Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Here's Joni Eareckson Tada with important perspective on suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Jesus is heaven-bent on getting as close and intimate and personal with you as He possibly can. And He's going to squeeze that lemon so that your soul, sin-free, can be better bonded to His heart. And you will enjoy ecstasy beyond compare.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Holiness: The Heart God Purifies, for Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Here’s some of what we heard yesterday from Joni Eareckson Tada.  

Joni: Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which . . . is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" . . . Then Jesus said to him, "Get up . . . and walk" (see John 5:2-6, 8 NIV).

I cannot tell you how many nights I would imagine myself by the pool of Bethesda dressed in a rough burlap cloak, maybe lying next to that man on the straw mat, paralyzed for thirty-eight years, hoping—desperately hoping—that Jesus would not pass me by, but that He'd hear my cry to be set free! Free from this paralyzed body, free from the anxiety, the depression, the worry, the fear, and even the suicidal despair.

To me, healing had always been the big deal; freedom from this physical problem had always been the big deal. But to God, my soul was a much bigger deal. That's when I started searching for a different kind of freedom, a deeper kind of healing.

Nancy: Yesterday we heard part 1 of a message Joni Eareckson Tada delivered at True Woman '14 Conference, hosted by Revive Our Hearts. We began hearing a powerful life message about suffering . . . and God's goodness.

Joni told us about some of the suffering she's gone through living as a quadriplegic for more than fifty years now. She shared how health issues have affected her marriage to Ken. And she helped us think through some important aspects on prayer, such as: How do we react when God doesn't answer the way we wish He would?

If you missed yesterday's program, you can hear it at Today we are going to pick up with part 2 of this message. And I’ll mention one detail you’ll hear from this message that was delivered five years ago. You’ll hear Joni talk about her friend Bobbie Wolgemuth. At the time of this conference, Bobbie was in the final stages of ovarian cancer. Just several weeks later she was with the Lord. Joni also mentioned in this message how Robert cared for his wife Bobbie through all this difficult journey with cancer. Well, in God's amazing providence, Robert Wolgemuth is now my husband. If you want to get more of the story, you can watch the video at Ok, here's Joni.

Joni: About a decade ago, oh in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I was in the worst of pain—mind-bending, jaw-splitting pain. Ken had to get up extra times to turn me at night. I just could not be comfortable in one position. There were nights where he had to get up three, four, five, six times. One night before he turned out the lights, he sat on the edge of our bed, slump-shouldered, and confessed, "I don't know how to tell you, Joni, but I can't do this anymore. I am so—I hate to say it—I feel trapped."

This time, my response: "Oh, sweetheart, I don't blame you. I don't fault you one bit. If I were you, I'd feel exactly the same way. I'm not going to scold you. I'm going to cheer you on and pray for you, and we're going to get through this with the help of Jesus. We'll get through this; I know we will!"

And suddenly, I could see a weight lift off my husband's shoulders. It was a huge turning point in our marriage, and God was doing a healing—a deeper healing—not only in me, but in my husband.

Ken and I have discovered a love that holds on through it all, sometimes by a single thread. We've learned that the strongest relationships do not come easy—they are earned. They are tested by pain and sometimes pushed to the breaking point.

Like when I got breast cancer. After my mastectomy, my husband Ken and my friend Judy Butler, we were sitting in the office of my medical oncologist. And with his clipboard, he was listing through all the things that I was about to face in chemotherapy.

"Well, Mrs. Tada, your immune system will be weakened, and you will receive highly toxic, poisonous drugs which will weaken your system further. Your bones will become thin and frail. You'll get bladder infections and, no doubt, lung infections. Your hair will fall out . . ." He had to get up to take a phone call. He walked outside, closed the door, and I said, "I can't do this! I can't do this! I can't do this!"

I could feel my friend Judy rise to come over to hold me and embrace me, to comfort me, but in that same instant I could also feel Ken get up out of his chair, gently push Judy aside and whisper, "I'll take over from here." Ohhh. My eyes were still closed; I was still crying, but I could not believe what I was hearing. Is this the same man who just, what—five, six, seven years earlier, was very happy to let Judy Butler do anything?

No, this was not the same man. This was Ken Tada, free! This was a free man; this was Ken Tada transformed from glory to glory to glory. The lessons we learned in more than two decades of quadriplegia and pain had prepared us for the fierce battle against cancer. With every squeeze of that lemon, with every lesson learned, through all the testing and the trying, we were able to let go of the anxiety, the sin, the selfishness, the self-centeredness, the worries, the fears of the future.

And the harder we were squeezed, the harder we leaned on Jesus. We began to realize that God had delivered us from the only kind of suffering that could ever harm us—and that is, separation from Him—thanks to Jesus! That means from now on, every trial, every test, every ounce of suffering that touches our lives is designed by God to make our souls great, to enlarge our soul's capacity for Jesus.

Every step of the way, through my quadriplegia, through cancer and chronic pain, every step of the way has been a tough, rigorous reliance on Jesus Christ, and every step it's . . . [sings] "All the way my Savior leads me, cheers each winding path I tread. Gives me grace for every trial. Feeds me on the Living Bread. Though my weary steps may falter, and my soul athirst may be. Gushing from the Rock before me, lo! a spring of joy I see. Gushing from the Rock before me, lo! a spring of joy I see."

Ladies, make no mistake about it. Suffering is the textbook that will teach you who you really are. Suffering is the textbook that will show you the stuff of which you are really made. It will sandblast you; it will strip you bare; it will strip you of all your sinful ways, leaving your soul raw and exposed.

But also that you might be better bonded to the Savior. When our hearts are beating in rhythm with His, you can't help but feel His pleasure, His favor, and His approval. Heaven's joy comes cascading down, spilling up and splashing out of your heart, streaming out to others in rivers of encouragement and rising back up to God in ecstatic fountains of praise.

"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! Oh, my soul, praise Him for He is thy health and salvation." Then you are, as it says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." Jesus is everything! Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare, and it is worth anything—any amount of suffering—any squeezing of the lemon, to be His intimate friend.

For instance, when I was going through chemotherapy, feeling very weak and nauseous, I was being driven home by Ken one day from the hospital. We were going down the 101 freeway, and my wheelchair was tied down in the back of the van. We were talking to each other through the rearview mirror, and we started discussing how suffering is like little splash-overs of hell. Really, tiny little splash-overs of hell that give you an appreciation of the ultimate hell from which Christ has rescued you.

So then we started wondering, well then, what are splash-overs of heaven? Are they those easy, breezy bright times?

Are splash-overs of heaven those easy, breezy bright days when all the bills are paid and there are no trials on the horizon, and you're feeling good about the world? And we decided, "no," as we pulled up into the driveway. Ken turned off the ignition, and we were quiet for a moment, and finally I said, "You know what a splash-over of heaven is, Ken? It's finding Jesus in your splash-over of hell. Nothing could be more heavenly than finding Jesus in the middle of your hell."

People often ask me, "Joni, don't you think cancer on top of chronic pain on top of quadriplegia . . . don't you think God is asking a little too much of you?" Well, is He? Would He would be asking too much of you if that were God's choice of lemon in your life?

Well, to this you were called, 1 Peter 2:21 says. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." Oh, girls! I want to follow in Jesus' steps! Because if He learned obedience through the things which He suffered, I am not above my Master.

My good friend Bobbie Wolgemuth, who I believe is watching right now through the livestream—she has days, weeks to live. More than two-and-a-half years ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. And right now my good friend Bobbie is in hospice . . . my sweet, precious Bobbie. The lady who I always sing hymns with. We wrote those hymnbook CDs, Hymns for a Kid's Heart, and so much more.

She wrote an email that I think embodies exactly what I'm trying to say:

Dear Joni,
Just as chemotherapy 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 or offensive to Him. I willingly surrender to His infusion, knowing that He has chosen what will ultimately bring me more abundant life than I could possibly imagine.

So I open my hands and my heart, and I offer my veins to be infused with His choice of trials so that I might receive His beauty and perfect healing.

A deeper healing.

God is still testing and trying and seeing if there be any offensive way in Bobbie and her husband, Robert, and certainly in my life and in my husband Ken's life. It's why you will often hear me quoting from the prayer book on which I was raised. As a Reformed Episcopalian, I was raised on The Book of Common Prayer, and I learned very early on, at a young age, the General Confession. I love that confession:

Oh, mighty and merciful God, we have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and the 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, miserable sinners. But have mercy upon us, O Jesus!

I love those words, but I hate those words! I hate them! So don't be thinking that when I get to heaven what I am most looking forward to is a new body, free of cancer or pain or quadriplegia. Don't be thinking that when I get to be with Jesus I'm going to relish mostly in jumping up and dancing and kicking and doing aerobics. No, no, no. 

What I am looking forward to mostly is the new heart. I want a glorified heart that is free of sin, free of selfishness, free of self-centeredness, free of fear of the future, free of, just the fear of everything. Free, free, free.

A heart that no longer feels trapped by circumstances or resists God or looks for an escape or tries to justify itself when it is wronged. Oh my goodness, girls! When I get to heaven, that will be . . . that will be . . . [sings] "That will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me." (applause)

And 1 Peter 4 is the key to freedom. Here it is; it's comin' up: "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude [about your suffering], because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin" (v. 1). And as a result, he lives "rather for the will of God" (v. 2). And what is the will of God?

Oh, it is many things, but how about starting with Philippians 2:14: "Do everything without complaining." Everything.

Some time ago, my husband, Ken, and I had the joy of visiting the Holy Land. It was a wonderful trip, and on the day we visited the city of Old Jerusalem, Ken did not alert me about the itinerary for the day, but he wheeled me in early in the morning through the Jaffa Gate, and we bumpety-bump-bumped down the steps of the Via Dolorosa.

In a wheelchair, you don't go up the steps; you go down the steps. And we bumpety-bumped down the cobblestone streets of the Arab bazaar, and we passed the Temple Mount on the right, made a left-hand turn down a path, past St. Anne's Church, and then the path opened up and, oh my goodness, I can't believe it! "Ken, would you look at this! It's the pool of Bethesda! Oh, Ken!"

"You wouldn't believe how many times when I was in the hospital, so many years—so many years ago. Oh, Ken I used to imagine myself right here, right here! I would picture myself by that paralyzed guy on a straw mat, begging, looking for Jesus not to pass me by; so longing for a physical healing!"

At that point, Ken had vaulted over the guardrail to the ruin, and he ran down to the cistern to see if there was still any water left in the pool of Bethesda. (laughter) But I am just leaning on my elbow against the guardrail, tears streaming down my face.

Thank you, Jesus! I so wanted You to change my situation. I so wanted you to fix my problems. I so wanted You to heal me of my paralysis. I so wanted You to remove all the suffering, but You were so wise. You were so wise in the way You have squeezed those lemons, because a "no" answer from You to my request for healing and freedom from this body has meant "yes, yes!" to so many wonderful things in my life. Because a "no" answer has purged so much sin from my life—it was exposed in my heart—so many things I didn't even know were hidden in those deep recesses.

But when You squeezed me, oh my goodness, out pours the complaining and the selfishness and the bitterness and the whining and the peevishness and the sour disposition and the arguing, and the "wha, wha, wha."

Jesus, You have done it! I am so grateful! Your "no" answer to my request for You to remove me from my terrible circumstances has meant a deeper empathy for other people who suffer. It has forced me to depend on Your grace. It has increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has put complaining behind me. It has stretched my hope for heaven. It has pushed me deeper into Your Word. It has given me a lively, buoyant life of prayer. Most of all it has drawn me so, so much closer to You, oh You, my precious Man of Sorrows, acquainted with my grief. You are my Lord of joy. You are my Lord of joy! You fully have my heart.

Maybe tonight you see yourself at the pool of Bethesda, or maybe you see yourself number fifteen in a long line of people, waiting for God to change your situation, to fix your problems, to heal you of some circumstance, or transform your situation. Maybe you are wondering why God has not fixed things, why He has not changed things, why He has not removed the disappointment, given healing when you have asked for it.

Well, ladies, God may—He may—grant you release from suffering. And if He does, that is wonderful cause for praise. But if not, let me assure you that God will use that suffering. He will use it to remove anything and everything that stands in the way of His fellowship with you.

Jesus is heaven-bent on getting as close and intimate and personal with you as He possibly can. And He's going to squeeze that lemon so that your soul, sin-free, can be better bonded to His heart. And you will enjoy ecstasy beyond compare . . . ecstasy that will see you through any and every disappointment. That's what freedom feels like. That's what it feels like, and that is also the deeper healing.

The really good news is, you don't have to break your neck to believe it.

Nancy: That’s Joni Eareckson Tada, talking about true freedom in Christ. She delivered that message at True Woman conference, hosted by Revive Our Hearts. If you missed any of this powerful message today or yesterday, you can listen online at

Maybe you know a friend who could use this message. I hope you'll pass along a link of the video or audio to them. You'll find both at our website,

We’ve brought you this message today as part of a month-long focus on the topic of perseverance. Joni Eareckson Tada is a modern-day hero who exemplifies this quality. And, for sure, we could say the same about Elisabeth Elliot, who persevered in those early years after her husband's martyrdom, even going back to share the love of Christ with the very people who killed her husband. 

I'm excited to be holding in my hands a new book by Elisabeth Elliot called Suffering Is Never for Nothing. It's taken from some of Elisabeth's messages that have never before been published. We’d like to send you a copy of this book as our way of saying "thank you" for helping to make this program possible. We can’t be here day after day, encouraging you and others to perseverance through the hard times  without support from our listeners.

When you donate any amount at you can request the book Suffering Is Never for Nothing, or donate by phone and request the book. The number is 1–800–569–5959.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from a woman who knows the kind of hardship. Despite her husband’s alcoholism, she has discovered what it means to have freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. Hear the story tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you find freedom in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that promotes Christian ministry in the disability community. Joni hosts the short-feature radio program “Joni and Friends,” has written over fifty books, has received the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement, and has been inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Follow Joni & Friends on Twitter @JoniandFriends.