The Stakes Are Higher than You Think

Sept. 24, 2010 Joni Eareckson Tada

Session Transcript

Joni Eareckson Tada: Hi friends, and thank you for letting me bring you my message today through this DVD. I was so looking forward to being with you for the Indianapolis True Woman Conference, but breast cancer has a way of ambushing the best of plans. When I was diagnosed back in June, never did I realize the extent to which chemotherapy would change so many things.

But hey, I'm big on God's sovereignty. I have every confidence that somehow my absence will only add to the message that the Lord Jesus has put on my heart. So I want to thank Nancy Leigh DeMoss and the entire Revive Our Hearts' team for inviting me to speak with you today even from this distance. You know what? If you keep your eyes on the big screen and don't be looking at the platform, it will seem like I'm right there with you, right?

Before I go any further, I just have to thank many of you who have written me to encourage me on. Lots of you have posted comments on my blog at Joni and Friends, and I have received so many emails and notes from people all around the country—cards filled with scriptures, prayers. One woman even emailed me and said, “Joni, this cancer couldn't have happened to a nicer person.”

But most, however, were like, “Joni, when I heard this news I was shocked. I mean, you're already a quadriplegic. You deal with chronic pain, and now this? I know God is good and He's in control, but Joni, I don't get it.”

When I read that, I thought about how many of us don't get it when it comes to getting hit broadside with suffering. I mean, we memorize all the right scriptures and we know that God is sovereign. But still, we're always surprised at the fiery trial when it comes. For instance, coming home in the van last week after another round of chemotherapy, I was feeling so sick. I was feeling so nauseous. I mean, you've got these powerful toxic drugs coursing into your system. All my life I've fought hard to keep my body healthy, and now I'm ingesting poison to kill this cancer.

Anyway, I was nauseous; I was tired and weary. Ken had on a CD in the van, and it was playing real low.

(Singing) I can only imagine what it will be like. (You know the rest of it, don't you?) Surrounded by His glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for You, Jesus, or in awe of You be still? And I sat there in the back of the van, still, fighting back tears. No, I'll take that back. I was crying.

Like, I was really surprised by what a fiery ordeal this chemotherapy was. Like, “Lord, is all this just to move me up a few notches on the scale of spiritual maturity? Isn't quadriplegia and chronic pain enough? And now this cancer?” You don't have to be in a wheelchair to understand. It could be arthritis in your back or a dead end job or a difficult marriage, a migraine that won't quit or loneliness that keeps you up at night, anxiety, fears. You could be tired of refereeing rowdy teenagers, whatever.

You know as well as I do that when pain lumbers through the front door and squats right down in the middle of your life and makes itself at home day after day, year after year, you can almost crack. But as many times as I have felt like cracking, Hebrews chapter 12 keeps reminding me. Now, listen to this. It says, “You and I have yet to struggle to the point of shedding blood. So consider Him (that's Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you (now get this) so you do not grow weary or lose heart” (verses 4-5, paraphrased).

Jesus helps me not grow weary or lose heart. He helps me persevere. Like He says in Hebrews 10,

You need to persevere so when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith (verses 36-38).

Now here is the scary part.

And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him [says the Lord]. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but we are those who believe and are saved (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now that is a robust, invigorating verse to keep you focused when you feel like fainting. Because friend, I don't want to be one of those who shrink back. I don't want to be among those with whom God is not pleased. I want to be of those who believe and are saved. Yes, through quadriplegia. Yes, through pain. Yes, through cancer and chemotherapy. I want to persevere; I have to persevere.

Especially in the night when it's dark here lately. When I lie in bed . . . As you can imagine, being paralyzed, gravity is my enemy, and I can feel so claustrophobic. Yes, from the paralysis, but now here lately from the uncomfortable side effects of chemotherapy. But lying in bed awake at 2:00 a.m., I remember something that helps me to endure. I learned it long ago when I was first hospitalized after my diving accident back in 1967. And it has served me so well these many years.

It's Ephesians 3:10. Now listen to this. This is so key. This is so critical. It says there that,

[God's] intent is now, through the church [that's you and me, through us], the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.

Okay, let me paraphrase it. Because it says there that God wants to use our lives—your life and mine—as black boards upon which He chalks marvelous lessons about Himself for the benefit of millions and millions of unseen beings. Angels, even demons, are intensely interested in the way I respond to my afflictions because it teaches them something about God.

That means at 2:00 a.m. when I cannot sleep, or when I have to wake my husband, Ken, up for the fourth time to turn me in bed. When at night I don't get it, I don't understand it all, or am surprised by the fiery ordeal, I remember Ephesians 3:10. I remember that something dynamic and electrifying is abuzz in my dark room. The unseen world in the spirit realm, all the heavenly hosts, including powers and principalities, they're watching me. They're listening to me. And as I respond, they are learning about God and His character through melittle me.

And so I tell you what, lying there thinking about this I rally my senses. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God (Psalm 42:11). At night, I tell you, you'll find me praying in the dark, “Oh Jesus, my emotions keep telling me to doubt. And fear is at my heart door, but I cannot succumb. I don't want to smear Your reputation. I don't want to embarrass You. I don't want to defame Your good name. So Lord Jesus, I am trusting You to pull me through. O, Lord Jesus, help the girl here in bed.”

I tell you what, as the Lord rescues me out of discouragement as He has done so many times in the last couple of months with this cancer, angels and demons learn something fresh about God's incredible mercy toward people like me—weak, feeble, and frail people. And friend, I cannot tell you how many times when I've felt like caving in from discouragement, especially because of the pain on top of chemotherapy. I can't tell you how many times I've been able to press on because I know my life is on display.

Not just for the edification of my neighbors and friends. Not just for the building up of Christian brothers and sisters who look on and see my response. Yes, all that is important, but my life is on display for the benefit of a great many others, millions and millions of others in the unseen spirit world.

But wait a minute. Time out, okay? I can hear many of you thinking, “Okay, Joni, wait a minute. You're talking about angels eavesdropping on me. Demons wringing their hands in glee hoping I'll curse my kids when they irk me. You're talking about angels sitting in the passenger seat of my car and getting an earful when a BMW cuts me off on the highway. Principalities and powers watching on tiptoe to see whether I turn to God or turn away?”

Yes, that's what I'm saying. Because friend, this isn't science fiction. Look at Luke 15:10. It shows us how interested the spirit world is in the way we respond to God when we're suffering for it says, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Did you get that? God's angels actually get emotionally charged up. They get excited. They get enthused when people choose to trust in the Lord, especially when you and I are struggling with pain and problems. Friend, we don't suffer for nothing, no. And we certainly never suffer alone. You and I are audio-visual aids that God uses to teach the heavenly hosts awesome lessons about His character.

I mean, my response to hardship is never isolated. It is never in a vacuum. Like, “Okay, so I'm home alone today and I'm really tired of this, so I'm going to be sour, and I'm going to be complaining. I'm just going to give up on the day and succumb to depression thinking no one cares or no one notices.” No. I dare not let myself go down that dark, grim path because the stakes are too high. God's reputation is on the line and that alone stops me from collapsing in defeat. My life is on display, and so is yours. It's all for God's glory.

  • When the spirit world sees God's strong arms uphold you in your weakness, the Father gets the glory.
  • When the spirit world sees God condescend to come to your aid when you are fearful, the Father gets the glory.

The angelic and dark powers of the entire universe learn how high and wide and rich and deep is His incredible mercy and power and love. They are amazed to see that it is the mighty strength of Christ's resurrection that is giving you the power to say “no” to bitterness and “yes” to grace.

  • They learn about His wisdom, His unsearchable judgments, and His ways past finding out.
  • They learn just how far His unfathomable compassion will go in stooping to lift your spirits.

In short, the spirit world watches you persevere under pressure, and you know what they think? “Oh, how great her God must be to inspire such loyalty through such suffering.” Wow. This is what it means to glorify God in your afflictions. It is a cosmic responsibility that has out-of-this-world impact.

You may think it doesn't amount to much when you hold your tongue from complaining or when you refuse to give in to fear. But when you embrace your Savior in the midst of hardship, I tell you what, it really turns up the applause meter for the Lord Jesus in heaven. The entire universe sees Him as worthy. They see Him as able. They see Him as powerful. And considering how weak and spineless we can be, they are astounded at His mercy and condescending to us.

All this is played out on the stage of your life when you graciously respond to hardship. Whether it's at your kitchen sink, whether it's in your car, whether it's at work, at home, on the way to church. I can't think of a more noble reason to persevere, can you?

Oh, there is something else about Ephesians 3:10, something that has helped me in my battle against cancer. I know that when I say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to doubts or fear or resentment, it absolutely irritates the devil. I mean, the trust you show God drives Satan up a wall. When I'm fighting nausea from the chemotherapy and feeling downhearted, I remember who is watching. God the Father and God the Son and the Holy Spirit and all His angels and a world of wicked demons.

And you know what? It makes me feel like a warrior roused by some far-off bugle from a battlefield. I feel like—and maybe you do too occasionally—I feel a little like Job, whom Satan used to taunt God saying, “That Job doesn't love you. He loves your blessings. You're not great enough, God, to get someone to follow You on Your own merits.”

But I want my life to show that God is worth following on His own merits. And so I'm with Job. I reply, “God, though you slay me, yet will I put my trust in you” (Job 13:15). A statement like that speaks highly of Job, but it speaks far more highly of God. Nothing deflates the devil more than when God's people choose the Lord over fear and doubts and sin—when they choose their Savior over affliction and pain. And when, through tears, you whisper, “I choose you, Lord. I prefer you, Lord. I yield; I submit; I respond to you, Lord. I bow to you.”

Responding like that in your suffering? Well, it's a little like rubbing salt in the devil's wounds. So help me here, doesn't this stir the fires of the Spirit within you as it does me? I tell you what, it should, because it makes the life of the most insignificant person. Maybe you're here in the auditorium today feeling so insignificant, like how did you even get here? Like what are you even doing here? Well, if you are feeling insignificant, your life is a battlefield on which the mightiest forces of the universe are converging in warfare, and you and I get to make God famous. We get to make Him out to be as good as He really is. To glorify God like this elevates the status of the seemingly most insignificant, lowliest Christian on earth. It lifts them to a cosmic field of warfare where the stakes are about as high and universal as you can get.

One day, friend, all this is going to be behind us. All the disease, the disability, the disappointment, the heartache, the suffering and affliction, one day it's all going to seem like some long ago, faraway half-forgotten dream. And I want you, when you depart earth and head for heaven, when your spirit rises up out of your tired and weary body, I want—I envision the entire universe of angelic hosts standing erect and holding their breath and respect as your soul goes by. They will salute in amazement as your spirit ascends like a sweet smelling savor to God.

And then watch out! Hello! The party is really going to break loose. You're going to hear those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You persevered. You endured.”

So remember, friend, each day you go on persevering through hardship, it means something. God is up to something big.

  • Yes, for the sake of your own faith.
  • Yes, for the sake of others whom you inspire and encourage along the way—people who look on and watch you.
  • Yes, for the sake of angels and demons.
  • But most of all, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen to this, and this is the best part. Second Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us,

Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere a fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Okay, let me unpackage that there. Like the smell of roses reminding you of someone you love. Basically, that Bible verse is saying that your perseverance in affliction brings to God's mind fragrant memories of the lovely manner in which His own Son endured suffering on earth. Every time you and I exhibit godly endurance in the face of affliction, we get the chance to remind the Father of the earthly life of Jesus. The world cannot see Jesus endure suffering with gladness because, well, He's not here on earth, but you and I are. We can fill up in our flesh what is lacking in His afflictions and in so doing become that sweet perfume of the aroma of Christ to God.

Oh my goodness, to think that the way I handle this cancer, the way I respond to chemotherapy in the middle of the night when I feel sick, to think that my gracious response, my saying “yes” to God and “no” to complaining, it's fanning the memory of sweet Jesus in the direction of the Father and that I might remind almighty God of the heartbreakingly beautiful way Jesus persevered through his own suffering. Oh my, oh my, what a privilege, what an honor.

It really is all about Christ, this issue of suffering. For it says, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are yes and amen in Christ,” as it says in 2 Corinthians 1:20.

  • When we are suffering and God promises that He will impart to us grace, He gives us Jesus, the Lord of grace.
  • When we feel restless or anxious or weary, God promises to give us peace. He gives us Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
  • When your soul feels bruised and battered, God gives you comfort through Jesus, the Lord of all comfort.
  • When you are hungry and thirsty for more than this world could ever give, God gives you Jesus, the Bread of Life. He gives you Jesus, the living water.
  • When we feel stained by sin, and God imputes to us His righteousness, He gives us His son, the Lord of righteousness.
  • Even life finds its source in Jesus, the Word of Life.

So it's good to remember when you are suffering that every promise that the Father has ever made finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. If you are hurting, especially today, if you are sitting there hurting on the inside, He felt the sting in His chest first. If you are sitting there feeling like darkness is all around you, take heart, for even the darkness is light to our glorious Savior.

Jesus went without encouragement on his cross so that you and I might have it, that we might have Him as we bear our cross. And if you feel forsaken in life, remember that Jesus was the most God-forsaken man who ever lived. So that He, in turn, might say to you in your suffering, “I will never leave you. I will never leave you. I will never desert you. I will never forsake you.” I tell you what, friend. You can endure almost anything—paralysis, chronic pain, cancer. You can be hooked up to an IV in a chemotherapy clinic and persevere through it all if you know that Jesus, the Lord of the universe, is sitting next to you.

Jesus is the answer to your every hope and prayer and promise. Suffering has more than proved His intentions. But unlike us, this is something that has really warmed my heart over the last couple of weeks. Unlike us, Jesus will, for all of eternity, He will visibly bear his wounds to the universe and for that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will enjoy praise indescribable for all of eternity. I tell you what. Come eternity, if any dark demon in any corner of the universe ever doubted the righteousness of God in stooping to rescue suffering sinners like you and me, that demon will be set straight. It is why finally on that great day you will drop to your knees when the Man of sorrows walks from His throne and approaches you. And when He comes up to you, He will have absolutely no doubt of your appreciation for Him, for He'll know what you have suffered. He'll recognize you from joining Him in the fellowship of sharing in His afflictions.

Then He reaches toward you with His nail-scarred hands. When you feel your hands in His, you're not embarrassed because your own scars, your own anguish, all those times you felt the bite of pain and affliction. All those times will have given you at least a tiny taste of what the Savior endured to purchase your redemption.

So your suffering, like nothing else, is preparing you to meet God. For what proof could you bring of your love to heaven if this life left you totally unscarred? You have something eternally precious in common with Jesus Christ, and that's suffering. You have that in common with Him, suffering. But to your amazement, the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings in heaven is going to fade just like that half-forgotten dream I mentioned earlier.

Now finally in heaven, it is the fellowship of sharing in His joy. Joy made more wonderful by all the suffering you endured on earth and the gracious response with which you dealt with it. And oh, the pain of earth—you're going to half-sigh, but then you will smile—rising to your feet to live the life God had been preparing for you all along, and oh the delight of it all. I can't wait.

So in closing, friend, if you are tempted to throw in the towel, if you are tempted to give up or give in, if you are tempted to turn your back on Jesus, if you came here as kind of a last ditch effort hoping that at this conference something would jar you out of your spiritual insensibility, don't give in, don't give up.

Yes, life is hard, but don't throw in the towel. Consider him, Jesus, and you will not grow weary. You will not lose heart. And persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a little while, I can only imagine. Just a little while He who is coming will come and not delay. So go the distance with me, friend, because all of heaven, even the Lord of heaven, is cheering you on. God bless you. And thanks for listening.

All Scripture is taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.