Cancer Taught Me How to Pray Scripture

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I always wanted to pray scripture but I struggled, big time. It was like I had a love-hate relationship with even the thought of praying scripture.

It sounded like such a good idea but with the memory of a sieve and I could never remember a verse, let alone land on the right verse for the situation. It stressed me out and I always ended up feeling like a failure and spiritual light-weight.

I admired women who could spout off scripture mid-prayer but I also found them slightly intimidating. Why did they have to do that? Couldn’t they just pray like the rest of us – in normal sentences with faltering words?

I know, I know, I’m as shallow as a kiddy pool in a drought, but I craved scriptures spiritual depth and power but flinched in my inadequacy.

Even at home on my own I’d give it a try but have to Google a verse to find it and end up getting distracted by YouTube videos that popped into my feed or simply give up, having failed to find what I was looking for.

Having come to faith relatively late in life I don’t have a memory stuffed with bible verses ready to access at a moment’s notice. I’m also an extrovert who’s never met a silence she couldn’t fill, so I’m not exactly looking for words to pray. Once I get going it can be hard stopping me.

But then I got cancer.

Rectal cancer.

I’ve said this before but rectal cancer isn’t sexy and doesn’t come with a pretty pink bow, and when I was diagnosed the bottom fell out of my world. Then, as I journeyed through chemo, radiation, surgery and more chemo, the world fell out of my bottom!

Having already lost my mum and sister to cancer I finally had no words to pray. Unless you count these as prayers (which I do).

Are you kidding me God?

Me too? After all I’ve done for you?

Is it my turn now?

Five years earlier we had moved to America with three small children to plant CityChurch Charlotte and in an unprecedented fit of creativity, I had painted scripture verses to hang in each of the kids’ rooms. For Emma, our youngest, I chose Psalm 62:1-2.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress I shall never be shaken. Ps 62:1-2 NIV

I wish I could say I chose it because it meant something to Emma, but at only three years old she couldn’t spot a psalm if you covered it with chocolate and handed it to her on a stick. The truth is, I just liked it and she was too young to care.

As I went through all the yuck and pain of treatment and the delights of an ostomy bag (where I could walk, talk, and poop all at the same time), this verse became mine. Or at least the four words I could remember in the depths of my nausea did;


As I lay in my hospital gown, hooked up to a million machines, waiting for the anesthetic to wash over me, I would pray.

“You are my rock, and salvation, my fortress and my strength.”

Over and over, one phrase on infinite repeat.

“You are my rock and my salvation, my fortress, and my strength.”

I clung to it as the chemo started pumping through my port.

“You are my rock and my salvation, my fortress, and my strength.”

I whispered it as I lay encased in the scanner machine, its whirling and clunking ominously reverberating around me.

“You are my rock and my salvation, my fortress, and my strength.”

I wrote it out in the days of waiting to hear if the cancer had spread.

Praying scripture …

  • gives us truth when we believe the lies of the enemy
  • provides words when we had nothing left to pray,
  • gives us a solid foundation when our world shatters,
  • holds us up when we are in free fall,
  • gives voice to our silent cries, and
  • praises God with the truth of His word.

In the raging storm of my cancer this scripture mantra became a life raft .

I felt His solid rock beneath me as my world shifted, I rested in the peace of my salvation, I hid in the safety of His fortress, and I stepped ahead scared, renewed by His strength.

I learned to hear His voice and trust Him even when I didn’t feel like it

Why had I waited so long to discover the power of praying scripture?

Praying scripture is powerful not just when our world crumbles, but as we pray for our kids, our marriages, our desires, our nation, the sick, and as we worship and repent.

Why hadn’t I done it before?

Now, nearly ten years later, I’m cancer free and still praying my scripture mantra regularly. When my teenagers break curfew, when I’m waiting for yet another colonoscopy (oh the joys), when the enemy drags me into his pit of anxious lies.

You are my rock and salvation, my fortress and my strength.

We can pray scripture proactively too, not just as a reaction to circumstances or fear. I love inserting the name of whomever I’m praying for (even if it’s me!) into a verse like this.

How about praying this one for yourself or someone you love.

“Lord, thank you that your steadfast love for _____________________ never ceases, and your mercies for them never come to an end. Lord, I pray _____________ would know your fresh mercies this and every morning and see how great your faithfulness is” (Lamentations 3:22-23).


“Lord, ________________’s heart is troubled and they’re afraid. Send your Holy Spirit to remind _______________ of everything you have said to them and help them receive the peace you give freely” John 14:26-27

Scripture is powerful. It’s “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb 4:12) and we encounter God in it and through it as its power is made real in our lives.

Let’s not just be readers and doers of the word; let’s be prayers of the word as well.

Let’s trust it will not return to Him empty, expecting it to accomplish what He desires, being sure in the knowledge it will achieve the purpose for which He sent it. (Is 55:11).

Even when we have nothing left to pray.

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Has your life and faith been shaken by a diagnosis?

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