77. The Harvest Reaped Through Illness
By Zhang Li, China
2007 was a huge turning point in my life. That year, my husband was involved in a car accident and became bedridden. Our two kids were still small and it was a hard time for our family. It was really tough for me and I had no idea how we would get through it. Then I accepted Almighty God’s work of the last days. I learned from reading God’s words that we all owe our lives to God, our fates are in His hands, and we have to worship and believe in God to have a good fate. I felt that I’d found something I could depend on. From then on, I started attending gatherings regularly and took my kids along to read God’s words and pray. I was doing my duty in the church before long.
Later, I was elected as a church leader and I thanked God for His grace. I thought to myself, “I’ve been chosen as a church leader even though I’m really new to the faith. I must be good at pursuing the truth. I have to do my duty well and do whatever it takes, then I’m bound to be saved.” This thought really drove me on in my duty. I spent most of my time preaching the gospel and performing my duty. My friends and relatives opposed my faith, and my neighbors slandered and mocked me. I began to weaken a little at that point but it didn’t stop me from doing my duty. My husband also accepted God’s last-days work and started doing his duty later, too. This made me so happy. I thought, “As long as we do our duty well and make sacrifices for God, we’ll be blessed by Him.” Especially when I heard brothers and sisters say that I suffered and paid a price, and that I’d surely be saved by God, I was so happy, and I had a lot more drive to work for God.
One day in 2012 I found a lump on my breast which hurt a little. I began to worry that it might be something serious. But then I thought, “No, it can’t be. I do my duty in the church every day. God wouldn’t do that to someone who makes real sacrifices for Him. With God’s protection, I won’t get seriously ill.” Thinking this, my anxieties disappeared and I carried on doing my duty just as I had before. The Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of believers got worse and worse in 2013. My husband and I were well-known locally for spreading the gospel and we were in constant danger of being arrested. We left our home and moved far away so we could keep doing our duties. I later found that the lump on my breast was growing and I worried it could be some kind of illness. But I thought of how nothing bad had happened in years and that God was surely protecting me. As long as I did my duty well and sacrificed more, I figured God would have mercy on me, and I wouldn’t get seriously sick.
In 2018, I started to feel unwell and my husband took me for a checkup. The doctor said the lump on my breast had grown as big as a goose egg and that it didn’t look good. She said having an operation right away would be very risky and that I had to have chemo first to shrink the lump before they could operate. Hearing the words “it doesn’t look good” and “chemotherapy” threw me into a panic. I thought, “Only people with cancer have chemotherapy. Do I have cancer? Am I going to die so young?” I just couldn’t believe it. I slumped down onto a bench in the hospital corridor and burst into tears.
My husband tried to comfort me, saying, “This initial examination isn’t necessarily right. We’ll go get you checked over at another hospital tomorrow.”
The next day, we went to another hospital and I was given a biopsy. The doctor told my husband that my condition was serious and that it could be cancer. He said we couldn’t wait any longer and that I had to be operated on in two days’ time.
I went totally limp when I heard him say this and my heart turned to ice. I thought, “Is it really cancer? People die from cancer! How could this have happened to me?” But then I thought, “No way. I’ve always done my duty, made sacrifices, suffered and paid a price since becoming a believer. I’ve endured being mocked and slandered by others, being persecuted and hunted by the CCP. I’ve never let anything interfere with my duty. How could I have gotten cancer? Wouldn’t that mean I don’t have any hope of being saved and getting into the kingdom of heaven? Have all my sacrifices all these years been in vain?” I was terribly upset.
I lay in bed that night, tossing and turning, unable to sleep a wink. I just couldn’t figure it out. I’d expended myself so much, so how could I have gotten so ill? Why hadn’t God protected me? Then I thought of the operation I had to have in two days’ time. I had no idea whether it would be successful or not … I was in utter torment so I silently said a prayer to God: “Dear God, I’m so distressed right now. I don’t know how to get through this situation. Please enlighten and guide me …” I then read in God’s last eleven requirements of man: “5. If you have always been very loyal, with much love for Me, yet you suffer the torment of illness, poverty, and the abandonment of your friends and relatives, or if you endure any other misfortunes in life, will your loyalty and love for Me still continue? 6. If none of what you have imagined in your heart matches what I have done, how will you walk your future path? 7. If you do not receive any of the things you hoped to receive, can you continue to be My follower?” (“A Very Serious Problem: Betrayal (2)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Contemplating these requirements, I realized that this illness was God testing me to see whether I was truly loyal to Him and truly loved Him. I thought about when Job went through his trials. He lost his property, his children, and he got boils all over his body. Though he didn’t understand God’s will, he preferred to curse himself than blame God and he extolled the name of Jehovah God. Job kept his faith in God and remained obedient and he stood witness for God before Satan. But I had believed for years and enjoyed so much provision from God’s words, yet I didn’t understand God’s work at all. When I found out I had cancer, I thought I couldn’t be saved or enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. I misunderstood and blamed God. Having believed in God for years and having made so many sacrifices, I thought God should have stopped me from getting sick. Only when God exposed me did I see that all my sacrifices hadn’t been made out of consideration for His will, or to practice the truth and satisfy God. They’d been for blessings and to get into His kingdom—I’d been making deals with God. All my so-called loyalty and love for God was just a fiction. It was totally insincere. I’d really hurt and disappointed God.
I then read God’s words: “Who of the whole of mankind is not cared for in the eyes of the Almighty? Who does not live in the midst of the Almighty’s predestination? Does man’s life and death happen by his own choice? Does man control his own fate? Many people cry out for death, yet it is far away from them; many people want to be those who are strong in life and fear death, yet unbeknownst to them, the day of their demise draws near, plunging them into the abyss of death; many people look to the skies and sigh deeply; many people cry great, wailing sobs; many people fall amidst trials; and many people become prisoners of temptation. Though I do not appear in person to allow man to behold Me clearly, many people fear seeing My face, deeply afraid that I will strike them down, that I will snuff them out. Does man truly know Me, or does he not?” (“Chapter 11” of God’s Words to the Entire Universe in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words showed me that the flesh and souls of man have their source in God. Life and death are in God’s hands, and we have no say in it. As created beings, we should submit to God’s arrangements. Realizing this, I didn’t feel so afraid of dying anymore. I silently made a resolution: “No matter how my operation goes, whether I live or die, I hand my life over to God and submit to His rule.”
Once I had submitted, I felt a great wave of peace in my heart. I prayed nonstop as I was being taken into the operating room. Afterward, the doctor said that it had gone really well, but the removed lump still had to be tested to know how things would go. I thought, “The operation went so well because God was protecting me.” I saw other patients coming back from their operations feeling really weak and disoriented whereas I felt fine and was in good spirits. The others in my ward said I didn’t look like I’d had an operation at all. I kept thanking God in my heart for this. I also thought, “I found that lump on my breast six years ago. If it were cancer, surely it would have worsened ages ago. But I haven’t felt bad at all over all this time. Maybe it isn’t cancer. And even if it is, I believe that God is almighty and He will make it all right.” I’d heard before about some brothers and sisters who relied on God when they got really sick and witnessed God’s wondrous deeds. I’d always made sacrifices for God, so He was certain to protect me.
Three days later, I went to get my results, full of hope, but all my hopes turned to despair: It really was cancer.
I just sat there, not moving, staring straight ahead at the results, reading them over and over as I cried and cried. It took a long while before I pulled myself together again. I thought to myself, “Is God using this illness to expose and eliminate me? Am I not even qualified to render service to Him anymore? I’ve believed in God for years, making sacrifices and preaching the gospel through wind and rain. Doesn’t God remember any of this? Is this how my faith in God ends?” I was getting more and more upset, and I felt totally sapped of energy.
Afterward, I didn’t want to eat or drink, or even speak. The doctor told me to take nutritional supplements and exercise more. I thought, “I’ve been handed a death sentence. What good are nutritional supplements and exercise? I’ll die sooner or later anyway.” I felt so depressed, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “Many brothers and sisters had gotten sick before they had faith but then got better after they started believing. But I’ve been doing my duty every day since I found faith in God. How could I have gotten cancer? I used to think making sacrifices was my ticket to salvation. But now, not only will I not be saved, but I’m going to die of cancer.” My feelings of blame and my misunderstandings of God just poured out of me, unchecked. In despair, I tearfully spoke to God, “Dear God, I’m in such pain. I’ve gotten sick and I don’t understand what Your will is. Please enlighten and guide me to understand Your will.”
I then read these words of God: “For all people, refinement is excruciating, and very difficult to accept—yet it is during refinement that God makes plain His righteous disposition to man, and makes public His requirements for man, and provides more enlightenment, and more actual pruning and dealing; through the comparison between the facts and the truth, He gives man a greater knowledge of himself and the truth, and gives man a greater understanding of God’s will, thus allowing man to have a truer and purer love of God. Such are God’s aims in carrying out refinement. All the work that God does in man has its own aims and significance; God does not do meaningless work, and nor does He do work that is without benefit to man. Refinement does not mean removing people from before God, and nor does it mean destroying them in hell. Rather, it means changing man’s disposition during refinement, changing his intentions, his old views, changing his love for God, and changing his whole life. Refinement is a real test of man, and a form of real training, and only during refinement can his love serve its inherent function” (“Only by Experiencing Refinement Can Man Possess True Love” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words helped me understand His will. God was using illness to expose my inner corruption, rebelliousness, and tainted motives so that I would know myself, cast off corruption, and gain salvation from God. But I’d thought God wanted to take my life and eliminate me, and so I misunderstood and blamed God, totally gave up and fell into despair. I’d tried to put a price on my sacrifices, take credit for them and argue with God. I’d even wanted to use my own death to confront God. I’d lost all conscience! I felt I owed God so much, so I came before Him to pray and find out why I’d been unable to submit when I got sick, instead misunderstanding and blaming God.
I then read some of God’s words. “So many believe in Me only that I might heal them. So many believe in Me only that I might use My powers to drive unclean spirits out from their bodies, and so many believe in Me simply that they might receive peace and joy from Me. So many believe in Me only to demand from Me greater material wealth. So many believe in Me just to spend this life in peace and to be safe and sound in the world to come. So many believe in Me to avoid the suffering of hell and to receive the blessings of heaven. So many believe in Me only for temporary comfort, yet do not seek to gain anything in the world to come. When I brought down My fury upon man and seized all the joy and peace he once possessed, man became doubtful. When I gave unto man the suffering of hell and reclaimed the blessings of heaven, man’s shame turned into anger. When man asked Me to heal him, I paid him no heed and felt abhorrence toward him; man departed from Me to instead seek the way of evil medicine and sorcery. When I took away all that man had demanded from Me, everyone disappeared without a trace. Thus, I say that man has faith in Me because I give too much grace, and there is far too much to gain” (“What Do You Know of Faith?” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). “Such people only have one simple aim in following God, and that aim is to receive blessings. Such people cannot be bothered to pay heed to anything else that does not directly involve this aim. To them, there is no goal more legitimate than believing in God to receive blessings—it is the very value of their faith. If something does not contribute to this aim, they remain completely unmoved by it. This is the case with most people who believe in God today. Their aim and intention seem legitimate, because as they believe in God, they also expend for God, dedicate themselves to God, and perform their duty. They give up their youth, forsake family and career, and even spend years away from home busying themselves. For the sake of their ultimate goal, they change their own interests, their outlook on life, and even the direction they seek; yet they cannot change the aim of their belief in God. They run about for the management of their own ideals; no matter how far the road is, and no matter how many hardships and obstacles there are along the way, they remain persistent and unafraid of death. What power compels them to continue dedicating themselves in this way? Is it their conscience? Is it their great and noble character? Is it their determination to battle the forces of evil to the very end? Is it their faith to bear witness to God without seeking reward? Is it their loyalty in being willing to give up everything to achieve God’s will? Or is it their spirit of devotion to always forgo extravagant personal demands? For someone who has never understood the work of God’s management to still give so much is, quite simply, a miracle! For the moment, let us not discuss how much these people have given. Their behavior, however, is highly worthy of our analysis. Apart from the benefits that are so closely associated with them, could there be any other reasons why people who never understand God would give so much for Him? In this, we discover a previously unidentified problem: Man’s relationship with God is merely one of naked self-interest. It is a relationship between a receiver and a giver of blessings. To put it plainly, it is akin to the relationship between employee and employer. The employee works only to receive the rewards bestowed by the employer. There is no affection in such a relationship, only transaction. There is no loving or being loved, only charity and mercy. There is no understanding, only suppressed indignation and deception. There is no intimacy, only an uncrossable chasm. Now that things have gotten to this point, who can reverse such a course? And how many people are capable of truly understanding how dire this relationship has become? I believe that when people immerse themselves in the joy of being blessed, none can imagine how embarrassing and unsightly such a relationship with God is” (“Man Can Only Be Saved Amidst God’s Management” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words pierced my heart like a sword, and I felt so ashamed. Hadn’t the motive behind my faith been to gain future blessings, just as God said? No matter how I appeared to be making sacrifices, I was just making deals with God, all for blessings. I wasn’t truly obeying God or doing the duty of a created being. When I was new to the faith, I used to think no disaster would ever befall me, that I’d be blessed and get into God’s kingdom. So I gave my all and let nothing get in the way of doing my duty. I didn’t even have the time to take my kids to or from school. Being mocked and slandered by others, persecuted and hunted by the CCP—nothing got between me and my duty. All of this made me think I was loyal to God and that He would surely praise and bless me. When I found out I had cancer, I felt that was it for me, that all my dreams of getting into the kingdom of heaven had gone up in smoke. I was filled with misunderstandings, blame, and I argued with God, even wanting to use my own death to confront God. Faced with the facts, I realized that my doing my duty, suffering, and expending myself was all to get a good destination in return. My relationship with God was “the relationship between employee and employer.” I wanted a reward for every little price I paid. I didn’t truly love God. I was using Him, trying to cheat Him. With that kind of perspective in my faith, God could only loathe and detest me. If God hadn’t used that illness to wake me up, I’d have kept clinging to my wrong views of faith and God would’ve forsaken and eliminated me in the end. Realizing this filled me with regret and self-reproach. I knelt down and prayed to God. I said, “Dear God, if You hadn’t exposed me through this illness, I’d never have understood my wrong views in faith. The judgment and revelations of Your words have awakened my spirit. I wish to remedy my wrong motives and let go of my desire for blessings. Whether I get better or not, whether I live or die, I wish to submit to You.” I felt much more at peace after my prayer, and I was in a much better state. Over the days that followed, I kept exercising and taking nutritional supplements and my health improved day by day. It wasn’t long before I was able to leave the hospital.
Back at home, I saw my husband and children going out preaching the gospel and doing their duties, but all I could do was lie in bed, unable to do any duty. I began to feel a bit down. I had no idea when I’d completely recover or whether I’d be able to do my duty again one day. If I couldn’t do my duty, wouldn’t I just be dead weight? And then how would I be saved? When thinking this way, I realized that my desire for blessings had reared its ugly head again. I hurriedly prayed to God and then read this in His words: “What was the basis on which people used to live? All people live for themselves. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost—this is the summation of human nature. People believe in God for their own sakes; they abandon things, expend themselves for Him, and are faithful to Him, but still they do all these things for their own sakes. In sum, it is all done for the purpose of gaining blessings for themselves. In society, everything is done for personal benefit; believing in God is solely done to gain blessings. It is for the sake of gaining blessings that people forsake everything and can withstand much suffering: This is all empirical evidence of man’s corrupt nature” (“The Difference Between External Changes and Changes in Disposition” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days). God’s words helped me to see that the reason I made deals with God in my faith and rebelled and resisted God when things didn’t work out how I wanted was because all sorts of satanic poisons had control over me. “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost” and “Never lift a finger without a reward”—I lived by these satanic philosophies. Everything I did, I did for myself, to benefit myself. I was so selfish and despicable. Even in my faith, I toiled and busied myself just to get blessings and rewards. I wasn’t focused on pursuing the truth or dispositional change at all. When I didn’t get the blessings I wanted, my satanic nature erupted and I misunderstood and blamed God, and regretted everything I’d done for God. Paul worked for the Lord and suffered a lot, but he had no love for the truth, and he didn’t seek to know God or change his disposition. He just wanted the crown of righteousness in return for his suffering and sacrifice. In the end, his satanic disposition hadn’t changed, so his arrogance drove out all reason, he testified that he himself was Christ and he brought people before him. That offended God’s disposition and earned him eternal punishment. I knew if I kept on living by Satan’s poisons, then I could only end up just like Paul. God would punish me for resisting Him. I saw just how dangerous it was to seek blessings and not pursue the truth. I was so grateful to God. I thanked Him for using this illness to give me a chance to reflect on and know myself, so I could see my wrong perspective on pursuit in my faith and that I was walking a path in opposition to God.
I then read God’s words: “God is forever supreme and ever honorable, while man is forever base, forever worthless. This is because God is forever making sacrifices and devoting Himself to mankind; man, however, forever takes and strives only for himself. God is forever taking pains for mankind’s survival, yet man never contributes anything for the sake of the light or for righteousness. Even if man makes an effort for a time, it cannot withstand a single blow, for the effort of man is always for his own sake and not for others. Man is always selfish, while God is forever selfless. God is the source of all that is just, good, and beautiful, while man is he who succeeds to and makes manifest all ugliness and evil. God will never alter His essence of righteousness and beauty, yet man is perfectly capable, at any time and in any situation, of betraying righteousness and straying far from God” (“It Is Very Important to Understand God’s Disposition” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). I was so moved as I pondered these words. God has paid such a painstaking price in order to save mankind which has been corrupted so deeply by Satan. Two thousand years ago, God became flesh for the first time in Judea to redeem mankind. He endured mockery, slander, and was persecuted and abused by followers of Judaism. Finally, He was nailed to the cross, thereby accomplishing the work of redemption. Today, God has become flesh for the second time in China in order to cleanse and save mankind once and for all. He’s been hunted and persecuted by the CCP with nowhere to lay His head, no place to rest, and He also has to endure being misunderstood, blamed, disobeyed, and resisted by us believers. Yet God has never stopped trying to save mankind but instead silently does all He can for us, never asking for anything in return. I, however, made sacrifices in my duty and expected blessings and a destination in return. I went against my conscience to bargain with God. I was so selfish and despicable! I wasn’t any kind of true believer. Realizing this, I went before God in prayer, willing to repent.
During devotionals one day, I read this in God’s words: “True faith in God means the following: On the basis of the belief that God holds sovereignty over all things, one experiences His words and His work, purges one’s corrupt disposition, satisfies the will of God, and comes to know God. Only a journey of this kind may be called ‘faith in God’” (Preface to The Word Appears in the Flesh). “The purpose of believing in God is to satisfy Him and to live out the disposition He requires, so that His actions and glory may be manifested through this group of unworthy people. This is the correct perspective for believing in God, and this is also the goal that you should seek. You should have the right viewpoint about believing in God and you should seek to obtain God’s words. You need to eat and drink God’s words and you must be able to live out the truth, and in particular you must be able to see His practical deeds, His wonderful deeds throughout the entire universe, as well as the practical work He does in the flesh. People can, through their practical experiences, appreciate just how God does His work on them and what His will is toward them. The purpose of all of this is to eliminate people’s corrupt satanic disposition. Having cast out all the uncleanliness and unrighteousness inside you, and having cast off your wrong intentions, and having developed true faith in God—only with true faith can you truly love God” (“Those Who Are to Be Made Perfect Must Undergo Refinement” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words show the correct goal we should pursue in our faith. No matter how we may be disciplined in our experiences, God arranges everything specifically to cleanse and change us. I knew I should meet it all with acceptance and obedience, seek the truth in situations to resolve my corrupt dispositions, and satisfy God and repay His love in all things. Only this is the correct pursuit. I didn’t want to make deals with God for blessings anymore. Whatever route my illness took from then on, I would worship God till my last breath. If God gave me another chance to do my duty, I wouldn’t bargain with Him for blessings. I just wanted to pursue the truth in my duty and seek change in my disposition.
Not long after, God put me through a test.
One day, my daughter came back from a church gathering and said Sister Wang, who watered believers, was being followed by the police and no one had been found to replace her yet. She asked me who in the church could do that job. I’d done this duty before and knew it well, so I thought I’d be the best fit. But then I thought about how I’d only had my operation 20 or so days ago. The incision hadn’t fully healed and the weather was getting hot. At home, I had to wash the incision several times a day. If I took on this duty and I got too busy to keep my wound clean, it could become inflamed. My use of my arm was still limited, and if I was jostled around on an electric scooter every day, the incision wouldn’t heal, then I’d really get sick. Given the situation, taking on that duty wouldn’t do my health any favors. But then I thought, “The right person for this duty hasn’t been found yet. If I don’t take it on, won’t the work of God’s house be set back? What should I do?” A passage of God’s words then came to mind: “If, in your faith in God and pursuit of the truth, you are able to say, “Whatever sickness or disagreeable event God allows to befall me—no matter what God does—I must obey, and stay in my place as a created being. Before all else, I must put this aspect of the truth—obedience—into practice, I implement it, and live out the reality of obedience to God. Moreover, I must not cast aside what God has commissioned to me and the duty I should perform. Even on my last breath, I must abide by my duty.” Is this not bearing testimony?” (“The Path Comes From Often Pondering the Truth” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days). God’s words provided me with a path of practice. Although my incision wasn’t fully healed yet, I didn’t want to be selfish and mean anymore, thinking only of myself and not of God’s house. For years, I’d been doing my duty for blessings, making deals with God. I’d never cared about God’s will or done anything to satisfy God. I really owed God! Someone was urgently needed to do this duty, and I wanted to do it. No matter what happened to my health, I asked only that I can bring God comfort. Guided by God’s words, my illness no longer constrained me and I volunteered to take on that job.
I witnessed God’s wondrous protection when I put my all into this duty. A week later, my incision was not only no worse, but it had healed up completely. The doctor said, “Lymphedema in the arm is common after this kind of operation, and after more than a month of recovery, the patient still needs chemotherapy.” But since I started that duty, my incision stopped hurting, there was no lymphedema in my arm, and I hadn’t gone in for chemo. It has now been over a year since the operation, and I am totally fine. Thank God for His wondrous deeds. I personally experienced His words that say: “Any and all things, whether living or dead, will shift, change, renew, and disappear in accordance with God’s thoughts. Such is the way in which God presides over all things” (“God Is the Source of Man’s Life” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Once I let go of my unreasonable demands and no longer made deals with God, I really saw God’s authority and rule and witnessed His wondrous deeds!
The ordeal of this illness seemed like a calamity on the surface, but God’s love was hidden there within it. The enlightenment and guidance of God’s words gave me some recognition of my motives to gain blessings and my impurities. I developed some obedience toward God and truly learned that experiencing illness was a blessing from God, that it was to cleanse and change me. Thank God for His salvation!