Serving God in Cancer and Infertility

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. – Luke 1:5-7

Elizabeth and Zechariah faithfully served the Lord. The Bible describes them as righteous, walking blamelessly in all of the commands and statutes of the Lord This at first glance doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, until you reflect on two key parts of this story that the text shows us. 

First off, Elizabeth is barren and they are both in their old age. Elizabeth lived in a world where there was tremendous shame associated with barrenness, to the point of people assuming God had something against the woman who was barren. Yet despite being in such a culture and struggling with infertility, Elizabeth’s barrenness didn’t prevent her from wholeheartedly serving the Lord. That alone is astounding. Here in Elizabeth we have an example of a woman who faithfully submitted herself to God even in the midst of what many would perceive to be God’s indignation with her. 

I can’t speak for you my reader but I find it difficult to serve the Lord when I feel like the Lord has slighted me in some way. It’s hard for us to sing out his praises on Sunday morning when in the previous week tragedy has struck, whether major or minor. Yet day after day she faithfully served the Lord alongside her husband Zechariah, putting up with innumerable chide remarks regarding her barrenness from those around her no doubt. We see this because later she will proclaim that her disgrace has been taken away by God (v. 25). 

As I am typing this, memories come to mind of my dad’s former colleague and best friend, Michael O’Brien. Although the Lord has brought him home to glory, his legacy lives on in countless ways. One such way is in my memories, and one such memory stands out in my mind as I reflect on submissive worship in the midst of tragedy. 

You see, Michael had a long bout with cancer, which he eventually succumbed to. Yet in the midst of this fight, he worshiped. Day after day he worshiped while leading his family through the darkness of his own disease and when gathered publicly with other followers of Jesus his praises rang out from battered lungs. I watched him one time in a service sing out “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.” This while his own cancer-battered lungs fought against him. I cannot write these paragraphs about him without fighting tears. Although I did not know him well myself, his worship and devotion to God in the midst of his own pain was worthy of emulating and worthy of admiration. 

These stories are amazing. 

When I look at Elizabeth and Zechariah, I see glimpses of Michael O’Brien. 

Let’s get back into Luke chapter one. 

Zechariah is going about his duties as a priest when it becomes his opportunity to enter the temple of the Lord. When at the altar, an angel of the Lord appears to him. . . 

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, – Luke 1:13-14

Silence. For hundreds of years the voices of the prophets have echoed away into silence. The people of God waited, hoped, and waited some more. God was seemingly far away, distant, unwilling to reside with His people. Little did anyone know that on this day, this mundane and ordinary day of service to the Lord, God would prepare the way for the greatest moment in human history. A Messiah would soon be arriving on earth, and the angel of the Lord was shining upon the darkness of one couple’s barrenness to signal the impending arrival. 

Their child was to do the following. . . 

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. – Luke 1:16-17

This child was to prepare the way for Jesus. 

Zechariah would end up doubting the angel’s message and end up being mute until the birth of his son as a result. 

That aside though, we serve a God who faithfully visits His people in their brokenness and sin. He is not far away. Whether it is the book of Ruth or the book of Exodus, God’s timing is perfect and His purposes are great. 

Although we are not quite at Advent, my wife and I have been studying this chapter and have been in awe of God. As you head towards the holiday season, I know there are struggles you are facing. The holidays can be wonderful and beautiful, but the enemy can make them dark, brooding, and a constant reminder of what you’ve lost. 

Maybe the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah hits incredibly close to home for you, you long for a child. Maybe you are facing cancer like Michael. Maybe you have a wayward child or a tense relationship in your family. Whatever you are facing this season, meditate on the beauty of this passage. Follow the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and ultimately Jesus. Be a man or woman of God who faithfully serves God regardless of personal pain or darkness. Submit to Him.

He comes close. He brings healing and hope. Maybe it’s a child in the midst of infertility. Maybe it’s being taken home to glory. 

I long for the day when I will be in glory with Michael O’Brian. Until then, I pray that his example and the example of the Biblical characters we looked at today will spur me on to good works for God’s glory until the day my race is done. 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach 

 

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