Colt McCoy and Matt Carter: "The real win for a man is built on two simple but strategic components—who you trust and who you serve."
In May 2005, I (Matt) was 31 years old, and life was going great. I was happily married to my wife, Jenn. We had three healthy young children. The church I had planted three years prior was growing fast and was already up to about a thousand people.
Then one night—completely out of the blue—I began to have massive pains in my stomach. I was taken to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, stayed in the hospital overnight and was released. Problem solved. Or so I thought.
A couple of days later I was sitting at my desk at work, and I got a phone call from my wife. The doctor had told her that they’d found a malignant tumor in my appendix.
It turned out to be a carcinoid tumor of the appendix, a fairly rare type of cancer. The tumors typically start to spread either when they become two centimeters long or if they break through the appendix wall. My tumor was 1.9 centimeters long, and it had already broken through the wall, so this was bad.
Doctors told me that if this type of cancer spreads into your lymph nodes, you’re done. Chemo doesn’t work. Radiation doesn’t work. It’s a slow-growing cancer, so it takes a few years to kill you, but there’s no hope.
To see if the cancer has spread, they test your blood, then they do a CAT scan to see if your lymph nodes are enlarged. I had all these tests, and my blood levels came back abnormally high. That was bad news. Then it turned out my lymph nodes were significantly swollen. Double dose of bad news.
Doctors told me that either the cancer had spread and I was going to die or my blood markers were high because of the original tumor and my nodes were swollen because of the surgery. One option meant death. The other option meant life. The only way to tell which scenario was factual was to wait a few months to see if my blood markers would go down. The second option was slim. As a 31-year-old man, I was preparing to die.
For the next three months, I sat on pins and needles, thinking, hoping, praying. I experienced every dark emotion imaginable. What would happen to my wife and children? What would happen to my church? I struggled to understand why God would allow this to happen to me.
I began to take careful inventory of my life. Some of the first verses of Scripture I read during those days were from Jeremiah 2, where God talks about people who have forsaken him and tried to do life on their own. I knew in my heart that in so many ways those verses described me. A friend of mine who had gone through a similar trial said these words about his experience: “The Lord brought me into the desert to win my heart.” That pretty much summed up what I was experiencing. I knew that whether I lived or died, God was definitely trying to get my attention. Honestly, I had some unconfessed sin in my life and was pursuing a thousand other things besides Jesus.
Then one day, in the midst of my wrestling with God, I got a phone call from a longtime friend, Neil McClendon, a pastor in Houston.
“Matt,” he said with his characteristic gravelly voice, “I was spending time with the Lord this morning, and you came to mind. I believe I’ve got a message from God for you.”
“Okay, I’m listening.” My heart raced in my chest. I had no idea what Neil was going to say.
“Matt, I don’t know whether you’re going to live or die. But here’s the message: the Lord wants you to live with unction.”
“‘Unction’? What does that mean?”
“Matt, it means holy urgency. That’s how God wants you to live.”
“I still don’t get it, Neil.”
“Read Psalm 39:4-5. Then you’ll know.” Neil hung up.
I grabbed my Bible and turned to the passage.
Show me, O Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath. (NIV)
I chewed on that. Ever breathed on a window during a cold winter’s day? Did you notice how it fogged up, and then the fog instantly disappeared? That is what the psalmist David is saying the life of man is like. Here for a brief moment, then gone. Why would David ask God to show him the shortness of his life? David knew that when a man grasps how short his life is, he begins to live with a new sense of what’s truly important.
After reading that verse, I had my first glimpse of how God was trying to change my heart through the trial I was facing. God wanted me to live with a holy urgency. Live with unction. Whether I lived for two more years or five more decades, compared with all eternity my life was short. I needed to live with a sense of life’s fleetingness, of how, in the eyes of God, my life was a mere breath. If I truly believed that, it was going to change the way I lived.