My guest today is someone who is recognized around the world simply by her first name… Joni. But don’t put her on a pedestal; she is about as down-to-earth as they come. I first met Joni and her husband Ken when they came to my home to interview me and my brother, Tyson. Even though our disabilities are different, we share much in common. Nearly 50 years in a wheelchair has forged an honest, tough, yet transparent character in Joni Eareckson Tada, and this is why I love reading anything she puts in a book. Like her most recent one, A Spectacle of Glory. So take a few minutes and be blessed by a few fresh insights from my friend, Joni…
When God Says ‘No’
Sometimes I wish I could twist and turn in bed at night – anything to make myself more comfortable. Like the other night when I could not get to sleep because of pain in my back and hip. Although I’m a quadriplegic, oddly enough, I still can feel pain. Lying flat in bed and feeling knives in my back can nearly choke me with claustrophobia. So that night I breathed deeply and quieted my anxious thoughts by asking the Lord to break the agonizing cycle of pain. I so wanted to wake up refreshed the next morning. Oh, God, I whimpered in a whisper, You’ve got to know how wonderful it would be for me to face a new day without discomfort in my wheelchair.
When morning arrived, the pain was still throbbing. My gut reaction was to plummet into depression, but I’ve been down that dark, grim road too many times. So I did what I’ve done on countless occasions when God has said ‘No.’ I preached the Gospel to myself. The Gospel in Luke 9:23 that tells me to daily take up my cross and die to self. It’s an unpleasant task, but it’s what the cross-filled life is all about: following Jesus up the road to Calvary where we lay down our wants and needs, earthly dreams, and every wishful hope of our heart. We leave it all at the foot of our Savior’s cross, knowing He’ll deal with us wisely and graciously.
I call it an interior crucifixion. An inside slaying of anxiety, doubt, or fear – for me, it’s dying to thoughts like, what if my pain gets worse? Will I be able to live like this for the rest of my life?! God, this isn’t really your will for me… is it?!
It’s not something God asks us to do occasionally. We are to pick up our cross daily because a cross-filled life is made up of many cross-filled days. That’s the Gospel I preach to myself every morning. Is it easy to do? Of course not – with humans, it’s impossible (Luke 18:27). But with God, all things – even letting go of your deepest desires – all of it is possible.
And I will tell you a secret. As I’ve practiced taking up my cross – that heavy, hard thing in my life – I have fallen in love with Jesus through a deeper, sweeter, more intimate union with Him, the crucified Christ. Living day by day in the fellowship of sharing with His sufferings, I discover a side of Jesus that perhaps many people don’t see – at least people who shun the distasteful duty of dying to themselves. Yet God shares His intimacy on his terms; and those terms call for us to, in some measure, suffer as His precious Son did. It’s what happens for any of us who pray, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
It’s a rugged, rigorous way to live out the Christian life, but it is so fulfilling, so satisfying. It’s why, long ago, I memorized these wise words from William Law, an Anglican minister who wrote centuries ago, “Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment… darkness and desolation with both your hands, as a blessed occasion of dying to self, and entering into a fuller fellowship with your Savior. Look at no inward or outward trouble in any other view; reject every other thought about it; and then every kind of trial and distress will become the blessed day of your prosperity. That state is best, which exercises the fullest resignation to God.”
Our culture hates that sort of stuff. It will do everything it can to distract you away from the blood-stained road to Calvary. That sort of life is for martyrs and missionaries… not you, it’ll insist.
Oh, friend, join me in receiving every inward and outward trouble with both your hands, as a chance to die to yourself and enter into a happier fellowship with Jesus. When God does not give you what you desire; when you pray until your knees ache, and yet the Lord says ‘No,’ it is a way of receiving trouble with open, willing hands. It’s a glorious opportunity to let go of what you want, and cling to what Christ wants – perseverance, endurance, and a clearer understanding of His amazing love. Every sacrifice you happily submit to; every word of contentment uttered through disappointment; every difficult effort that you courageously face deepens your fellowship with your Savior. It opens your eyes to a clearer vision of God, it makes your soul brave, and it enlarges your heart’s capacity for grace upon grace.
I’d much rather have that, than a pain-free day!
Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and CEO of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center and is an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations.
Her new daily devotional, A Spectacle of Glory, from which this article was excerpted, contains fresh biblical insights from her battles with cancer and chronic pain in addition to quadriplegia. You can learn more about Joni’s ministry at www.joniandfriends.org or can write her at firstname.lastname@example.org