Author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic since age 17, candidly explores the question of why God allows pain and suffering, and encourages listeners to persevere in trusting God, even if they can't fully understand His purposes. (Part 2 of 2)
Mrs. Joni Eareckson: I always thought physical healing had been the big deal, but as far as God was concerned, my soul was the bigger deal.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Joni Eareckson Tada continues a really insightful message on dealing with suffering on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I'm lookin' forward to hearing from Joni today, because I know that sooner or later I'm gonna go through a time of suffering, either physical or emotional and I'm gonna need Joni's insights on how to deal with it and the truth is, each one of you are, too. You're gonna go through something that is difficult, because suffering comes to all of us. It's part of life.
If you missed the first half of Joni's presentation yesterday, get in touch with us. We can send you the entire message on CD or an audio download or you can get it through the Smartphone app, so that you can listen to it again or maybe share it with a friend.
John: Yeah, there's some great encouragement here and you'll find the resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And here now is Joni Eareckson Tada, speaking at the National Religious Broadcasts convention in Nashville, Tennessee, just a couple of years ago and we'll start with some highlights from last time.
Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada: I cannot tell you how many times at night I would picture myself there at the Pool of Bethesda on a blanket perhaps, lying next to the man with paralysis, on his straw mat. And I would wait alongside him, waiting for Jesus to walk into those covered colonnades and I would see Him and I would, in my mind's eye, cry out, "Oh, Jesus, Jesus, don't pass me by. Here I am. Heal me !" But as many times as I pictured myself there at the Pool of Bethesda and as often as I asked Jesus to heal me, I never got up. I never walked.
Somethin's wrong with this picture. What kind of Savior, what kind of Rescuer, what kind of Healer, what kind of Deliverer would refuse the prayer of a paralytic?" And that's when it hit me. It's not that Jesus did not care about all those sick and disabled people at the bottom of the hill. It's just that their physical problems were not His main focus. The gospel was; the gospel of Jesus that says sin kills. Hell is real, but God is merciful. His kingdom can change you and I am your passport. And whenever people miss this, whenever they started coming to Jesus just to have their problems removed, the Savior backed away.
The gospel of Mark showed me the priorities of Jesus, because the same Man who healed eyes and withered hands, is the same Man who said, "If your eye causes you to sin or your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, gouge it out." That's when I got the picture. I always thought physical healing had been the big deal, but as far as God was concerned, my soul was the bigger deal.
Ken and I recently celebrated 30 years of marriage, but I tell you, every step of the way with my quadriplegia, with my chronic pain, every step has been a tough, earnest, rugged, rigorous reliance on Jesus Christ. And Ken and I have discovered a love that holds on through it all, sometimes by a single thread. We have learned that the strongest relationships don't come easy; they are earned . They are tested by pain and frustration. And sometimes they are pushed to the breaking point, like when I got breast cancer three years ago-- a stage-3 breast cancer with a nearly 3" tumor in my breast. All of it had to lopped off.
And then after my mastectomy, I'll never forget. My husband Ken and my good friend, Judy Butler, with whom I've worked for so many years, who took care of so many of my medical needs in years past, all of us were sitting in the office of my medical oncologist, who with his clipboard, was listing through a litany of problems I would be facing in chemotherapy, beginning with, "Joni, you'll have to be sent back to the hospital and a catheter port will have to be inserted into your chest. And you will be given highly toxic poisonous drugs. And your bones, which already are fragile, will probably break. You will have many bladder infections, probably lung infections. You'll probably have pneumonia. You'll lose your hair. You'll get nauseous."
A nurse called him out of the room. He quickly had to leave, shut the door. (Crying) "Uh! I can't do this. I can't do this." I broke down in great heaving sobs. And quickly Judy gets up, as she often had in the past, especially when Ken was depressed and could not deal with my disability, she came up quickly and pressed me against her chest to hold me and as I'm sobbing, I sensed Ken get up and say to Judy, "I'll take over from here."
Oh, my goodness, it was like music to my ears. It was like such sweet music to my ears. My husband wanted to take over. I mean, was this the same man who just years earlier was happy to let Judy do everything as it concerned my disability routines? No, no, this was not the same Ken Tada. This was Ken Tada transformed from glory to glory.
And the lessons we have learned in more than two decades of quadriplegia and pain, prepared us to battle cancer. And now with every squeeze of the lemon, through every test and through every trial, we are able to let go of the worry and the blaming and the anxiety and the fears of the future—things which by the way, are just as offensive to God as selfishness and spitefulness and a complaining spirit.
And the harder Ken and I were squeezed in the midst of that bout with cancer, the harder we leaned on Jesus, discovering an intimacy and a sweetness we'd never known in our marriage up until then. I remember rather recently I was heading to the office at Joni and Friends. And Ken could see in my eyes that I had a particularly painful day comin' up on me. And he said, "Wait by the front door." He said, "Wait one moment."
He quick ran and got a yellow "stickum" and on it wrote with a felt-tip pen, a big capital C. And he slapped it over my chest, over my heart and said, "You got courage, Joni. I can see it in your eyes. You're gonna make it. You're gonna do it. And I'm prayin' for ya. You got the courage of Christ." Oh, my goodness, what wonderful words to hear from Ken. And he and I are so grateful for the disability, for the pain, and yes in a strange way, even for the cancer, All of these things help us stay hungry for the Bread of Heaven, help us stay thirsty for the Living Water.
Suffering keeps waking us up out of any spiritual slumber we might find ourselves in. Suffering is the textbook that keeps teaching us who we really are, that we are not the paragons of virtue that we so would like to think we are. No, we are sinners in need of redemption each and every day. And suffering sandblasts us, strips us bare, strips us of our sinful ways, leaving us raw and exposed.
Also that we might be better bonded, better bonded to the Savior. Oh, my goodness and when we leave sin behind and our hearts starting getting beating in rhythm with Jesus, oh, you just can't help by sense that the favor and the joy and the approval from God Almighty Himself, when you sense His strength being syringed into your spiritual veins, oh, my goodness.
When we obey God, when we 'become holy as He is holy,' it's like He opens up the floodgates of heaven and joy comes cascading down, spilling up and splashing out of our hearts and rushing out to others in streams of encouragement and then rising back up to God in an effervescent fountain of praise. (Singing) Hallelujah, I have found Him, whom my soul so long has craved. Jesus satisfies my longings; through His blood I now am saved.
And then we are as it says in 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 10, we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. We are poor, but yet making many rich. We have nothing, yet we possess everything. And God is ecstasy beyond compare. His Son, Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare. And it is worth anything to be His friend, anything, no matter what the hardship.
One day when Ken and I were driving home from chemotherapy, it was a day when I was feeling particularly nauseous, I was so worn out, so tired. And as we drove down the 101 freeway, me in the back of the van and Ken driving, we were discussing how suffering, what's it like? It's like little splash over of hell, kinda wakin' us up out of our spiritual slumber, getting' us thinkin' about what Christ rescued us from ultimately, creating gratitude in our hearts for what He has secured on our behalf. Yeah, that's it; suffering is like a splash over of hell.
We pulled into the driveway. He turned off the engine and looked at me in the rearview mirror and asked, "Well, well then what do you think a splash over of heaven is? Is it those easy-breezy bright days when there are no bad medical reports, when there is no pain, where everything is going well, where everything is comfortable and cozy? Is that splash over of heaven?"
And in the quietness of that van, we both agreed, no, no. No, a splash over of heaven is finding Jesus in your splash over of hell. To find Jesus in your hell is so wonderfully sweet, because you recognize that this is the Son of God. Oh, my goodness. He has beckoned me into the inner sanctum of His fellowship of sharing in sufferings. And I wouldn't trade places for anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.
People often ask, "Don't you think cancer on top of pain on top of quadriplegia is just a little too much?" Well, is it too much for me? Would it be too much for you if that would be God's choice of lemon, to be squeezed in your life? Well, friend, to this you were called, 1 Peter, chapter 2 says, because Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps." And I want to follow in His steps, because if my Savior learned obedience through the things which He suffered, am I above my Master?
John: Joni Eareckson Tada on "Focus on the Family" and a quick reminder, get her book, Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story and a CD of this recording when you call 1-800-A-FAMILY or you can get those resources and the audio download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Let's return now to Joni Eareckson Tada, as she was speaking at a National Religious Broadcasters convention in 2013, on "Focus on the Family."
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Joni: My friend, Bobbie was diagnosed around this time last year with stage 4 ovarian cancer. And after six rounds of chemotherapy, all of us who prayed for Bobbie, hung on her husband, Robert's every word in every e-mail. And let me quote for you what Bobbie shared in her journal, that Robert then put in an e-mail, because I think it sums up so sweetly what I'm trying to say.
She wrote, "Joni, just as chemo medicine is designed to kill the bad cancer cells, so God designs a toxic painful trial to destroy and starve and kill anything in my soul that is selfish, unholy or offensive to Him. I willingly surrender to His infusion, knowing that He has chosen what will ultimately bring me more abundant life, more abundant life that I can ever imagine. So, I choose to open my hands and my heart and offer my veins to be infused with His choice of trial, so that I might receive His beauty and His perfect health."
God is still searching me. God is still testing Ken and me, testing and trying and seeing if there be any offensive way in us. And it's why you will often find me quoting the general confession from the Book of Common Prayer on which I was raised as a young child in the Reformed Episcopal Church.
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Thy ways. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us.
I love that confession, but I hate that confession. I hate it. So, don't be thinking that a new body is what I am looking forward to most in heaven, jumpin up, dancin', kickin', doin' aerobics. Oh, that'll be wonderful. That will be a great fringe benefit of being invited to Christ's coronation party, but that's not what I'm lookin 'forward to. I want a new heart. I want a glorified heart that no longer twists the truth or resists God or looks for an escape or gets defeated by pain or becomes anxious or worrisome about the future, no longer trying to justify itself. Oh, that'll be heaven for me. (Singing) Oh, that will be, glory for me, glory for me, glory for me, when by His grace I shall look on His face, (Speaking) that will be glory to have a new heart.
And of my goodness, this is a message that we give to hundreds of thousands of suffering people, people with disabilities, diseased sick people who didn't get the healing at the bottom of the hill. It's a message also for you. From 1 Peter, chapter 4, "Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with this same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin."
Dr. MacArthur once said, "We can't be sinless, but we can sin less." And he who has suffered in the body is done with sin. As a result he lives for the will of God and what is God's will? Philippians chapter 2, verse 14, "Do everything without complaining." Do everything without complaining.
Sometime ago, Ken and I had the chance to visit the Holy Land and oh, it was a wonderful experience to go to Israel. Ken etched out an itinerary for us and I didn't really look at it ahead of time. I didn't know what he had planned for the various days, but there was that one day that we did visit the old city of Jerusalem. He bumpity, bump, bump, bumped me and my wheelchair down those steps of the Via Dolorosa, (Laughter) through the Arab bazaar and I looked to the right and there was the Sheep Gate.
And then we made a left-hand turn and passed Saint Anne's church and then we walked down this … this cobblestone path a bit further. Then all of a sudden, it opened out into, oh, my goodness, look at this. Oh, Ken, Ken, look. Look, it's the pool at Bethesda. Oh, sweetheart, you wouldn't believe how many times I used to imagine myself here.
The place was empty. It was a dry, dusty afternoon. There were no tour buses. And as Ken hopped the railing of this ruin (Laughter) to run down into the cistern to see if there might be any water left in the Pool of Bethesda, I … I leaned against the guardrail overlooking that pool, imagining the many sick and disabled people lying there waiting to get healed.
(Groan) And the huge tears came pouring out of my eyes, because God was so precious to give me this moment with Himself right there at the Pool of Bethesda, right there where I used to picture myself so many times with nobody else around. And He gave me the chance to be there at that pool and say, "Thank You. Thank You for the healing that You gave me, the deeper healing.
Oh, God, You were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. You were so wise because a no answer to a request to be physically healed has meant yes to a deeper faith in You. Oh, Lord Jesus, it's meant yes to a deeper prayer life. Yes to a greater understanding of Your Word, that has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on Your grace, increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has put complaining behind me and stretched my hope and given me a lively buoyant trust in You and an excitement about heaven and pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow and has increased my faith and helped me to love You more, Jesus. I love You more. (Singing) More love to Thee, O Christ. (Speaking) O Jesus, I just love You and I'm so happy that You [have] not given me the physical healing that I want, but the deeper healing.
Maybe tonight you see yourself at the Pool of Bethesda. Or maybe you see yourself as No. 15 in a long line of disappointed people by an elevator, waiting for their problems to get fixed. Why won't God remove this problem? Why won't He change my situation? Why won't He heal me?
Well, God may heal you. Honestly, He may. He might do that. He might remove your suffering. But if not, He will use it to remove anything and everything that stands in the way of fellowship with You, if indeed, you are serious about the Lordship of Christ in your life. So, let God have His way. Let Him mold you and make you and transform you from glory to glory. That is the deeper healing and you do not have to break your neck to receive it.
So, sing with me in all your beautiful harmony and with an open heart and a trust in Jesus, sing with me the closing prayer. (Singing) Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the Potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, peaceful and still. (Singing) Amen.
John: And that's Joni Eareckson Tada on today's "Focus on the Family," concluding a two-part message that was recorded at the National Religious Broadcasters convention just a few years ago and Jim, that was a special time. You could hear that God was present and the Holy Spirit was working in that room through Joni.
Jim: John, I had the privilege of being there that evening and it was such a special time. You could hear a pin drop, because Joni's singing or speaking from such experience and such conviction. It was something to be a part of. Joni is an amazing example of a woman who clings to the Lord in times of trial and she's had so much hardship over the years. We are pleased to say that she has been declared officially cancer-free now, but as she said, that suffering has drawn her closer to the Lord, because she turns to His Word, the Bible for comfort and strength. What a great example for all of us. I could listen to people like Joni all day long, people that know the Word and apply it to their everyday lives.
John: Yeah, I think that's the hall mark of a great Bible teacher, someone like Joni or Ray Vander Laan or Del Tackett and we've featured them on these radio programs.
Jim: Yeah and that's so good and those kind ofcommunicators, they're hard to find and Ray and Del are two people very closely connected to Focus on the Family and they're gonna be with us on our 40th anniversary cruise. And I wanted to make sure everyone has an update on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coming up November 13 through 17. I'll say it again, November 13 through 17.
If you're a Focus fan, you enjoy the ministry, you benefit from the ministry, come and celebrate with us. It's that family vacation that I think you've been lookin' for. We have booked the entire cruise ship, so it's all Focus folks. We're on the "Disney Dream" and we are turning it into a Focus on the Family celebration. Everywhere you turn there's gonna be something fun to do no matter what your ages. I like to say, "children of all ages."
John: Yeah, that's a great way to put it. I like it.
Jim: Now get this. Every morning there's gonna be a worship service, plus a devotional message from Ray Vander Laan. He's gonna help us apply the Scriptures to our everyday lives. You'll hear some great talks from Dr. Del Tackett on Christian apologetics. We'll also have encouragement for your marriage from our very own Greg and Erin Smalley.
For fans of Adventures in Odyssey, which it's gonna be their 30th anniversary, we're gonna have Whit, Connie, Eugene and other surprise guests that are gonna be on board with us. We'll have an improve night, where Adventures in Odyssey cast members will act out your suggestions. So, I don't know how that's gonna work, but I'm sure it's gonna be fun.
There'll be a live stage show and nightly bedtime stories will be read for the kids. And for more fun, we're gonna have comedian Taylor Mason, who will be making appearances throughout the cruise, along with Mercy Me doin' the music.
John: Yeah, there's gonna be so much going on and Jim, you and Jean and the boys got a chance to go on board the "Disney Dream" last fall. Tell us what it's like.
Jim: It is great. Actually I was a little skeptical. I'm not necessarily a cruise guy, but it was fun. They have a 700-foot water slide AquaDuck, I think they call it and this thing goes out over the ocean from the ship, back on. I rode that about five times. My boys did, as well. You can actually see a video of that to my shame (Laughing) right there at our Focus on the Family website. But the ship has basketball courts. We're gonna do a family basketball tournament. I'm lookin' forward to that, when Trent's 6'5". I gotta get him workin' out.
John: Your team's gonna win, I know it.
Jim: Well, I don't know about that, but we'll give it a good try. We're gonna have a pirate theme deck party with fireworks for the entire family. It's nothin' by fun. There [are] lounge areas, divided up by age groups, for younger kids, teens and adults, so they can get a little break.
And the beauty of it is, your kids will be taken care of all day long. Jean and I, as you said, John, we were on the cruise. We saw it firsthand and they do a wonderful job.
John: And the ship is gonna be going to the Bahamas with, if I understand it correctly, a stop at a private island, as well?
Jim: That's right, John. We'll spend a day at Castaway Cay with all sorts of adventures to do, including swimming with sting rays, parasailing and just relaxing, which is what Jean and I did. We just hung out at the beach. It's really gonna be an amazing time.
And again, we have the whole ship and it's fillin' up fast, so look for the link to our 40th anniversary cruise November 13 through 17, when you visit our website. And John, I'll be there. You're gonna bring your family, too. I'm lookin' forward to meeting as many families as I can.
John: It's really going to be a great time and you can find out more when you visit www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and just look for the link to our 40th anniversary cruise or give us a call. We'd be happy to tell you more over the phone, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And by the way, when you make a generous donation today to the work we're doing here at Focus on the Family, we'd like to send you the CD of today's message by Joni, as a way of inspiring you and thanking you for your generosity.
Well, I hope you have a great weekend and be sure to join us on Monday. We'll have Pastor Ted Cunningham here, explaining the leaving and cleaving aspects of marriage.
Pastor Ted Cunningham: If you have a tough day at work and you get in the car and your first person you're gonna call is you mom, not your wife, that's a problem.
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John: I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Joni Eareckson TadaView Bio
A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson Tada, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she was determined to help others in similar situations. Joni is now an internationally known advocate for people with disabilities. She is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, a best-selling author of more than 50 books, a radio and TV host, and a featured guest in numerous media outlets. Joni and her husband, Ken, reside in California. You can learn more about Joni and her ministry at www.joniandfriends.org.