The Language Institute that I attend here in Costa Rica just had a 70 year anniversary celebration. They asked me to share my testimony (regarding Susana and all that God has brought us through) at their closing chapel service. And below is the message that I shared. I hope that God used it to minister to many who were there and I hope it ministers to you also.
A Platform of Suffering for God’s Glory – Cody Whittaker ILE 70th Anniversary 2012
“Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go, and I will do whatever you want me to do.” – My prayer as a new believer in the Lord.
Was I like Peter, who said, “Lord, even if all others forsake you, I will never forsake you. Said by a man who really loved the Lord, but obviously had a lot of zeal without knowledge as shortly after saying that we see him deny Jesus three times.
Well, I know in my younger days, I too had a lot of zeal without knowledge, just like Peter.
Or was my prayer more like that of Thomas, who although is often known as “Doubting Thomas” because he said that he would not believe that Jesus had resurrected unless he saw the scars in His hands where He had been pierced. But what we often forget is that Thomas was the disciple who, after learning that Jesus was going to go to Jerusalem where He was going to be killed by the jewish leaders, said, “Let us go too so that we may die with Him.” Apparently Thomas did not have any doubt about wanting to follow Jesus even if it meant his own death.
And also, my prayer has always been that of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3 where he states, “That I may know Christ more…the power of His resurrection and sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. Becoming like Him in His death so that I might somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
That has been my cry since I first surrendered my heart to God twenty years ago. Shouldn’t that be the prayer of all of us who belong to Christ? – That we might know Him more! But if you’re anything like me, we like to focus on the part where it talks about knowing the power of His resurrection, but we don’t really focus much on sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.
You see, I had, and still have today, that zeal that Peter, Thomas, and Paul had. I have always wanted to have a platform that God would give me where I would be able to proclaim the name of Jesus to the world around me. Not a platform to elevate myself, but rather a platform to make known the glory of God. Well, God did indeed give me such a platform to proclaim His glory, only it was a platform that I would have never imagined, nor was it a platform that I would have ever asked for.
And upon receiving such a platform, I have personally and intimately learned from another in the Bible. The One who told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, and pick up his cross and follow me. And this is the One who we see crying and sweating drops of blood in the garden as He cries out to God, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…yet not my will, but yours be done.
You see, this cry to God that consists of “Lord, I will follow you always, even if I have to die, because Lord I just want to know you more, both your power and your suffering” will, in times of suffering, become…”Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
And this declaration that Jesus made to the Father is the same that I have learned to make through the valley of my own suffering. And this is my platform.
Having that zeal, like Peter, to tell the world about the goodness of God, my wife and I, along with our two daughters, Isabela (age 5) and Susana (age 3) left the United States and moved to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, to serve the Lord by helping care for orphaned children. Was this the platform that God was giving me to proclaim His glory?
Two months after we arrived, the country suffered the worst earthquake and little did we know during those 30 seconds in which we were holding hands and committing our lives to the Lord as our house felt like it was going to fall down on top of us, that 250,000 people had just lost their lives.
You see, what else do you do when the world around you is crashing down? In whom do you put your trust? “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea… (Psalm 46:1-2)
And in those next months we would both see and feel the devastation of lives lost all around us as well as have the opportunity to minister the grace of God in the midst of such tragedy. On one occasion, I was preaching at a church to a group of about 70 people who had just lost so much and with great conviction in God’s truth, I stood up and pointed towards Heaven and stated, “He is still God. He is still good. He is still in control. And He is still worthy of all praise.” Was this the platform that God was giving me to proclaim His glory?
Well, a few months after the nation of Haiti suffered its greatest devastation ever, our own lives would suffer our greatest devastation ever. My younger daughter Susana had become sick, and for about a week or so was complaining of leg pain and stomach pain. She also had an up and down fever. Well, I had just gotten malaria, which presents similar symptoms, so we thought that maybe she too had contracted malaria. After testing negative for malaria and seeing her condition worsen, we had to fly back to the states and bring her to the nearest hospital. It was just a day later that we heard the worst words that a parent could ever hear, “Your daughter has terminal cancer”. Our world seemed to crash in an instant.
And that night, as I was beside her hospital bed in utter shock and devastation, the words that I had preached just a week ago to a group of suffering Haitians in that church came to mind. And I heard in my soul, “He is still God. He is still good. He is still in control. And He is still worthy of all praise!” Was this the platform that God was giving me to proclaim His glory to the watching world around me?
The next 10 months would be the hardest months ever…or so I thought. We began chemo treatment immediately because she was in such poor condition. We saw her lose her hair, lose her appetite, lose her body weight, but never lose her smile. God was using a 4 year old to teach me so much about true faith and suffering well. We spent the next 10 months in the children’s cancer world where we would encounter many families like ours and many children that looked like our little girl. We would hear success stories and we would hear stories of loss. We were told the statistics of survival for her type of cancer, which were the lowest of all types of children’s cancer. We would see progress in Susana. We would see regress. So, what could we do?
The only thing we were able to do was stand upon the immovable rock of Christ. The only thing to do was to fasten ourselves to the truths of God’s Word – that He is good, that He is faithful, that He is worthy of our praise for eternity. Not because He would definitely heal Susana and take both her and our pain away (for Scripture never gives us such a promise) but rather because no matter what happened to our little girl, no matter what pain and suffering we had to endure, He made a place in Heaven for her and the rest of us who fully trust in His great and glorious promises. He defeated death and as a result gave His children the promise through Him that they too will rise one day and live with Him forever. And here in this glorious truth, and only here, were we able to stand and trust Him amidst our pain and suffering.
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; My hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62: 5-8)
And that is how we lived our lives as we walked through our greatest suffering ever. As we lived out of hotels and slept in hospital beds for weeks at a time, as we watched our daughter go through treatments that would make her sick and weak, as we saw her endure countless medical procedures and surgeries, as we saw her suffer more pain than any of us would care to imagine. Our only hope was, and is, in Christ and His promise to His children that He would work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We had to stand upon the reality of God’s Word and the joy and hope that we have from Him so that we would not be brought down by the reality that was right in front of us.
2nd Cor. 4:16 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Our hope must never be upon only that which is seen. For that is temporary. It can be here one minute and gone the next. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in Him alone can we place all of our hope.
As hard as it was, Susana seemed to be responding very well to the treatment. But just as she was about to begin her final leg of treatment, she relapsed and the doctors told us that there was nothing else that we could do. So, on February 11th of last year, I held my daughters hand as she took her last breath on this earth and passed into the arms of her loving Savior.
People ask me why I am not mad at God for allowing this to happen. Words cannot ever describe the pain that resides in my heart. I am a broken man, and I don’t anticipate nor do I expect to ever fully heal. I walk with a limp, just like Jacob walked with a limp after wrestling with God. And Jacob’s limp was always a reminder to him that there was a God whom He served that was greater than Him and was in complete control of His life. And so too, my limp is a reminder that this world is indeed fallen, and for this reason, we are never called to put our hope in things of this world, but that God has promised to redeem all that has been broken. He has made a way for the crooked to be made straight. He has made a way for the sinner to be made righteous. He has made a way for life to overcome death. He has conquered the power of the grave.
So how could we ever get mad at such a God? How can I be mad at God who now holds my daughter in His perfect loving care and one day will hold me as well and reunite me forever with my little princess? How could we not praise Him forever no matter what we experience here on this earth. Hasn’t He told us that in this world, we will have many troubles, but not to let that destroy us because He has overcome the world? Hasn’t He reminded us over and over again that this life is but a vapor that is here for a moment and then gone, but that eternity is forever? Hasn’t He done the better thing by securing our lives for eternity rather than just guaranteeing us pain free living for a short time here on this earth? I cannot be mad at such a God, but rather will love Him and praise Him forever for all He has done.
And what hope we have if we are His children, if we have truly surrendered our hearts and lives to His Lordship. If we have denied ourselves and have embraced His will above all things. If we have recognized that we are sinners and don’t deserve anything from God except His wrath, but through faith in what Christ did on the cross, we have been given every one of His great and precious promises.
What hope we have if we know that we are truly His children. Do you have such a hope? Do you belong to Jesus? Is He truly the Lord of your life? If not, you may enjoy a short time of fun and excitement here on this earth, but you are forfeiting spending eternity with Him in Heaven and on the new earth and instead you will spend eternity in the suffering of Hell…because if you are denying Him here on this earth, Scripture states that He will deny you before the Father in Heaven. O how my hope is that you know Him as Savior and Lord…He is so worthy of all!
Yes, there is a grief that is unavoidable that reaches a depth in my heart that is unknowable. But there is also a joy that Christ gives His children that is deeper still. And herein lies a hope that is immovable. And this is what the world must know…and this is the platform that God has given me to glorify His name.