The following is what I shared today at church. This is what God has been doing in my heart the last 10 months. I pray that God might speak to you through this story.
Main point: The most loving thing that God can do is to give me more of Himself— at great cost to Him and sometimes at great cost to me.
In August 2010 the Lord was really stirring up my affection for Him. He was giving me the desire to seek Him earnestly and to know Him deeply. Jesus was drawing me in closer to Him, and I wanted to be even closer. As Jesus drew me close to Himself He started revealing to me some sin that was in my life… an idol that I had let take residence in my heart- the idol of healthful living.
***Matt Chandler’s explanation of an idol***
Healthful living is not a sin. But it became a sin for me. I was constantly thinking about cooking, healthy eating, supplements, and meal planning…. Healthful living consumed me. It became my god.
Anyway, God was gently making it clear to me that my desire to grow closer to Him wasn’t going to happen until I was ready to bring my health idol to Him. God desired for me to be closer to Him by way of dealing with my idol. I wanted to grow closer to God, but I didn’t want to talk with Him about my idol. So, what I did instead was… I acknowledged the idol and said, “OK God, I’ve dealt with it now.” It was as if, in my mind acknowledging my idol was equivalent to dealing with it. I sounds silly for me to say that now because I think we can all agree that acknowledging a sin a definitely NOT the same as confessing and repenting of it. I like the way the book of Ezekiel talks about idols;
“Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.
(Ezekiel 14:3-5 ESV)
God was saying, “ You want to come near to me? Well, what’s in your hand?” I wasn’t ready to open my hand and give my idol to the Lord. In His sovereignty, before the world began, God knew this and had already orchestrated a great and gracious plan for my life that was going to make me work through and deal with this health idol.
The following month, September is when God began to reveal this great and gracious plan to me. On September 12, 2010 while sitting in church I began to feel slightly ill. I had a pain deep on the right side of my chest. I felt achy and had a low-grade fever. At first I just thought that I had a weird flu bug, but when I woke up the next morning the pain in my chest was worse and was accompanied with a rattling wheezy sound. I went to the Doctor that day and was sent home with a diagnosis of pneumonia and an antibiotic. That night I couldn’t sleep because I was in such horrible pain. I was also having trouble breathing. So at 6:45am Tuesday September 14th my husband took me to the Kaiser Hospital emergency room. That is where I spent the next 16 hours. The Doctors no longer thought that I had pneumonia. They did X-rays, blood tests, urinalysis, a ultrasound and two CT scans. They were checking for kidney stones, kidney infection, a hole in my lung, a blood clot in my lung, a blood clot in my leg. It was so scary. While they didn’t see anything on the X-ray of my lungs, they did find a mass on my lung when they did the CT Scan. So after all of the testing, the 3 bags of IV fluid and a couple doses of some good pain killers they sent me home with a miss-diagnosis of atypical pneumonia…and told me to keep taking my antibiotic that had been prescribed previously.
Let me tell you… those 16 hours were LONG! I was so confused and annoyed at God for allowing me or dare I say planning this sickness for me. I was confused because I was a healthy person- I made sure of it- how in the world could I get sick? I was annoyed because I put so much effort into being healthy that it consumed me and God had let me down by allowing this sickness. In a way I had tried to put God in my debt. Let me explain what I mean by that. While my actions were showing that I was just trying to be a healthy person, my heart was saying something entirely different... something so wicked and ugly that it makes me cringe repeating it to you. My heart was saying, “ God, I treasure health more than I treasure you. I eat healthy food and I avoid junk food as much as possible so… you have to keep me healthy… you owe it to me.” My journey towards being a healthier person had started out as a good thing. But oh how it had spun out of control. It had become an idol so quickly that I didn’t even notice it until it was already too late. Health was precious to me… I treasured it more than my Savior. Health was my god.
For the next two months that I spent in bed, I went from being angry with God for allowing me to get sick, to being angry with Him for not healing me, knowing that He was able to do so. While in bed for those two months, Jesus not only revealed to me the fact that I treasured health more than Him but also that I had been trusting in healthy foods to keep me well, instead of trusting in my Creator. I remember having thoughts like, “God if you really loved me, then you wouldn’t have allowed this.” And “God, I was getting to close to you, and I wanted more of You in my life and then you let THIS happen.”
Come December I was able to get out of bed for long portions of time. I was feeling better but I still felt sick… I felt like there was still something wrong with me. So I was given a referral to go see a Dr. Patel- a lung specialist. Before I even had an appointment with Dr. Patel, he took one look at my file and ordered a blood test for coccidiomycosis-, which is also known as Valley Fever. Valley Fever is a fungal infection of the lung. Once inhaled, the fungal spores produce lesions on the lungs. If not treated (and depending on how many spores were inhaled) the lesions can spread to other organs in the body and can eventually cause meningitis and even death.
So anyway, the blood test came back positive. In a way, I was relieved because it meant that I wasn’t crazy! There was a real reason for me not feeling good for so long! Dr. Patel got me started on an antifungal medication and told me that while he was confident that I’d only be taking them for 3 months, there was a chance that I could be taking them for up to 1 year. This was a bummer for me. It meant that recovering from Valley Fever wasn’t something that just happened over night or within a week like a cold or flu.
During this whole time God had still been working in my heart regarding my health idol. He finally had softened my heart to the point where I actually surrendered to Him and repented of my sin. I chatted with the Lord and told Him that I was sorry for treasuring my health over Him and asked Him to help me to love Him more than health… more than anything. It was such a relief to be honest with God about my idol. I was so tired and weary from trying to keep my hand so tightly closed around my health idol, and God was right there… ready and waiting to be gracious to me, and give me rest.
The day after I repented, Jesus spoke to me through my scheduled bible reading for that day. It was a super special moment. I couldn’t hear Jesus’ voice audibly, but I knew He was speaking to me. The passage was Isaiah 30:18-22
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction (or Valley Fever), yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
(Isaiah 30:18-22 ESV)
As I read that passage, the tears flowed. I felt like God was slowly freeing me from the bondage that this idol had put me in. While being sick this whole time, I had felt that God was not being loving towards me. I had thought that if God really loved me He never would’ve let me get sick…if God really loved me then He would have healed me ASAP! God made me realize something crazy… He made me realize that He gave me Valley Fever because He loves me. God is the most beautiful, glorious treasure that a person could ever have, and He wanted to give me more of Himself. In His Sovereignty He knew that the best way to do that would be to allow me to inhale fungal spores so that I would get sick.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking “jess, don’t you think that is a little over board saying that God caused your Valley Fever? Don’t you think you’re taking it too far in saying that God directed the fungal spores that made you ill?”
My answer to that is NO! I absolutely do not think that I’m taking it too far. The Bible doesn’t minimize human responsibility but is very clear that God is directing and orchestrating every detail of our lives.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
(Ephesians 1:11 ESV)
Proverbs 16:33 says
The dice is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
If I believe what this verse says- that God is sovereignly directing something as random as which way the dice fall- then how can I not believe that He is sovereign over fungal spores blowing in the wind? Randomness is not random to God.
Charles Spurgeon is one of my favorite authors, and I want to share with you a quote in which he speaks of dust particles.
“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.”
God was not surprised by my Valley Fever. It didn’t catch Him off guard. In His sovereignty, He planned my Valley Fever for my good and for HIS glory. He lovingly directed the fungal spores into my nostrils and allowed the lesions to grow on my lungs. Getting sick showed me that my idol had failed me. Getting sick showed me that health is a good and blessed thing, but that Jesus is better.
Eating healthy is good, but it is not ultimate. I can’t trust in healthful living to keep me healthy because… it can’t. At some point it is going to disappoint me, its going to fail me…it DID fail me! Instead I need trust in the Lord and know that He is in control my health. He is in control of whether I am well or whether I am ill. So I eat healthy not because I find my security in it, but rather I eat healthy to be a good steward of this body that God has given to me, and I trust that He will take care of me and do what seems best to Him- for my good, and for His glory.
So that brings us to the present. My doctor took me off of my medication two weeks ago. I thought that by this time I would no longer struggle with this idolatry. Honestly, I’m still struggling with it. Thankfully, God is working on my heart and breaking me of this. It’s been a hard 10 months and I don’t want to go through another illness like this, but I also wouldn’t change any of it.
Sometimes it’s hard to think about God ordaining my Valley Fever. In those times, God has to remind me of what I told you in the beginning. That first and foremost, God giving me more of Himself came at great cost to Him in the sending of His Son to die on the cross in my place. This is where I have to ground my thoughts; otherwise I would go crazy thinking that God was out to get me. Its only in starting here, that I can see that God giving me Valley Fever is something truly loving.