Cancer & Prayers For Healing: Exposing My Doubts

Last Monday night, I had the tremendous privilege and joy of being with about 200-300 believers from 7 or 8 churches to pray for the healing of a sister I had never met. We gathered underneath the awning entry to the hospital, and we sang, read Scripture, and prayed aloud for healing. We claimed in faith that God could heal her, that God had power over cancer, that He could make all things new.

As we were praying, I was struck by a verse that I had been memorizing from Philippians. In Phil 1:21-23, Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me, yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” Paul’s desire was to depart and be with Christ even over against being present once again with this church that he loved. Paul concludes his thought by declaring that to remain in the flesh was more necessary for the sake of the Philippians and so he knew he would be released. But he never resolves his own desire to be with Christ. It’s almost as if he resigns himself to staying longer on the earth because he knew God wasn’t done with him.

What would I have prayed for Paul? Would I have prayed that he would depart this earth and be with Christ? How would I have navigated that against the prayers for his release? Wrestling in prayer for this dear sister (and some other friends who have gone on to be with the Lord), I realize that I don’t cherish or value being with Christ as much as I cherish life here on this earth. This is not to say that I need to be more morbid, suicidal, or escapist. It simply exposes the fact that while I am trying to love Christ, I value life here on this earth more than the future life to come with Christ. Thus, my prayers put priority on healing and continued quality of life on this earth over the conviction that to depart and be with Christ is far better.

So I didn’t know what to pray for. I didn’t know if I should pray that this sister be done with cancer by being with the Lord or be done with cancer by healing and continuing on here. I don’t have the foresight or wisdom to know if it’s more necessary for her to remain in the flesh. But I do know my natural tendency to prefer what is seen over what is unseen, and therefore, to prefer what is temporary to that which is eternal. Do you sense my tension? I want so badly that she be healed, but I want to live with such a captivating view of our eternal destiny that I can honestly and with full compassion hope that she gets to go home to heaven.

Amidst all of this tension, I am comforted by Romans 8:26 – “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Thank you, Lord, that when I have no idea how to navigate the tension (or even feel the tension), your Spirit intercedes for me.

Sadly (and joyfully -see what I mean by tension?), it turns out that this sister went to be with the Lord this morning. The Lord saw fit to bring her home, and we know that that is far better. Now, my prayers turn towards the daughter, husband, friends, and family she leaves behind – that they would live lives of fruitfulness and purpose in view of the day when they will be reunited. For whether in life or death, we will always be with the Lord.