The verse that carried me through my greatest trials – cutting cancer from my body and sin from my life – and the one God gave me to cling to in the midst of some very difficult circumstances was John 15:2.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He PRUNES it so that it may bear more fruit.
This verse helped me to see the “Why me, Lord?” If you read it closely you’ll see that He prunes all of us, those who bear fruit – he prunes; those who do not – He cuts and throws away.
It was eleven years ago that I found myself lying on the cold hard steel of an operating table in my dermatologist’s office. The doctor’s assistant had drawn a three inch sized football shape on my left shoulder blade and the nurse had numbed my back muscles and skin enough to relax my entire shoulder.
The doctor came in and explained that they would cut out the cancer and all the surrounding tissue, and that they had to cut a large enough piece to ensure that the cancer would not grow back. Since malignant melanoma is deadly I had to accept the fact that I would be forever changed by the surgery with a long scar on my left back shoulder blade.
I laid face down on the steel and the doctor started to cut. The nurse would dab at my side to soak up blood from the wound he was creating, and I could hear the sizzle as they used a hot iron to cortorize the edges of my skin around the hole. The cutting was not the worst part.
What they don’t tell you when they leave you awake for surgery is that even though you cannot feel pain in the local area, your body KNOWS that there is something going on. When the doctor started to peel back the skin, something deep inside me made me want to run. My body did not want to give up that flesh – even though it contained a cancer that could kill me. Because your body feels the gravity and the pull of flesh being removed, even though I could not feel pain I did feel nausea. Everything in me was wanting to rebel.
The stitching took the longest – maybe half an hour. He had to put in three layers of stitches. I remember asking him more than once if he was almost finished. I could not feel pain but I could feel the tug and pull and it was making me sick.
When they finally finished for some reason they left me alone in the room while the nurse went to get my dressings. I had come alone to the surgery, I had not realized it was going to be such a long cut. I had been determined not to cry during the whole surgery and had succeeded. But as I lay there on that cold hard table I felt the presence of the Lord on me. I could see that He was holding me in the palm his hand, and that He was going to heal me and make me whole and that I just needed to trust Him. I felt a tremendous wave of His love wash over me. It was in that moment the tears started to fall and I grieved that I had forgotten him so much in my life and that I had neglected to love Him when He had loved me so much. The Lord pruned me that day. And He cut much more than cancer.
Genesis 15:17-18, New International Version (NIV)
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram …
In Genesis 15, the Lord made a covenant with Abram (later re-named Abraham by God). God passed between the two halves of the animals Abraham had sacrificed while Abraham was sleeping to seal His covenant with Abraham. In light of this scripture, I realized that the Lord passed between me and my flesh full of cancer and promised to heal me and restore me, and I like Abraham, could do nothing but lie there and know that it is His determination that makes all things possible. It was not because I pursued Him, it was because He pursued me.
It was during the summer of my cancer surgery that I was enduring a painful ending to some unhealthy relationships. The Lord carried me through the cancer and He carried me through the following months and years of pruning (John 15:2) in every area of my life. I owe everything that I am today to the Lord.
In Exodus 15:22-27 one of the very first miracles God performs for the Israelites in the dessert is to take the bitter water and make it sweet. It is in this scripture that God introduces Himself as Jehovah-Rapha, your healer. (Verse 26).
He said, If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.
I could have bitterness that I had to undergo surgery and a battery of tests to find and ensure that the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body. I could have bitterness over unhealthy relationships ending. But God has taken my bitter water and made it sweet, and I am so grateful to live. Through women mentors and bible study that summer and in the eleven years following, He has planted in me a seed that has grown into a tree that has blotted out the bitter waters, God willing, forever. I just want to praise Him.
The Isrealites were bitter in their hearts. That is how our heart is when we sin. We internalize sin and when we don’t confess it, it shows up in our actions towards others, our thoughts and most importantly our attitude. It took time for God to root out all the bitterness and to get the people to let go of their former way of life. Forty years wandering in the wilderness.
Concerning your heart, I don’t know where you are at in your life. Are you in the wilderness or in the promised land? Allow Him to cut and prune you. Spend time with the Lord in the wilderness of your life so he can heal you. Know that sometimes the sin in your life is like a cancer. Cutting it out may cause you to bleed. Pulling it free from your flesh will make you want to run from His healing touch and every part of you may want to rebel. Expect nausea.
The stitching takes awhile. It is where he pulls you back together after having made the life-saving cut. At times the stitching will make you sick.
Healing takes the absolute longest. It is then that you have to completely depend upon Him. Don’t try to move your flesh before you are healed. It will just make your scar wider.
Know that in the end, you will find yourself in His presence. Resting safely in the palm of His awesome hand. Tears may be streaming down your cheeks. But you will have His peace and an assurance of His love for you. He has established a covenant with you to heal you and make you whole. And He will not stop until the work is finished.
I pray John 15:2 passionately for you. That you will be lifted up and bear much fruit!
In His Grip (shorthand for “resting safely in the palm of His hand”),
P.S. If you’ve had the Lord do something similar in your life, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.