I know friends who’ve had to grit their teeth and persevere through a lifetime of hardships. And when their smile doesn’t fade, I wonder, how do they do it? How does God’s Word change from printed letters on a page into the fuel that empowers their faith? What is different about their engagement with the Holy Spirit… and what can we learn from them?! When I saw that my friend, Joni Eareckson Tada, was the general editor for the new Beyond Suffering Bible, it confirmed it: Joni is one of those people. She knows something about the Word of God that I want to share with my friends, I thought. Fifty years of quadriplegia and chronic pain have given her a platform that really makes people want to listen. And so, I invited her to share a few of her secrets…
It’s no fun getting older, but it can be a heart-pumping adventure.
And I’m saying that after five decades in a wheelchair.
Like, how did I reach 50 years of quadriplegia in such good spirits?!
Now, I could rattle off the many litres of water I drink, or that I limit red meat and guzzle apple cider vinegar twice a day, but that’s not half of it. I live not only on bread, water and more; I live on the promises of God. Really.
When it comes to God’s promises, I can’t be just a hearer; I must be a doer. My paralysis makes it so.
Like what happened last Monday morning.
Because I suffer from severe scoliosis, I often wake up with huge pain in my hip and back.
But on this morning, it was off-the-charts. Barely out of bed, my spirits were already sagging. My girlfriend got me dressed and ready, and I wheeled into my van where my husband tied down my wheelchair.
We started driving the 101 Freeway to Joni and Friends, but the whole time, I just wanted to ask Ken to turn around and take me home.
I was miserable.
Usually when Ken drives me to work, we pray together in the van. But I had no strength for that. Nor did I have strength to sing hymns, which I usually do while driving.
Yet I just couldn’t let myself go down a dark, grim path to depression.
I whimpered, “God, where is the comfort You promise?!” Just then, a Bible verse popped into my mind, Psalm 119:50, “My comfort in suffering is this: your promises renew my life.” Joni, there’s your comfort, the Spirit seemed to whisper, lean on God’s promises.
It sounded trite and theological. But since God brought it up, I decided to act on His suggestion. Okay, God, I’m going to hold You to it. I’m going to believe that Your promises actually can rescue me.
So, for the rest of the way down the 101, I loudly recited every Bible promise I could recall.
I dug them up from Sunday school, and from memories of faded verses on yellowed 3×5 cards.
As promises tumbled into my mind, I proclaimed them insistently enough so that my husband, sitting in the driver’s seat, could hear (he kept giving me funny looks in the rearview mirror).
I would blurt out, “Lord, you promise that You are my ever-present help in trouble… and You promise that Your grace is more than sufficient for my every need… You assure that you will never leave or forsake me… You promise to be the One who will go out and fight for me.”
I gathered more steam, insisting, “And the book of Joshua tells me that you will be with me wherever I go… You promise you are a refuge for the oppressed, and a stronghold in times of trouble… You say You will counsel me and watch over me, and guide me by Your righteous right hand.
You’ll sustain me and be my mighty fortress… You invite me to cast my cares on You, for You will never let me fall… Your name is a strong tower, and as the righteous run into it, they are safe. Jesus, You tell me I’m safe!”
By the time we arrived at Joni and Friends, a different person wheeled out of the van.
Something had changed.
My pain was still throbbing, but I had courage. I had a new degree of faith that was stretching my heart. Plus, a smile and heaven-sent strength to endure.
I wheeled up the ramp to my office, happily singing worship songs. I must have been loud, because people in their work stations started humming along.
It was crazy, but God’s promises had renewed my life, as though each verse infused life-given blood into my spiritual veins.
I knew God would come through, but… really, like this? So filled with faith that I no longer felt defeated?!
“God, you are sweet,” I said under my breath, “thank you!”Don’t ask me how it works, or how the Holy Spirit does it, but when we do the Word – actually do it — something splits the seams of heaven and pours out a shower of blessings.
Like in Psalm 18:6, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple, he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
There are scores of verses that say the same: if you hurt, cry out to the Lord. Cry out. Don’t read it demurely; say it like you mean business.
He loves to see us put His Word to the test.
True, you may come across a little like a ‘fool for Christ’ in front of your husband or co-workers, but God wants to see how seriously you take His promises. When it comes to His promises, don’t you dare doubt them.
Don’t think God cannot change your heart, if not your circumstances. It’s what happens when you grab the Word by the horns, and wrestle it into the dirt of all that it means to be human.
That’s the stuff of which courage is made.
William Carey once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
Your future is bright.
Hope is written all over your horizon.
And if you’re not sure; if your soul is feeling dry; if you are weary of persevering through a tough trial and want to throw in the towel, remember, change is possible.
Tuck a healthy handful of God’s promises into your heart, and start living them out.
You never know when you’ll be driving down a hard road and need your life to be renewed.
Joni Eareckson Tada broke her neck in a 1967 diving accident which left her a quadriplegic. Her wheelchair literally drove her deep into the Word of God to find answers for her plight. A lifetime of study has resulted in the Beyond Suffering Bible published by Tyndale in partnership with Joni and Friends. “God wrote the book on suffering, and this special edition helps the reader find the trace of God’s hand in every hardship,” says Joni. Discover how God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves – it’s all in the Beyond Suffering Bible.
There is not one of us who gets a pass from suffering. Whether it’s sleepless nights with an infant, concern over a loved one, a physical disability, chronic pain, illness, depression, the list goes on and on we all need comfort. The Beyond Suffering Bible tackles the tough questions, not giving the pat answers, but pointing people to the goodness of God and what He has to say amidst critical questions about suffering.
If we are to fully grasp what suffering is, and what we must do with it, we have to spend time digging in Scripture and this Bible is your shovel. Go deeper into how God can use our suffering in ways we could never imagine — this Bible is for every heart that’s known brokenness….
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]