallen cosmos.

While there is no guarantee of health in this life, prayers for me began to be answered. What happened was not the result of my "attitude" toward suffering or my new depth of worship. It was the result of God's grace.

The chemo has had no side effects until very recently. I have not been exhausted, and am still fulfilling the duties of pastor. I praise the Lord for Wendell Rockey and Carl Mores, who take over during chemo weeks, as it has been taking me a few days to recover. But there have been no infections, and I have not lost weight. I have, though, lost all of my hair, which has been a great sanctifier.

Then, after the first follow-up CAT scan, in October, the oncologist used the word "miracle." All the malignancies in my liver except for one were gone. My liver functions were normal. My blood was healthy, except for anemia. My stomach has only two small tumors remaining, and my lymph system is clear. My oncologist no longer calls me terminal. He has retracted the "seven months to live" scenario. I feel great.

God has not only blessed me in a very rare way, but has also dramatically blessed our church. The year just ended has been the strongest year in our history. We received seventeen people into communicant membership, including three covenant children. Our finances have been blessed beyond our expectations, and the congregation is excited about public worship.

All in all, this has actually been the best year of my life. While I still have stomach and liver cancer, God has apparently allowed me to live, at least for the time being.

Whatever you are going through—whether a secret sin has you almost defeated, or your work or relationships are falling apart, or your health is poor—know this: God is huge. He's already in tomorrow, calling us forward. The door to heaven stands open for those who are born from above. God has truly given you everything you need for life and godliness. Just don't quit. Don't tread Christ underfoot during your sufferings. Worship him and praise him. Our troubles in this life are only momentary, light afflictions. May God bless you and keep you.

The author is the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Cape Cod (OPC) in West Barnstable, Mass. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2001.