By Lalla Lee Campsen
One of the first times I recall literally falling on my knees, pouring out my heart in utter dependence upon the Lord in prayer, was one Friday afternoon in November 1979. I was 15 years old.
I came home from school to find the house void of my mother’s presence, which was very unusual. Instead, I found a family friend sitting despondently at the kitchen table. Upon inquiring about my mother, she informed me that Mom was at the doctor’s office.
Within moments the youth pastor of our church rang our front doorbell. He reported the doctor had discovered a mass in my mother’s abdomen. Mom had been taken from the doctor’s office directly to the operating room, where surgery was performed. My youth pastor proceeded to take me to the hospital to see my parents.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I learned Mom had ovarian cancer. Filled with fear, I thought of friends who had lost their mothers prematurely to cancer. I didn’t want that to be my lot! My mother was my best friend, and I couldn’t stand the thought of living without her.
I was taken to a dimly lit room where my mother lay. Her parents, people of faith, yet understandably long-faced, were standing over her bed. I distinctly remember entering my mother’s hospital room, falling on my knees beside her bed, and audibly praying. I cried out to God. I told the Lord how much I needed my mother and begged Him not to take her life. She was just 49 at the time.
Several days after surgery, Mom was taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for experimental treatment for her aggressive cancer. Even though neither of my parents expressed it, they were fearful Mom might not return home alive. On the Saturday morning before their departure, my parents awakened me and presented me with my 16th birthday gift. But this was November; my birthday wasn’t until January. Initially, I refused their unwrapped gift, as I couldn’t stand the thought of Mom not being home to celebrate my “Sweet 16.” Her presence was the only present I desired.
Mom and Dad left our home in South Carolina for Minnesota. The following months were filled with Mom enduring many harsh treatments that left her body ravaged. Thankfully, the Lord sustained her. She made it through the first year of treatment. Mom’s body weakened, but her faith strengthened. For a time, she was cancer-free. However, Mom battled that disease on and off for nearly 20 years. She fought valiantly but ultimately lost the fight.
I often reflect on how the Lord answered my prayers. God allowed my precious mother to live until 1998, long enough to see her four children marry and to enjoy her 11 grandchildren. Even though she passed at what I consider the young age of 68, she lived 20 unexpected years. As her pastor said at her funeral, she was “a walking testimony of God’s grace.”
Prior to Mom’s death, she gave testimony to this “disease which was a blessing to endure” because it strengthened her faith in God, as it did mine.
Fast forward to August 2018. My dear sister Beth, my prayer partner and cherished friend, gave her testimony at her church. It was based on Faith, Family, Fellowship, and Fun — her faith in Jesus Christ; her family, both physical and spiritual; fellowship with others; and having fun. The following year and a half, Beth’s life was full of blessings — a devoted husband, wonderful children, and precious grandchildren. She was in the best physical shape of her life. As she reflected on the blessings of faith, family, fellowship, and fun, she also pondered, “What does God have in His plan for me?”
As 2020 approached, Beth shared notes from sermons she had recently heard. In a sermon titled, “Brevity and Eternity,” the pastor said, “We face the brevity of this life by making the most of every day for the glory of God.” In another sermon, the pastor asked, “What is your aim? Do you do all to the glory of God?” In a third sermon titled, “Running with Perseverance,” the pastor exhorted, “Look Back to the great cloud of witnesses, Look Up to Jesus, and Look Forward to joy.”
Beth’s heart desire was “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The Lord was working through her quiet times in the Word, prayer, and the preaching at her church to prepare her for what lay ahead. As her focus verse for 2020, Beth chose 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (NIV).
On January 15, 2020, Beth was diagnosed with a deadly type of esophageal cancer found in smokers and drinkers, of which she is neither. A couple of weeks later, Beth discovered a malignant lump in her left breast, which we all rejoiced in learning was not metastatic disease. Then in March, a third cell type of cancer was found in her right breast. Since that time, Beth has undergone multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. In less than eight months, it’s been determined Beth is cancer-free!
Cancer took my mother; it strengthened my sister. Does that mean God heard the prayers for my sister and turned a deaf ear to the prayers for my mother? Not at all. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
God was glorified through the manner in which my mother lived and died with cancer and now lives in eternal glory. Throughout her and my sister’s battles, God and His attributes have been magnified. The invisible hand of God’s providence has been seen directing all things. Remember, prayers are to be prayed for “Thy will be done,” not “My will be done.”
In her book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, Elisabeth Elliot said, “If your faith rests in your idea of how God is supposed to answer your prayers, your idea of heaven here on earth or pie in the sky or whatever, then that kind of faith is very shaky and is bound to be demolished when the storms of life hit. But if your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.”
Resting on The Character of the Eternal “I Am”
By God’s grace, I became a follower of Jesus Christ as a teenager. Since that time, I’ve been called to pray to my Lord and Savior. In fact, the Bible commands Christ’s followers to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).
There’s much about prayer I don’t understand nor can explain, but I know Jesus taught His disciples to pray and commands His followers to do likewise. Through prayer we acknowledge our utter dependence upon our Maker in and for all things. The Creator of the universe, the triune God, desires to be in relationship with mankind. This should fill our hearts with awe and gratitude.
Many approach God in prayer like He’s a genie in a bottle, expecting Him to answer their requests as they desire. Countless prayer petitioners have become disillusioned with God and think He is less than good when He doesn’t. Others approach prayer as a last resort. Prayer should be the first thing, not the last, because it’s the best thing Christ’s followers can do.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, trust in the character of the eternal “I AM”. Pray without ceasing. Be found faithful in pouring your hearts out like water before the Lord, in utter dependence upon Him. Give thanks to God for the power and privilege of prayer, a means of His grace.
To God be all the glory, honor, and praise!
Lalla Lee Campsen is a wife, mother, mentor, leader of prayer groups and Bible studies, and the author of Daily ACTS: A Yearly Guide to Prayer and Praise. Born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, she earned a degree in biology at The College of Charleston. After graduation, she married her college class Sunday school teacher, Chip Campsen. She and Chip live on the Isle of Palms, where they raised two sons, George and Boyce.