The Lord is Faithful
Trusting God through life's uncertainties
Sometimes, even when you’re doing everything right as a leader, things fall apart. That happened to me when an unexpected challenge shook me and my wife, Cindy. This is the stuff you won’t learn from leadership experts, powerful lessons I learned from hardship and trouble. As we walked through it, I journaled my thoughts and feelings, hopeful that I might gain new understanding about the Lord and His help in times of trouble.
I pray this honest, inside look at our journey will encourage you.
As you lead and serve, you not only deal with problems at work or church, you also experience personal challenges and difficulties. In fact, that’s often what makes facing the other problems so difficult.
You can’t stop life. You can’t press pause in one area while you tend to the other — though I’ve wished I could more than once! Instead, you walk through it all simultaneously, sometimes facing significant difficulties on multiple fronts. That’s exactly where Cindy and I found ourselves in the spring of 2017.
On Friday, March 31, 2017, I skipped lunch to get away from the office. I was going through a particularly difficult and stressful time and needed to clear my head. I went to the driving range by myself and hit golf balls, thinking about nothing but the golf ball and where it went.
After a while, I realized I had left my phone on a bench by the pro shop. I walked back and picked it up. When I looked down at my phone, I noticed I had missed a call from Cindy. I called her back, and when she answered, I could tell immediately something was wrong.
Cindy said, “The doctor’s office called with the results of my test. They said they wanted you to come with me for a follow-up appointment. I told them, ‘Rod doesn’t usually come to my doctor’s appointments. Just tell me now what you’re going to tell us at the appointment.’”
When they hesitated, Cindy said, “Just go ahead and tell me. Do they think it’s cancer?” The nurse said, “Yes. It appears you have renal cell carcinoma — cancer in your kidney. We need you and Rod to come meet with the surgeon.” Then, Cindy said three words that rocked my world: “I have cancer.”
Those three words began a journey of growth and discovery for both of us. One of the first things I realized was that trouble often comes when you’re in the middle of other troubles. That’s not very encouraging, is it? At the time of Cindy’s diagnosis, I wasn’t at a place of great strength. I was under attack and already fighting a battle, when more trouble came.
But I’ve also learned that just because another difficult circumstance happens to you, that doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. Now, Satan would love for you to think that. That’s just how he works. There are times when he comes after you with everything he’s got. Please, don’t stop reading now. I want to share some of the most important things I learned as we walked through this difficult challenge. I promise, the story gets better and more encouraging!
The Lord is faithful
Immediately after hearing Cindy’s diagnosis I began to pray, asking God for strength and healing and peace. As I prayed, I sensed one thing in my spirit: The Lord is faithful. When I got back to my office, I posted that as my Facebook status. No explanation. No story. Just four words: The Lord is faithful.
That became my theme for the next month, and my daily thought: The Lord is faithful. Those four words were more powerful than the three words, “I have cancer.” The Lord is faithful despite circumstances. He’s faithful despite cancer. When things are going well, the Lord is faithful. When life takes an unexpected turn for the worse, the Lord is faithful. You can’t always choose the events that come into your life, but you can always choose your response.
Don’t let trouble keep you from fulfilling God’s assignment for you
When Cindy and I were finally able to sit together and talk about the situation, we agreed, “If this is what we’ve got, then let’s deal with it.” There was no use feeling sorry for ourselves or trying to figure out a way around it. We wanted to deal with it head on. We talked about possible treatments, the timing, our schedule, and what events Cindy could miss. Suddenly our calendar didn’t seem so important.
We made two decisions that first night. First, Cindy decided we shouldn’t try to keep her diagnosis a secret; instead, we would walk through it openly, in community with our church family and our friends. That’s not really my nature. I tend to internalize problems and face things on my own. Because there’s so much I deal with, I’ve learned to compartmentalize and keep going.
But Cindy felt strongly that we should share the journey. She reasoned that we have many friends who have faced cancer and humbly given us the honor of walking with them through one of the most challenging times of their lives. We knew couldn’t keep this to ourselves.
It seems like every week, someone in our church or a friend in ministry receives a difficult medical diagnosis. And at some point, in life everyone faces difficult, unexpected circumstances.
Maybe you have cancer or another disease. Perhaps someone close to you has died, or your kids are in trouble. Maybe you’re facing unexpected financial hardship — you’ve lost your job, you have bills beyond what you can pay, or you’re facing major repairs on your home or car. Maybe it’s a divorce or another heartache. No one is immune from trouble, but we get through the trouble better together.
Second, Cindy decided we wouldn’t miss any ministry opportunities. I had committed to speak at a conference for children’s pastors and workers from around the country just a few weeks after her diagnosis. Cindy was determined I honor that assignment. She didn’t want me to miss a Sunday, cancel a speaking engagement, or change my schedule. Her thought was: Cancer won’t stop us from ministry or fulfilling God’s purpose. If it does, then cancer wins. And, regardless of what’s ahead, I refuse to let cancer win.
I understand, some illnesses and unexpected life events do disrupt our normal activities and force a change of pace — but they can’t sideline us from accomplishing God’s purpose for us. You may be in the middle of a trial, but you’re still a child of God. When the road gets rough, when the future is uncertain, when you feel like you’ve been benched, ask the Lord to open your eyes to His purpose for you in that season. His plans for you are good.
You can’t always choose the events that come into your life, but you can always choose your response.
Remember, even in times of trouble — especially in times of trouble — God has an assignment and a purpose for you! Don’t let trouble keep you from fulfilling His assignment. Don’t run. Don’t drop out of ministry. Don’t quit reaching out.
Trouble doesn’t disqualify you. In fact, trouble might better equip you! How? In times of trouble, you realize you can’t rely on yourself, your strength, your ability, or your power. Respond to trouble with a radical dependence on Him!
Experiencing emotions isn’t a lack of faith
Early one morning after receiving the devastating diagnosis I called Alton Garrison, our former pastor and my mentor and friend. I poured out everything about Cindy, about cancer, and about the other situation I was dealing with that was so upsetting. Alton just listened. Before we hung up, he prayed a powerful prayer over me and Cindy. As he prayed, I put my head on my desk and wept. It was the first time I had allowed myself to feel the full weight of those emotions.
In that moment I learned an important truth: Experiencing emotions is not a lack of faith.
It’s OK — in fact, it’s healthy — to put a voice to what you feel. It’s OK to cry. I needed that. I’m so thankful I had a safe place to have that conversation.
In times of uncertainty, take a faith-step in response to the fear
A few days after we were plunged into this challenge I told Cindy, “We need to increase our giving.” She immediately agreed, “Absolutely. Of course. This is a wonderful time to give more.” We decided to increase our tithe by $100 a week for the duration of the journey. Why did we do that? That seems counter-intuitive, but we wanted to fight the natural selfishness that comes with uncertainty, fear, and trouble.
Selfishness naturally happens when you’re sick. It’s not a sinful response, it’s normal. When you’re sick, sickness dominates your thinking. Your focus is on you:
- Will I survive?
- What must I do next?
- How do I endure the pain?
- What am I going to miss?
Your focus turns inward, and you hold on to what you have. It’s almost a reflex. You find safety in certainty.
In increasing our giving, we sent three messages. First, each week we wrote the check we sent a powerful message to ourselves: Our trust is in the Lord. We refused to allow circumstances to dictate our focus. Instead of hanging on, we were letting go. Our hands were open. We wouldn’t become selfish and inward focused but would trust and give more!
Second, we sent a message to the Enemy. I don’t know if Satan sees my tithe checks, but I hope he does! We wanted him to know: Cancer isn’t going to stop us from trusting in a faithful God. In fact, it will make us trust Him more. If you think cancer is going to knock us off course, you better think again. The Lord is faithful!
Third, we sent a message to the Lord: “We trust You. You are our source, our protector, and our provider. Our trust is in You.”
I’m not saying every person must give more money to God’s work when they get sick, but that’s the faith-step we took. It’s a powerful principle:
- Fight the tendency to be selfish.
- Increase your giving.
- Do something for someone else.
- Share your faith.
- Stay engaged in your area of ministry.
Whatever you do, don’t let trouble change trust!
God can and will use your trouble to minister to others
God can use trouble to protect you and position you for His help and blessing. That perspective will change the way you view trouble. It would be awesome if you could see ahead of time how God is going to use your trouble, but trusting in Him means making the decision, I don’t know how, or when or where, but I trust the Lord, that He is in this and will use it for my help and His glory.
Immediately after sharing Cindy’s diagnosis, we started hearing from people who were praying. We got cards, letters, texts and emails from over 100 of our missionaries. Pastors and leaders across the country started texting me. Hundreds prayed and offered help.
I learned something from Cindy’s decision to share this experience with others. Too many times people worry about being a burden to others, so they retreat into isolation and fight their battle alone. We’ve watched that so many times. It’s easy to do, but not wise or biblical. We need each other. We’re a family—a great, big, loving, praying family.
Knowing that people were standing with us was an incredible encouragement and powerful support. I challenge you, when difficulty comes, share your struggle and receive the support of God’s people.
Sharing the journey was the right decision for us. It let the family of God be what God designed them to be. We read every Facebook post, every text, every email and every card.
“What if” thoughts are normal
You might think, Rod, you and Cindy have remarkable faith. I could never go through that without fear. I didn’t say we went through this experience without fear. We’re human. On April 28 we went to the hospital for the surgery. As we sat and waited to be called, I wrote an update in my journal:
We’re at the hospital, waiting to check in for the Cryoablation procedure. They’re going to blast the tumor with super cold gas and freeze it. I’ll admit, I’ve had quite a few “what if” thoughts.
I did. I went all the way with those thoughts. Cindy and I never really talked about it, but I know she did too because the night before the surgery, she showed me where everything important and valuable was in our house. She had never done that before. She didn’t say why she was showing me, but I understood. She was also having “what if” thoughts.
I think those thoughts are normal. I also don’t think those thoughts indicate a lack of faith. Our “what if” thoughts, in fact, are the entire reason why we need faith. Remember what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to King Nebuchadnezzar? Essentially, they said, “Even if God doesn’t save us, we won’t bow down to the statue you set up.”
You may be in the middle of a trial, but you’re still a child of God.Job said: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
What were these men doing? They were asking and answering the “what if” question. We honor them as heroes of faith, but they recognized the reality of their situations.
What are we doing when we ask the “what if” questions? We’re being honest with God and defining the problem. Faith isn’t found in the question but in the answer to the question. Our answer was: “If we get the best report, we trust God. If we get a difficult report, we still trust God.”
We feel peace and the presence of Jesus. We are in His hands — which is absolutely the best place to be!
The Rest of the Story
On April 5, Cindy shared her diagnosis with the Wednesday night ladies group. They prayed for her. The choir prayed for her. Our open journey had begun.
The next morning, I posted this:
Last Friday Cindy was diagnosed with cancer in her kidney. Although we haven’t said anything on Facebook, we didn’t keep it a secret. Cindy strongly feels she should walk this journey openly with our church family, knowing that many others face similar journeys.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We haven’t even had the chance to share what’s going on with all our prayer partners and friends.
This morning, we had an appointment with the surgeon ... . They caught the cancer at an unusually small size. As a result, they’re going to be able to do a procedure called Cryoablation. Essentially, they biopsy the tumor and freeze it at the same time. They destroy the tumor by freezing it to below 100 degrees Celsius.
The procedure is minimally invasive with only a one-night hospital stay and recovery of about a week. They expect no radiation or chemotherapy. It’s our hope to schedule the procedure as soon as possible within the next couple of weeks.
Then, I shared what for us is the most powerful part of the story, which is that the story actually began 2½ years earlier, even though we couldn’t have realized it at the time.
The week of Thanksgiving 2014, Cindy experienced unexplained renal failure. A nurse called me from the doctor’s office and said, “We’re sending Cindy to the hospital. In fact, the doctor told me to follow her to make sure she gets there. We expect her to be put in ICU.” Cindy’s numbers were extremely frightening. It was a tense, challenging time for us. The doctors weren’t sure what would happen.
Cindy spent the rest of that week and Thanksgiving weekend in the hospital. They checked her blood levels every two hours for the next four or five days. We spent a lot of time in prayer. Even after she was discharged, the trial wasn’t over. For three months, Cindy had to live with a catheter and continued appointments with the doctor. We cancelled trips and plans and a much-needed week of rest. We had no choice.
At the time, it was incredibly difficult to understand this turn of events. We asked why but there was no answer from God. Heaven was silent. It didn’t make sense; it didn’t seem fair. We just struggled and wondered and trusted.
During that time a doctor in our church, Pat Knott, connected us with a wonderful urologist, Dr. Gayle Jones. Gayle is a committed Christian who loves God. She took over Cindy’s care.
After Cindy finally got better, we discovered Dr. Jones was also ultra-cautious. She scheduled regular tests to monitor Cindy’s health and make sure everything was OK. Even more than two years later, Dr. Jones still ran tests and examined Cindy every six weeks or so. During one of those routine tests Dr. Jones discovered the tumor. Without those scans, it’s likely the tumor would have gone unnoticed for months, maybe longer. Instead, the doctor discovered it early, while it was still very small.
Now, looking in the “rearview mirror,” we understood what we couldn’t understand 2½ years earlier. God, who knows all things, put us exactly where we needed to be. He put us with the right doctor at the right time. God spoke to that doctor and directed her to continue a high standard of care and watchfulness. If the renal failure had never happened, we never would have been with Dr. Jones and the tumor could have grown unchecked. All things had worked together for our good.
How many times have you faced trouble or hardship and wondered: Where is God in this? How could a loving God allow this? How could God let this happen to me? One day, what doesn’t make sense now will make perfect sense. And you’ll discover that, all along, God was working and moving and orchestrating things you couldn’t see.
You might be asking, “Rod, are you saying you believe God caused Cindy’s renal failure?” I’m not saying that. It might have been an attack from Satan. It sure felt like it then. Like any number of awful situations, it might have been a natural result of living in this sin-filled world. Regardless of what it was or where it came from, God used it for His perfect purposes! He does all things well!
Cindy had the surgery on Friday. The procedure took an hour. When the doctor came out to give me the report he said, “We got it. The procedure went perfectly. We killed the tumor.” I almost started crying! We went home that afternoon. Cindy didn’t even need to stay in the hospital but could recover at home, which made her super happy.
The doctor suggested she stay in bed and rest for several days. Sunday morning, during the 10 o’clock service, I sensed some movement behind me . . . someone sitting in Cindy’s usual seat. I turned around to see who it was — and saw Cindy! Though tired and hurting, she just wanted to be in God’s house.
That morning Pastor Brad led us in the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” Cindy was too sore to stand, but she was sitting right behind me. My eyes filled with tears as I heard her singing loudly:
Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long ... .
The Lord is faithful! We’ve walked through the cancer journey with others. We know it can be up and down. We know it’s often a roller coaster. We get that. Cindy will have a scan every three months to see if the cancer has returned. The first two have come back all clear.
But regardless of the results of future scans, we’ve already determined our response. If the cancer never returns, the Lord is faithful. If cancer rears its ugly head again, the Lord is faithful. He has demonstrated His love and care to us. We trust Him. He is faithful.
I don’t know what you are facing right now or what you might face in the future. The leadership journey has its ups and downs, but through it all the Lord is with you. You may feel alone and forgotten, but you’re not. Your Heavenly Father is watching over you. He’s caring for you and protecting you. He knows exactly where you are, what you’re going through, what you feel, and what you need.
Never forget: The Lord is faithful!
Adapted with permission from Rod Loy, Help! I’m in Charge: Stuff Leadership Experts Didn’t Tell You (Springfield, MO: Influence Resources, 2018).