Don’t waste your problems. Use them to help others. I wish I could take credit for the title. I borrowed it from a short booklet called Don’t waste your cancer, by John Piper. It’s true for more than “just” cancer, not that cancer is a small thing. Rather, my point is that even the way we deal with small problems can help others.
One person’s small is another person’s straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Or a whole slew of “little things” coming rapid-fire can be overwhelming. So I’m taking John Piper’s original thought and making it bigger, by including things that are smaller.
One of the keys here is to take the long view of things. The really long view. As in our life here on earth is just a little blip on the never-ending timeline of eternity awaiting us.
Another key is to recognize, and believe, that God has, in His eternal view, what’s best for us in mind. For instance, sometimes we need troubles to wake us up to the reality of where we’re headed when we’re going in a totally wrong direction. Even though our normal desire for immediate gratification and instant results may say life is good, God knows when the current road is going to a long-term disaster.
Don’t waste your problems – Donnie and kidney failure
I’m going to tell you of two problems I’ve got right now. I wish it was only two, but these are the ones for today’s topic.
First, there’s Donnie. You know about him if you read How can I be angry at him? He’s dying. Donnie’s a dog. And he is dying. Donnie was diagnosed with stage 2 kidney failure several months ago. It quickly went to stage 3. We took him to a specialist, hoping and praying that someone with more experience in canine kidney failure could help extend his life. After all, we adopted Donnie from a rescue shelter 15 years ago. He’s like part of our family.
It’s not like we don’t know our pets will almost certainly pass away before we do. Donnie will be the fifth. But I’ve learned so much from all of them. Over the years, I’ve written about them often. Even things about how our relationship with God could be. You can check them out at Learning about God from a dog.
Don’t waste your problems – me and prostate cancer
Yes, the second problem to not “waste” is more in line with John Piper’s original thought. In his case, it was impending surgery. For me, I was diagnosed about a year and a half ago, and have been on what’s known as active surveillance since then.
Here’s the preface from John Piper:
I originally wrote this on the eve of prostate-cancer surgery. I believed then, and I believe now, in God’s power to heal—by miracle and by medicine. I believe it is right and good to pray for both kinds of healing. Cancer is not wasted when it is healed by God. He gets the glory, and that is why cancer exists. So not to pray for healing may waste our cancer.
But healing is not God’s plan for everyone in this life. And there are many other ways to waste our cancer. As I prayed for myself, and continue to do so, I also pray for you that we will not waste this pain.
At this time (five years after my surgery) the evidence is that they “got it.” But I have learned that one day we think we are well, and the next day we find out we are not. So now when people ask me, “How’s your health?” I say, “I feel fine. And the doctors are pleased.” Which, being translated, means: “I don’t know how I am; only God knows.”
That God knows, and cares, and rules, is enough. The passage of Scripture that came to my mind while I waited for the biopsy was 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” That is enough. I am not destined for wrath, but to live with Christ.
Until we see him, may God help us not waste our health or our cancer. 1Piper, J. (2011). Don’t Waste Your Cancer (p. 3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
As I said, I’m under active surveillance. Which is mostly not active at all. And that’s why I’m writing this.
After first being diagnosed, of course, there was the biopsy to confirm cancer. It was. Then there was the genomic testing to see the likelihood of it spreading to other parts of my body. That came back with a reasonably good chance that it would not spread. So nothing else was done.
Six months later, it was time to be active again. This time, an MRI. It didn’t show any reason to take any further action. Again, nothing else was done.
After another six months, there was supposed to be another biopsy. But that was during the peak of COVID here in Southern California. Vaccines were imminent. Because of the danger of COVID likely being greater than the concerns for the cancer spreading, the biopsy was postponed.
Until now. In fact, until tomorrow.
That’s right, don’t waste your problems in worrying. As Christians, we claim to believe in the sovereignty of God. He can do what He wants.
God could have prevented the cancer from occurring. But He didn’t.
God could have initiated a miraculous healing at any point after the diagnosis. To this point in time at least, He hasn’t.
Why or why not? I don’t know. But I do believe there’s a reason. And if you looked at Learning from a dog – again in the Learning about God from a dog series, you know I learned something from Dewey about dealing with cancer.
Which brings me to the point about “active surveillance”. It’s really not all that active. Something happens every six months. After this next biopsy, whether that will extend to 12 months, or there will be surgery. So far, it has been anything but active.
However, it could have been incredibly active. In my mind. Worrying. Worry about the cancer growing in me. About the cancer spreading before the next checkup. Worry about all sorts of things. But as Christians, again, we have something to remember:
6:25-33 pp — Lk 12:22-31
Mt 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
Mt 6:28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
One of the many things we don’t need to worry about is cancer. Or a pet with kidney failure. And no, I don’t mean to ignore problems. Nor do I mean we should become so callous or hardened that we just don’t care. Far from it. What I mean is that we need to recognize that we have a Father who loves us and who cares for us. And therefore, He cares about all the things that worry us. But then, He also promised that no matter what happens, He’s got us taken care of.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Not at all. However, when I did finally reach a point of understanding, knowing, and believing, it was unbelievable. It was a night in a hospital. I knew I was in trouble. Was sick for three weeks and nothing was helping. Ultimately, after 5 weeks of different and very strong antibiotics, I got back to a point where I felt like eating again. But all that was an incredibly peaceful time. Including the most peaceful night I’ve ever had. You can read about it at God – is it time for me to go home?
Conclusion – Don’t waste your problems. Use them to help others.
So here we are. Don’t waste your problems. Use them to help others. James wrote about the trials/troubles we go through in life. He wrote from the point of view of being with God during troubling times.
Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Jas 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Jas 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
I’m writing from the same point of view. But also adding the peace that comes with it. No, it’s not pleasant to go through times like this. Not something we look forward to. And yet, once we realize they are actually good for us, that God is there with us, the way we go through them changes drastically.
I pray that reading this helps someone to experience the understanding and the peace that’s available to us as Christians. Yes, the final “prize” that Paul writes about is eternity with Jesus. But we can begin to experience the presence of God right here in this life. Not only that, but we can experience the peace that comes from God when we need it the most.
So – Don’t waste your problems. Use them to help others.
- 1Piper, J. (2011). Don’t Waste Your Cancer (p. 3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.