‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ – Psalm 23:4
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever received is that God never leaves you unprepared for the season that you are in. If you are feeling unprepared, look back at what He has already taught you to find what you need for your current season. This is a simple but profound truth that has helped me in many a difficult moment, and especially the season which I have just walked through. The things that God put in me in the lead-up to this year and the knowledge that God only lets us face the things that we are equipped to overcome, helped me withstand the difficulties I faced and not be overcome by them.
Finding My Feet
On the 29th of December 2016 I arrived back from Africa and I returned to life as I knew it. I had spent the latter part of that year attending Iris Global’s Harvest School of Missions based in Pemba, Mozambique. It was a two and a half month adventure across three different African countries encountering God, serving, ministering and evangelising to people, and learning from some of the most anointed and spirit-filled people – a number of whom are my spiritual heroes. Upon arriving home, I didn’t know quite know what I was returning to. I had quit my job before I left New Zealand and didn’t have anything lined up for my return. I felt directionless as I didn’t know what God was calling me to in this next season, or even what this next season for me was.
Hindsight would show that I couldn’t have been in a better place for what was to come
After spending a few weeks praying, considering what the immediate future held for me and consulting friends and family, I decided to accept the offer made by my Pastor to do an unpaid internship with my church on a part-time basis. Because this was only two days a week, I also took up part-time work at my old job for four of the remaining days of the week to ensure that I was earning some income. This decision was one I made without complete clarity. I felt like it was something I stumbled into, not reluctantly, but without complete certainty that it was the right move to make. I had my doubts at times and did question my choices, but hindsight would show that I couldn’t have been in a better place for what was to come.
What I didn’t realise is that this was a sign of what was to come
One of the primary ways that God speaks to me is through prophetic dreams. It was something I sought God for over the course of a number of months when I was eighteen years old and it is one of the main ways He has communicated to me to this day. I pay close attention to the things I dream as I know that they are often messages from God for me.
Three days after arriving home, and a matter of hours into 2017, I had a dream. I had a dream that I was playing worship music in the middle of the night and my dad came along and started singing with me. It was a spontaneous song that I was playing on guitar and singing along to. It went like this:
Oh, everything has changed
I’m a new creation,
My life you’ve rearranged
My life you’ve rearranged
It was an encouraging dream for a person like myself whose direct family are all non-believers. I’d had prophetic words spoken over me before about the impact I would have in my family, and especially upon my dad, but never anything directly from God about that. I received this word gladly and began to pray that God would fulfil it in time. What I didn’t realise is that this was a sign of what was to come.
I wasn’t initially wise to the significance of the timing of the dream – being on the first day of a new year, representing a new season – even though God had spoken similarly to me before. I knew the dream was from God and that the timing of the dream was noteworthy, but I didn’t know exactly why. This was God’s second warning to me of what was to come. The first warning came 9 months earlier in late March 2016, in the form of a picture shared by a friend of mine, Matt. Matt saw me being in a dark cave, in a big pool of darkness, but that I was emerging from it. He also felt that picture wasn’t for then but was for a time that was to come, approximately in a year’s time from then. Only in hindsight would I remember and understand all of this.
Shortly after I arrived home from Africa, my dad began to have problems with his back. It was summer and he had been spending a lot of time working on the car that he was building, and my family and I thought he had injured his back from overdoing things. Back injuries weren’t something entirely new to him as he had had problems with his back previously. One such time, five years prior, he had a back injury which was completely healed after my first attempt at praying for him. This time, however, I prayed for him without seeing any change in the situation.
As the pain wasn’t letting up Dad started going to the physio, and then after that didn’t help, to a back specialist to try to find a solution. After seeing no improvement, he was referred on from the back specialist to a doctor (who also, from the scans on Dad’s back, testified to the healing of the injury from 5 years ago). At this point we knew the situation was more serious than we had initially thought – further confirmed when the doctor said that Dad was to start radiation on his back to relieve the pain and undergo testing to diagnose the problem – but we didn’t know what exactly was going on.
Around the same time, in late-March, my girlfriend, Mekennah, whom I had met at Harvest School in Africa, was due to come and visit for two weeks from the US. The trip was for multiple purposes: Firstly so that we could spend time together for the first time in 3 months; secondly so that she could meet my friends and family; and lastly to attend our friend’s wedding during latter part of the trip.
I was shocked and in disbelief as I tried to comprehend the news that I had just heard
Mekennah arrived in New Zealand shortly after Dad had begun his radiotherapy but before we had the results back from the tests that he had undergone due to them having been delayed a couple of times. After a week of fun, the two of us headed up north to attend our friend’s wedding knowing that the results would have arrived by the time we got back. We returned late at night from a great weekend away attending an even better wedding to wake to bad news the next morning. Dad spelled out the situation to both Mekennah and I: he had been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer and had been given up to a year to live.
In an instant everything changed. I was shocked and in disbelief as I tried to comprehend the news that I had just heard. How could this seemingly painful-but-harmless injury be a terminal illness? I was overwhelmed and couldn’t help but cry. A year after it was spoken, in accordance with the prophecy, I found myself in the dark cave.
My thoughts immediately shifted from what I thought the year would look like to what it looked like now. Things that had been important before no longer were and I began to orientate myself and restructure myself around the news that I had received. I began to stay at home as much as I could and rarely accepted invitations to do things or go places. I wanted to be around Dad and my family as much as I could be.
Despite the reality of the situation, I refused to believe that this illness could only end in death and I constantly interceded and prayed for the healing of my dad. After having spoken to both Christians and non-Christians who didn’t believe there was a way for him to live, I shut myself off to most people who asked about the situation. I gave vague answers and kept the conversation short, not articulating how I was feeling or what was going on. I felt that, despite good intentions, most people’s words did more harm than good to me at that time. I was unprepared for my faith to be extinguished by other people in this way, so I guarded it very closely. This was war, and if we were to win, I had to keep my faith strong for the fight. I had to protect my faith and keep believing for more despite the circumstances I was facing.
But there were also moments which I wouldn’t trade for the world
The journey of watching everything unfold was both heart-breaking and beautiful. I had to watch my father, the epitome of strength to a son, slowly fade before my eyes. I watched as his strength diminished, his energy vanished and his independence disappeared as he became a shadow of the person he was. It was the hardest thing I’ve experienced in my life.
But there were also moments which I wouldn’t trade for the world. As a family we were brought ever so close together by the harrowing experience we were walking through – miraculous in itself due to how things were before this happened – and we shared many special moments together in each other’s company. I also got many opportunities to talk to Dad and pray with him which I can never forget. Dad would feel the activity of the Holy Spirit in some form every time I prayed for him – whether peace, comfort, assurance or other ways still. I have never felt so close to my dad as I did in those moments.
The pick of these times came days before the end. I prayed for Dad and his healing, as I had many other times, and after I finished praying for him he began to pray over himself. I couldn’t make out all of what he said, but from what I did hear, he spoke of his assurance in Jesus and trust in him despite his circumstances. He had come to faith in Christ independent of me leading him and had received peace from the Prince of Peace. I couldn’t help myself but cry from joy. At the eleventh hour, in the middle of the night, my dad was singing along with me of how Jesus had changed his life.
Four days later, on the 26th of August 2017, my dad, George, passed away. He is with Jesus now. We may have lost the battle, but we won the war.
Faithfulness and Sustenance
Throughout the journey of this year God sustained me in many ways and prepared me for what I was to face. The internship I was undertaking with my church was such a blessing to me for so many reasons. I had direct access to the leaders of my church each and every week, and we were regularly able to chat and pray through everything that was going on with me. Their experiences and insight was so crucial and helpful, and it refreshed my soul to no end to have the support and prayers from them on a constant basis. I have no idea what things would have looked like without this.
Furthermore, on three separate occasions, and at important times, God spoke to me through other people. A woman in my church, Claire, felt prompted by God during worship and went up to the front and took the mic and prophesied over me. She prophesied that God knew what I was going through and that He hears my prayers and that He answers them. It was incredibly timely due to the spiritual opposition I was facing at that moment, and it renewed my faith to keep pressing in to see God move in my dad’s life.
Again, this was hugely timely due to everything that I had been through and was going through at that moment
The second time was two weeks after my dad died – the first time I had returned to church since he had passed away. We had a guest preacher, Mark, come and preach at our church for the first time. During his message he picked me out and said that he had a word from God for me. He said that he felt God was saying that I was like a willow tree planted by streams of water, and that it was significant that I was this type of tree because of the way it is flexible. Unlike a tree that is hard – like a gum tree, a willow won’t snap under pressure, but it will bend and withstand it. He said that I would bend but not be broken by what I was facing. Again, this was hugely timely due to everything that I had been through and was going through at that moment.
In the weeks following my dad’s death, I began to feel the effects of loss the most. I didn’t leave the house unless I had to, turned down opportunities to be with people and cancelled on many commitments. I wasn’t angry at God at all through the whole process – a major blessing which I am thankful for – but I was often overcome by emotion. I felt sad all the time, and if anything at all offended me, upset me or made me angry, it would set off a tidal wave of emotions. There were a number of times where everything boiled over and I just couldn’t keep myself together. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it through. Although I did bend, I did not break under the pressure.
God was screaming to me that He was with me and that He would comfort me wherever I go
The final time spoke through somebody directly to me was at our church camp in November where I was called out again for a personal prophecy. We had an apostolic team visiting us from a sister-church of ours in the UK, and one of the team members, Phil, asked if there was anyone with a father or grandfather whose name was George. I responded as did a number of others. From here, I was picked out again and Phil began to prophesy over me that it wasn’t just a time for me to emerge from the shadows, but also into my destiny and anointing. He described the current life circumstances I was experiencing, the call on my life, my gifts, my father’s legacy and many more completely correct things about me. It was the most accurate prophetic word I have ever heard spoken over someone and it was for me. Again, God was screaming to me that He was with me and that He would comfort me wherever I go.
God was with me even in the small things. I don’t know much scripture word-for-word off the top of my head, but something I have memorised is Psalm 23. I can recount the entirety of that psalm – a psalm about God being with us in our moments of trial and difficulty – completely from memory. Even in this small way God had prepared me for the Valley of the Shadow of death that I was about to walk through by helping me to memorise these passages of scripture in advance.
Rose From The Thorns
God will find a way to make the bad things that happen to us in life have good come out of them
Through the journey I’ve walked over the past 5 years with the passing of both my uncle and my aunty (discussed in the article: Two Instances Where God Hides Answers From Us For Our Benefit), and now my father, I’ve learnt that despite the grief of loss, the pain of disappointment and the heartbreak of absence that I still have no reason to doubt God. He is always faithful, always good, always true. He is a place of refuge for the oppressed; a place of comfort for the hurting; a place of strength for the weak; and a place of hope for the hopeless. He is a sure foundation, and He has kept me standing.
I will never know what happened when Dad’s back was healed 5 years ago. It is possible that he was healed of more than back pain at that time. It is possible that he was healed of the onset of this cancer. Maybe that prolonged his life for 5 more years, I don’t know. I also don’t know why he wasn’t healed, or why this was his time to die; but neither do I need to or want to for that matter. I am not God and such things are too lofty for me to understand (Isaiah 55:9). I will simply trust Him in His goodness and His faithfulness and carry on. God always finds a way to make the bad things that happen to us in life have good come out of them (Romans 8:28), and He will find a way to bring a rose from the thorns if only we will let him.