The report from the doctor was not what they had hoped. The initial surgery seemed to have gone very well and all the cancer appeared to be removed. They had expected a good prognosis with some chemo and maybe some radiation and then the “all clear” as the cancer went into remission.
But that was not what they got. Instead, the doctors related that the cancer went deeper than they could reach and that it was of a particularly aggressive and malevolent variety. Instead of the “all clear” being given soon, the prognosis was that this is usually terminal, and the end will come in less than two years. So, instead of this being a temporary obstacle along life’s journey, this appears to be the cause of life’s end.
And now, what is to be done? How are they to respond? How would you respond if you were in their situation? What if you received this news?
HOW DO WE RESPOND TO BAD NEWS?
I tried to imagine myself in that doctors’ office hearing this news about what are, most likely, the details of my death certificate. What would I do?
As a believer, I would turn to the Bible and see what the Lord had to say about this. My first thoughts went to 2 Kings 20 and to King Hezekiah. After Hezekiah’s godly rule and his displays of devotion to the LORD, the prophet Isaiah comes to him with a message from the LORD saying, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). This passage would set the tone for my response. “What does it mean to set my house in order?”
GOD ALONE DETERMINES WHAT HAPPENS IN HIS UNIVERSE
But before I begin my “end of life” planning, I would go to the LORD and seek His face. This is the first and primary and dominant thought: God, and God alone, determines the end of my days.
3 Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
This psalm is teaching that, while there are men who are in positions of authority, whether government or business or even medicine, they possess limited authority, indeed, derived authority. God has appointed them with authority for their sphere (Romans 13:1-2), but God retains all ultimate authority.
Applied to this situation, then, where the doctor (“mortal man”) says that my life will soon be over, I would remind myself that there is still a sovereign God in heaven who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Not only that, but this sovereign God has demonstrated His love for me (Romans 5:8) and has told me that I can call out to Him in any and every time of distress (Matthew 7:7-12; etc.) and that He can rescue me. Nothing is too difficult for my God to do (Jeremiah 32:17). My God has promised me that I can ask whatever I wish, and it will be done for me (John 15:7). And so, I would begin to cry out to the Lord in prayer, that He would extend my life. This is exactly what Hezekiah did when he received the bad news from Isaiah. He prayed to the LORD, and the LORD added fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:5-6). I would not discount the news from the doctor. I would take it seriously and consider what I should do in terms of practical steps of health, but I would not take the doctor’s prognosis as the final word. He is but a skilled mortal man of very limited abilities and powers, but the LORD made the heavens (Psalm 96:5). A doctor may tell me a diagnosis, but the LORD determines all outcomes. Again, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
OK, BUT WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
So, what would I do regarding the doctor’s diagnosis and God’s sovereignty? In the case where I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would assume that the doctor was correct, that without divine intervention, the cancer would kill me, and so would begin immediately a program of strict fasting and extended prayer. In my times of prayer, I would ask God to heal me of the cancer for His glory. I would engage in strict and radical fasting because I have heard that fasting is the body’s best defense against cancer. I do not think that I would take chemo or radiation but would rely upon God’s power to heal through the means of fasting.
SET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
But now, having accepted the fact that, unless God intervenes, my time on this earth will be over, I would strive to set my house in order (2 Kings 20:1). As I think about this now in the clear light of day, there are two components to this setting the house in order. First, I would make sure that I had finished my work, and second, I would prepare to meet my God.
STRIVE TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR WORK
As in every aspect of His life, Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of finishing the work God has given you to do. In John 17:4, our Lord says,
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
Jesus was given the assignment to live a sinless life and then to die an atoning death as the sacrifice for all the sins of His people, and this He did perfectly. Then, when the work had been accomplished, His triumphal cry sounded from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
But we have other examples of those who finished their God-given work. In the Bible, we see that Paul finished his work (2 Timothy 4:6-8), and Peter finished his work (2 Peter 1:14-15). Noah completed his work of the ark, Moses completed his assignment of bringing Israel out of Egypt, as Jacob and Joseph and David completed their journeys. Their work was done, as was Stephen’s work done (Acts 7). Many others have likewise finished their work and then have joyfully gone on to glory. I think of John Owen and George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon and D. L. Moody. Accomplish your work! Determine the great work (Nehemiah 6:3) that the Lord has assigned to you and, in the time that you have left, pour all your energy into that work.
PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD – AMOS 4:12
Since the end of the race appears to be somewhat definite and seems to be in sight, the time has come to prepare to meet the Lord. One of the blessings of a doctor giving you this kind of news is that the mystery about when you will go home has been solved. Now you can plan how you will exit this life, at least to some extent.
Resolve to hit the finish line at full speed. This may sound like an impossibility, since your physical strength will be fading as the disease takes its toll, but spiritually you should be growing stronger and stronger. My mother had 2 Corinthians 4:16 over her sink in her home as a constant reminder:
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.
This enabled her to continue to grow spiritually while her “outer man” grew weaker.
But how do I hit the finish line at full speed? Make sure that my sanctification is greatest in the last week of my life. Pray for and strive for greater and greater holiness and radiate evidence of purity in heart and mind.
Manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Strive for people to be able to tangibly see joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.
Repent of all known sins. Turn from them and walk in holiness.
Read the Word. Spend as much time as possible in the Bible. Memorize whole books of the Bible. Meditate on the psalms. Know the whole Word, because some of the folks in heaven are going to want to know what you thought of their writing.
Seek to spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, hopefully in person, but at least on the phone.
Proclaim the gospel to every unsaved person you know and urge them to come to Christ. You have nothing to lose! If they reject you and think you are crazy, who cares! You will be dead in a few months. Don’t go to your grave with unused gospel tracts.
Serve your local church as long as your physical strength holds out.
Be able to say without reservation, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Be able to say with all sincerity, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Run down the home stretch so that you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) “Enter into the joy of your Master.”
As I imagine myself being confronted with the end of my mortality, I think these are the things that I would do.
WHY NOT START NOW?
But, if I would act this way if I were given two years to live, surely the obvious question would be, “Well, why wait until you have a terminal cancer diagnosis?” Why not start now? If “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” then why would I wait to live that out until I was a short distance from the grave?
In other words, why not “set my house in order” and keep my house in order so that the Lord can take me at any time, and He will be satisfied with my work?
SDG rmb 7/16/2021 #423