Spring 2014. I was 25 years old, our church’s trainee worker. A young Christian, passionate about the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty. My great desire was to preach, which my pastor had been encouraging (I had preached around 15 sermons). My tongue was the pen of a ready writer, eager to declare the good theme of God’s greatness and the glorious gospel of Christ.
And so I was a little nonplussed when I was diagnosed with tongue cancer – extremely rare in someone my age without a history of alcohol or tobacco misuse. Prior to my diagnosis, my academic mentor had set me the task of studying and preparing a (short!) sermon series on the book of Job. I really ought to have been prepared.
As my consultant explained the surgery, it started to dawn on me quite how serious this was: I would require major reconstructive surgery, possibly followed by a course of oral radiotherapy. Left untreated, the cancer would spread and certainly kill me.
All this, by God's grace, I was able to face with a degree of calm: I knew, if the worse came to the worst and I died, my eyes would open on my Saviour’s face. The fear of death was not, for me, the issue. Grounded as my thoughts were in Reformed theology (and frankly, my youthful naivety), my very illness seemed like a gift of God – an unpleasant but necessary part of my training: I would be ill for a time, then recover and become a better, more credible pastor as a result.