Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How Much Pain is Enough?

Leslie Basham: Joni Eareckson Tada is learning to view suffering as an opportunity to be like Jesus.

Joni Eareckson Tada: He has beckoned me into the inner sanctum of His fellowship of sharing in sufferings, and I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world, to be this close to Jesus.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, April 12.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “Every season of suffering is an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus.” I’ve heard that truth and said it many, many times over the years, and perhaps you have as well. But so many times when difficulties come into my life, I need to be reminded of that truth again.

I am so prone to complain, to worry, to be ungrateful when those difficult situations arise. We’re about to hear a godly perspective on suffering from a woman who has lived out for decades what she’s talking about. We’re going to hear part two of a message that Joni Eareckson Tada gave not long ago at the annual meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters.

I wasn’t able to be there myself—I was so sorry to miss it—but according to the reports I heard from those who were in that banquet hall that night, you could have heard a pin drop as Joni was speaking. The audience was hanging on every word.

If you missed yesterday’s program, you can hear the first part of that message at ReviveOurHearts.com. Today we’ll begin by reviewing just a bit of what we heard yesterday from Joni, and then we’ll move into the second part of that message.

O Lord, I pray that You will use Joni’s words to comfort and encourage and strengthen the heart of every listener. Speak to us, O Lord, through this, your servant. I pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Joni: You know that portion of the scripture from John chapter 5 . . . when friends would come to the hospital to visit me, I always asked them to read it to me.

For there is at Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called Bethesda, 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 . . .(vv. 2–6)

Oh my goodness, Jesus thinks thirty-eight years in a wheelchair is a long time. What does he think of forty-five years in a wheelchair? "Jesus asked him, 'Do you want to get well?' . . .  Jesus said to him, 'Get up and walk.'" (vv. 6, 8).

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 in through those covered colonnades.

I would see him, and in my mind’s eye, I would 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.

Ken and I recently celebrated thirty 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. Pain and problems and paralysis become the lemon that He squeezes to reveal all the selfishness and the spitefulness. We don’t like that.

My quadriplegia keeps squeezing the lemon, squeezing it so hard, revealing the not-so-pretty stuff of which I am made, and replacing it with love and with patience and perseverance and longsuffering. In the last ten years of my marriage to Ken, the daily chronic pain that I deal with has squeezed that lemon even more.

Ken and I have discovered a love that holds on through it all, sometimes by a single thread. We have long 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.

A breaking point like when I got breast cancer three years ago. I had a stage III breast cancer, with a nearly three-inch tumor in my breast—all of it had to be lopped off.  After my mastectomy, I’ll never forget, my husband Ken and my good friend Judy Butler, with whom I worked with 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. He had his clipboard was listing through a litany of problems I would be facing in chemotherapy.

“Joni, you will 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. Your bones which already are fragile will probably break. You will have many bladder infections, probably lung infections. You will probably have pneumonia; you’ll lose your hair; you will get nauseous . . .”

A nurse called him out of the room. He quickly had to leave and shut the door. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I broke down in great heaving sobs. Quickly Judy got up—as she often had in the past, especially when Ken was depressed and could not deal with my disability—she came and quickly pressed me against her chest to hold me.

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. 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 anxiety and the blaming 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.

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 had never known in our marriage up until then.

Not that long ago at all, I was heading to the office at Joni and Friends, and Ken could see in my eyes that I had a particularly painful day coming upon me. He said, “Wait,” by the front door. “Wait one moment.”

He quickly ran and got a yellow ‘stick-em,’ and on it he wrote with a felt tip pen a big capital ‘C.’ He slapped it over my chest, over my heart and said, “You got courage, Joni; I could see it in your eyes. You’re going to make it; you’re going to do it. I am praying for you. You’ve got the courage of Christ.” Oh my goodness, what wonderful words to hear from Ken.

He and I are so grateful for the disability, for the pain, and—yes, in a strange way—even for the cancer, although I am far from being declared cancer-free. All of these things help us stay hungry for the Bread of Heaven. They 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. We are not the paragons of virtue that we would so like to think we are; no, we are sinners in need of redemption each and every day.

Suffering sandblasts us, strips us bare—strips us of our sinful ways, leaving us raw and exposed. This is so that we might be better bonded—better bonded to the Savior. Oh my goodness, when we leave sin behind and our hearts start beating in rhythm with Jesus, well . . . you just can’t help but sense 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.

Hallelujah, I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved;
Jesus satisfies my longings;

Through his blood I now am saved.

("Satisfied" by Clara Tear Williams)

And then we are, as it says in 2 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 10, “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing; we are poor, yet making many rich. [We have nothing], yet we possess everything.” 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. As we drove down the 101 freeway, me in the back of the van and Ken driving, we were discussing what suffering is like. It’s like a little splash-over of hell. It had caught us, waking us up out of our spiritual slumber, getting us thinking 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, 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? Are those things, are those days a splash-over of heaven?”

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. He has beckoned me into the inner-sanctum of His fellowship of sharing in sufferings. 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 you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (v. 21). 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?

My friend, Bobbie Wolgemuth, who is here tonight with her husband Robert, was diagnosed around this time last year with stage IV ovarian cancer. After six rounds of chemotherapy, all of us who prayed for Bobbie hung on her husband Robert’s every word in every email. Let me quote for you what Bobbie shared in her journal that Robert then put in an email, because I think it sums up so sweetly what I am 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. 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: jumping up, dancing, kicking, and doing aerobics. Oh, that’ll be wonderful; it would be a great fringe benefit of being invited to Christ’s coronation party, but that’s not what I am looking 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.

Oh, 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—
to have a new heart.

("Oh, That Will Be Glory" by Charles H. Gabriel)

And oh 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 the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (v. 1).

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 says, “Do everything without complaining.” Do everything without complaining.

Some time 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. 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-bumped-bumped-bumped me and my wheelchair down the steps of the Via Dolorosa, 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 cobble stoned path a bit further. All of a sudden it opened out into, “Look at this! Oh, Ken, Ken, look. Look it’s the pool of 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. As Ken hopped the railing of this ruin to run down into the cistern to see if there was any water left in the pool of Bethesda, I leaned against the guardrail overlooking that pool, imagining the many sick and disabled people lying there waiting to get healed. 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 imagine, picture myself so many times with nobody else around.

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. It 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 live, buoyant trust in You. It has given me an excitement about heaven and pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow. It has increased my faith and helped me to love You more Jesus. I love you more!"

More love to thee, oh Christ . . .

"Oh Jesus, I just love you! And I am so happy that You’ve not given me the physical healing that I want, but the deeper healing."

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.

Nancy: I’m so thankful for this dear servant of the Lord, Joni Eareckson Tada. I’m so thankful for how the Lord has spoken to our hearts today through her message. The next time you’re praying and you feel like God isn’t giving you the answer you want, I hope you’ll remember some of the powerful truths we’ve heard from Joni today.

Remember that sometimes God has something far better for us than we even thought to ask. I hope that, today, whatever it is you’re praying about—whatever it is that is causing you discomfort or pain or even suffering—would you give it to the Lord right now?

Give yourself to the Lord, and say, “Lord, have Your own way in my life and in this situation.”

Joni has written very transparently about some of the struggles in her life and her marriage in this brand new book, Joni and Ken: The Untold Love Story. As you read about the challenges and the prayers and the valleys and mountains Joni and Ken Tada have walked through over decades of marriage, you’re going to be encouraged in a fresh way to trust the Lord with every part of your life and your journey.

I think this book by Ken and Joni would be a great blessing to you, and we’d love to send you a copy as our way of saying "thank you" when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Your partnership with us will help us to continue bringing you messages like the one you’ve heard today.

Just ask for the book Joni and Ken when you call to make your donation. The number to call is 1-800-569-5959. Or if you prefer to make your donation online, you can do that at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We live in what’s been called a “service economy,” so you would think people would be pretty good at serving, right? On Monday, we’re going to take a look at what God’s Word says about serving, and we’re going to be challenged to serve in the way that Jesus served us. So be sure to be back with us on Monday for Revive Our Hearts.

Now, I want to share with you just a final word from Joni Eareckson Tada. At the last True Woman conference, Joni spoke about the power of forgiveness. Let’s listen to some highlights from that message as we close our time today.

Joni: So let God, the only wise Judge, be the One to hand out the consequences for the harm done against you. Quit holding on to the bitterness that is hindering revival in your relationship with Christ—that is hindering revival in your own heart.

True revival just isn’t going to come apart from your willingness to receive God’s mercy and—here’s the important part—to extend it to others. Can we say, “I will not be bitter; I will not retaliate. I will return good for evil; I will bless rather than curse. I will not bad-mouth, I will not gossip. I will forgive”?

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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