Being an evangelist when the going gets tough


First published on: 20th May 2014

Becoming aware of my own mortality has proved to be a gift and caused me to perceive life through a more richly coloured lens; each day on earth has become more precious, and living it well more significant

In this article originally written for The College of Evangelists newsletter, Bishop Lee reflects on his own faith and sense of hope in the face of adversity.

Touching the Void is the harrowing yet incredible account of a climbers survival after falling into an icy crevasse in the Peruvian Andes.

After an accident left Tom Simpson hanging from a cliff face, his partner Simon Yates took the terrible decision to cut Simpsons rope if he had not done this neither of them would have survived. Simpsons fall was broken by a ledge 150 feet below and he was knocked unconscious.

When he came to, Simpson had no urge or desire to pray; he realised he had not even a residual faith or hope in God.

This story came to mind as I was being interviewed by Cole Moreton of the Sunday Telegraph in October last year. The fact that I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma was public knowledge and the editor felt this might make interesting copy.

In response to almost the last of Coles questions I remembered Simpsons experience and reflected that mine had been the reverse: facing my own mortality and possible death I discovered just how deep the well of hope is within me. Whether I lived or died that hope could not be disappointed.

If the gospel is truly the good news we proclaim it to be, then it is during times of adversity that it will be especially true. Our hope in Christ does not confer immunity from suffering, grief and loss but has the capacity to transform our experience of them. Going through difficult times financially, relationally, or on the health front effectively act as a refining process reminding us, sometimes painfully, where our security and confidence ultimately lie.

No one in their right mind would wish themselves to have cancer yet paradoxically I have found my journey with lymphoma to be a season of blessing and spiritual growth.

Becoming aware of my own mortality has proved to be a gift and caused me to perceive life through a more richly coloured lens; each day on earth has become more precious, and living it well more significant, even though the promised age to come has also become a greater reality. As an activist (albeit a reflective one) I found myself having a greater evangelistic impact through being required to press the pause button; it was in genuine weakness that I discovered a greater strength.

In the opening chapter of Pauls second letter to the Christians in Corinth, the apostle speaks powerfully of the tough times he has been through, so terrible in fact that he says he almost despaired of life (2 Corinthians 1: 8-11).

Although my situation was quite different, those verses have resonated with me and made verse 20 of that first chapter all the more powerful:

For no matter how many promises God has made they are Yes in Christ. And so through him the Amen is spoken by us to the glory of God.

As you might imagine, the news that I am now in remission and believed cured after six months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy has received quite an Amen in many households, not least the Rayfields. We do give glory to God, but not simply for this result.

I have fallen into the depths of God's grace and found, not just survival, but renewal.

+Lee