Tim Keller shares cancer update, says facing mortality has transformed his prayer life

Pastor Tim Keller, founder and former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City.
Pastor Tim Keller, founder and former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City. | Courtesy of A. Larry Ross Communications

Tim Keller has shared how his prayer life has flourished amid his battle with cancer and how the Psalms have sustained him as he faces the reality of death. 

The 72-year-old pastor and author recently appeared on Premier's "Unbelievable?," a show hosted by Ruth Jackson and Justin Brierley, for an interview titled "Walking with God Through Cancer."  

Since being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in May 2020, Keller shared how he has undergone two years of chemotherapy and is currently participating in the immunotherapy drug trial for National Institute for Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The treatments, he said, have kept his cancer "at bay."

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"My cancer is still there, pancreatic cancer can break out anytime and take you, and yet it we've been able to keep it somewhat at bay for a pretty long time, and so we're very grateful," he said 

Keller, the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and City to City, is also a survivor of thyroid cancer, which he had in 2002. He said that every time he has a scan, he experiences "scanxiety."

"You know that it doesn't matter how good the last one was," he said. "This one could show that it's out of control."

Yet, he shared that he and his wife, Kathy, have seen their prayer lives grow and develop as they face his diagnosis together. 

"This is going to sound like an exaggeration. My wife and I would never want to go back to the kind of prayer life and spiritual life we had before the cancer, never," he said, adding that his cancer journey has made him genuinely experience Psalm 90:14: "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."

"Every so often, Kathy and I will say ... we're having a much better life now," he said. 

"When it comes to prayer, I really thought that I had a good prayer life. And when I broke through to another dimension, I realized my goodness, … my prayer life wasn't very good," he said. 

"[Knowing] you are really are going to die changes the way you look at your time, the way you look at God, the way you look at your spouse," he said. "Everything just changes when you actually realize time is limited and I'm mortal."

Keller said his cancer journey has forced him to slow down, something he said has been "good" for him and everyone around him. 

"The thing I saw was that I actually was too active," he said. "And I'd been too active for too long. … I'm closer to where I should've been most of my life. I'm very blessed in that … my relationship with my sons are good; my sons are believers. I've got a great relationship with my wife, and that is nothing but God's grace because I was too active. ... I felt like everybody said, 'you have to do this for me, and OK, I have to do this for you.' It's been great to be less active."

When dealing with anxiety stemming from his diagnosis, Keller said he finds comfort in the Psalms, a book that deals with every issue from guilt to depression. 

"There's nothing like the Psalms to teach you," he said. "The way I deal with the anxiety is I keep my Psalms up, and I keep my exercise up."

Since his diagnosis, Keller has continued to write and teach. His latest book,Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?, examines why forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life. 

He previously told CP that he felt the topic was timely, given the culture's resistance to forgiveness. 

"There's a cultural moment here where I think forgiveness is very important to talk about. We live in a culture that is very fragmented, polarized, there's an awful lot of anger, and people are really after each other. Forgiveness is not in the air," he told CP. 

"In the Lord's Prayer, the only statement that Jesus repeats is, 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,'" he said. "And then, at the end of the prayer, Jesus adds, 'If you do not forgive other people, then there's no reason why God should forgive you.' It's very, very central to what the Bible teaches."

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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