The last time I saw Ronald was slightly over a year ago at an interview we had both been shortlisted for. I went to school with him and he certainly did graduate with a bachelors better than mine. The last time I spoke to him was on August 17th 2017. He had prior to that asked me to share with him a book I was reading – “The Alchemist”. Ronnie has been taken down by Cancer and he lies on the bed adjacent to the bathrooms in the STC Cancer ward. What started as a simple back ache has certainly humbled him and left him very distressed. That’s what sickness does; it can turn the strongest into a child and make him feel like “the grasshopper will be a burden. (Eccles. 12:5) It can unnerve the boldest and make them tremble at the fall of pin. Sickness can make the wisest of us so shallow. Sickness can take away all your dignity and shame at the same time and that’s what happened to Ronald as I saw him lay there, helpless being supported by a couple of brothers, his mother and Grandma. One could question if he got the opportunity to achieve his personal legend. (Read the Alchemist, you’ll get the point).
***UPDATE AFTER SPEAKING TO HIS BROTHER AT THE VIGIL. Turns out His health started failing in August. It’s been a journey of very painful months.
Sickness is not preventable by anything a man can do. No doubt doctors, science and technology may find a way to prolong someone’s health and life but it is only a matter of time before they are taken down again. Even Grace, God’s good grace doesn’t lift a man above its reach on this side of heaven. Young or Old, Rich or Poor, Learned or unlearned, sickness discriminates no one and it is only a matter of time before it is at your door for you or for someone dear and close by. This drives me to the goal of this article. I intend it for those who are in perfect health now, especially the young Christians (Although older readers may find it insightful too.) This is also targeted to those who don’t pay attention to the diligent study the grand book as often as they’d like (that’s if they even have the latter) and those who find it hard to pray.
06:36 AM, 23rd October. I receive a call. Ronald is no more.
I started writing this last night, round about 10PM right after visiting Ronald and that is how far I got. I am trying so hard to simply use my words to pass on what I intend to but I find that I always lean to JC Ryle’s teaching on sickness because I haven’t found anyone who has driven it home better than he did. (Actually, you could just skip this read now and google “JC RYLE on Sickness and you will even learn so much more)
In John 11:3 we read of the response of Martha and Mary in regard to their brother’s sickness. They said “Lord, the one you love is sick” That message was short and simple yet it carries very fundamental truths we will dissect.
Mark in the first place, the child like faith of these two sisters. We know from scripture that they had different personalities and temperaments yet on this subject they both agreed and turned to the Lord Jesus in their hour of need as an infant clings to a mother. Christ’s help was their first thought in the day of trouble. He was the refuge for which they fled in the hour of need. Blessed are they that do likewise.
One at this point may Question, “Why Did God create a perfect world and let sickness prevail in it?” There is nothing perfect about this world today. When God created it, it was perfect, then something happened. Sin entered the world and death with it. Sickness, pain, frustration and all the corruption we see is a result to the fall of man and as long as we are on this side of heaven, it’s only a matter of time till sickness is at your door or at the door of your loved one. Question, whom will you turn to when it strikes? I challenge you not to find rest until you attend to that question. Thinking about it will not hasten it’s coming any sooner than it’s supposed to but may give you some wisdom when it finally comes.
In the second place, mark the simple humility of their language about Lazarus. They said of him “The one who you love”. They did not say, the one who loves you, who serves you, nor the one who believes in you but the one whom you love. They recognized a simple truth that is often forgotten today. They knew that Christ’s love for us is the true ground of expectation and true foundation of hope and not the other way round. How many times have you thought or heard people expecting God to carry out some act of providence because of something they have done for instance, their generosity, tithing, goodness etc Blessed again are those who come to Christ recognizing that even the best of their works are but filthy rags before him. To look inward toward our love for Christ is very unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ’s love for us is peaceful. What will be said of you when that adversary which must strike strikes? Will you be the one referred to as “the one whom you love”? Will you think of yourself and find consolation in the fact the Jesus loves you? I pray, you attend to this matter too till you can say like the great hymnist “Simply to thy cross I cling”
Mark lastly, the touching circumstances which these sisters reveal “the one you love is sick”. Sickness is no sign that God is displeased with you and neither is it a sign that you have fallen short of his favor, mercy and grace. Lazarus was converted, believing and loved by God yet this didn’t keep sickness away. Sickness, as ironic as it may sound is meant to bless us in one way or other. I use the world “bless” advisedly because sickness is one of the weak points of God’s government. Skeptical minds love to dwell on “Can God be a God of love and let pain and death thrive? Can He be merciful and permit disease? Such is the reasoning which often comes across the heart of man. I do however reason that this is too simple and shallow a way to think of this issue. We might as well doubt the presence of a creator because of all the hurricanes and earthquakes that disturb the world. We constantly, in this life submit ourselves to pain and present loss for the sake of future gain – The seed is thrown in the ground and rots but we sow in hope for a future. The boy is taken to school in the midst of tears in hope for wisdom for the future. I ask that we will apply those principles to the kingdom of God too. This world is not our home; we are just pilgrims. God allows sickness and disease not because He loves to vex man but because He desires to benefit man’s heart, soul and mind for eternity. I have known the sorrow and pain that sickness entails. I lost my father on Christmas day when I was six, in the last couple weeks climaxing to this sad story, a dear friend’s mother was brutally murdered and another, one of the sweetest women I have known is battling cancer in India where she’s being treated (Two days ago she was in the ICU). But I cannot regard it as an unmixed evil. I see in it a wise permission of God. I see in it a useful provision to check the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. It is quite a blessing as well as a curse. It is a rough school master, I grant. But it is a real friend to a man’s soul and I will show you how briefly.
In the first place, sickness helps remind men of death. I mentioned earlier that this world is not our home but how many times do you even think of death. Most of us, which is quite unfortunate live as if we are not going to die. We are immortals, we unconsciously think. We make plans, follow business, politics and pleasure as if this earth were our eternal home. Like the rich fool, we live as if we have a long lease at life. Sickness sometimes goes far to dispel these illusions. It awakens us from day dreaming and reminds us that we have to die as well as to live. This is certainly a blessing.
Secondly, anything which makes a man think seriously of God, his own soul and the world to come is certainly a blessing. Most of us, in the days of health and partying can never entertain those thoughts. We find them troublesome and disagreeable. Now sickness in ourselves and in others too has a wonderful way of putting things in perspective.
Sickness humbles and helps soften people’s hearts. It is a great teacher of wisdom. Naturally we are proud. Even the poorest among us are often times affected by this vice. We think ourselves better than others. We live in this world with no consideration of where we are going to spend eternity. It exposes the hollowness of what the world calls “good” and teaches us to hold material things with a loose hand. A businessman learns that money is not everything and a woman learns that costly clothing, makeup and slaying won’t comfort you in a sick room. In the sight of a coffin and the grave and those equal inches down, it’s not easy to be proud.
Finally, the greatest blessing one can derive from sickness is knowing the true state of their faith. I read a few days ago that it is easy speak of contentment when you have things going your way but it’s hard to practice it when your world is crumbing. In the same way, sickness is one of the greatest test of our faith today. The Apostles in the bible and Christians in some parts of the world have persecution on every side to serve as a test. But for me and you who might never have a sword to our throat, we have sickness for this very cause. We see many holy hands lifted in smooth waters of health only to turn out to be utterly useless on the rough waves of a sick bed. Surely anything that makes us find out the real character of our faith is a good thing.
So we shouldn’t look at sickness only as a curse. All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord. For you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1Cor 3:22-23) I pray that when sickness comes, we can we be able to say “This is my father’s doing, it must be well”.
Now that we have got this out of the way, let me share some practical applications on how we can best ready ourselves for that time and also how we can tend to our loved ones who have been taken down. I should be sorry to leave this subject of sickness with saying something practical on this subject.
In the first place, we must deliberately and habitually live prepared to meet God and sickness enhances this. The question for you and me is “ARE YOU READY TO MEET GOD?” Do not rest until you have a definite “Yes!!” as an answer. You are only ready to meet God, when your sin is forgiven, your heart renewed and taught to delight in the will of God. Only the blood of Jesus can wash you as white as snow and His righteousness alone can make you acceptable in the sight of God. All this being attained by Faith. Question is, “Where is your faith?”
Secondly we should live preparing ourselves to bear sickness patiently. It’s only times like this when I actually think about sickness. I know that I must die but I am always clouded with the idea that I will live to 70, enjoy the company of my wife, watch her grow in beauty, have so many children and finally die in my sleep. A brief internet research suggests that only 12.5% of people die in their sleep. So you might take months and years without falling ill then one day a zit might put you down forever. At that point, all our plans will be broken off and purposes disappointed so that we can endure long hours and nights of weariness and pain. We shouldn’t be surprised if peevishness and impatience are brought out by sickness. How then, can we learn to bear sickness patiently when our turn comes? We must lay up stores of grace in times of health. We must seek the sanctifying influence of the holy spirit over our unruly tempers when we are healthy. You and I have trouble and sorrow before us—it needs no prophetic eye to see that. What is to sustain us in the days of trouble which are so many. We won’t find any consolation like the word of God. You and I, in all probability might lie for months in a sick bed. Heavy days, weary nights an aching body and an enfeebled mind may make life a burden. Nothing is likely to sustain us during that time like the word of God. You and I have death to look forward to. There will be friends to be left, home to be given up, the grave to be visited and an unknown world to be visited and at last judgement. What will sustain and comfort us when our last moments are drawing close? Nothing but the word of God. Now how do we prepare? Let us fill our minds with passages of scripture while we are well and strong that we may have a sure help when we are sick and have no strength to read so that we are able to say “I have hope because thus and thus is written and for that reason I am not afraid of death”
Lastly before I conclude, let us make it habitual to feel with and help the sick. Sickness is never very far away from us. Could be a neighbor, a friend or even just a random visit to the hospital. Wherever sickness is, it’s a call to duty. Yesterday the news that Ronnie was sick came to me in the evening. I asked a friend who had shared where I could Ronnie but she didn’t know and hoped to send me the details today. Which I was okay with, but a nudge pushed me to go to mulago and look for him. By God’s grace one of his brothers recognized me and took me where he was. I think I would have been more crashed if I had procrastinated. The duty we have to those who are sick is now. A timely financial assistance in some cases, a friendly visit in others, a mere expression of sympathy may do a vast good. These are the sort of things which bring men together and promote unity. These are the good works to which every professing Christian should be ready. In a world full of sickness and disease, we ought to “bear one another’s burdens” and “be kind to one another” Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32. These little acts are among the ways we imitate Christ. It’s said he went about doing good to the sick and the sorrowful..Acts10:38. These are acts which he attaches great importance and it’s no surprise that in the description of judgement He says “When I was sick, you visited me” Matt 25:36
As I close, I pray you ponder on all the questions I have asked here. I pray you think about the state of your soul and not rest until you know that you belong to God. Sickness is coming, when, only God can tell, but will you be ready???
Please pray for Ronald’s family. His 5 brothers, 2 sisters, mother and father.