Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Let Me Be Your Warning

Leslie Basham: Why does Joni Eareckson Tada keep serving others, in spite of quadriplegia, cancer, and chronic pain? 

Joni Eareckson Tada: Everything we do down here on earth, every conversation we have, every small, little drastic obedience that we offer to God is an investment in eternity. And I don’t want to waste my suffering. This is my only chance.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, May 22

About a month ago we heard a moving message from Joni Eareckson Tada. She told us how her disability affected her marriage, and she talked about the deep healing the Lord wants to do in our lives. 

Today we’ll hear Joni dig deeper into some of those themes. She talked with Nancy Leigh DeMoss at True Woman '12 in Indianapolis, and we’ll hear that conversation today and tomorrow. It will inspire you to assume responsibility to invest your life and to live every day as a gift from God.

Nancy: Joni, take us back, because a lot of younger women today are not as familiar with your story, and we don't want the story of what God has done in your life to be lost. But forty-five years ago, you were a seventeen-year-old girl, and your life was changed in just a moment. Just give us the nutshell of how that life change took place.

 

Joni:  Well, I'm going to share something that I never share publicly. But girls, I was in high school back in the sixties. I had professed Christ as a fourteen-year-old, but I did so thinking that I was buying into the great American dream rather than the abundant Christian life.

 

I felt that now that I had come to know Christ, I would lose weight, grades would be good, I’d get a boyfriend, get an academic recommendation to some wonderful college, get married and drive a BMW, have 2.1 children, and just . . . you know.

 

By the time I was a senior in high school, I was experiencing frustration. I was enslaved and entrapped in immorality. I finally had gotten that boyfriend, but the problem is, every Friday night in the backseat of his car I would do one thing and then get up Sunday morning and try to confess it all, get a clean slate for the week. But by Wednesday and Thursday, I'm already thinking about what I'm going to be doing on Friday night.

 

I had so become enslaved and entrapped in this sinful behavior that I remember coming home from a date in April of 1967, a sordid date, hot and steamy and sordid. I ran upstairs and I threw myself onto my bed. I cried into my pillow and I said, "Oh God, I am making a mess of my life. I say I'm a Christian, but I'm not living like it. I'm smearing Your reputation. I'm defaming Your good name. I'm certain You’re very embarrassed of me, if not angry. And so, God, I know Jesus is my Savior, but would You please, please do something in my life to jerk it right side up and get me back on the right path? Because I am absolutely powerless against this sexual sin. I am powerless."

 

I prayed that prayer in April. And Nancy, it was just less than three months later I broke my neck in that diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay where I dove into shallow water and I was lying face down. As I'm in the water, I'm thinking unbelievably,Could this be an answer to that prayer?”

 

My sister, thankfully, saw me floating face down in the water. Ironically enough, I had just peroxided my hair the night before, midnight summer blonde, Nice 'n Easy. (laughter) She had seen that white hair floating on the murky surface of the water. Had I not peroxided my hair the night before, I don't know that my sister would have even seen me. Isn't it amazing that God uses the smallest of things like that, little tiny details to rescue me?

 

So when she pulled me up out of the water and they whisked me off to the hospital and I laid there paralyzed, the reality of the permanency of my paralysis began to sink in. I began wondering, “Could this, God, be an answer to that prayer?”

 

Now, I don't want you to take what has happened to me and template it over your life. But I think that this paralysis was an answer to that prayer. We’re told in the book of Hebrews that God disciplines those whom He loves. I don't think God was punishing me. He wasn't judging me, per se. I had been judged at the cross. He was rescuing me through a broken neck. Yes! (applause)

 

I'm just grateful to God that He delivered me, and it was an incredibly severe mercy. It was a dark, bruising of a blessing, my broken neck, but it was a blessing nonetheless. I don't think were I on my feet I’d be sitting up here right now extolling the glories of the Savior. I just don't think I would be. (applause) I don't know.  

 

Nancy:  So as you think back, Joni, what was the process that led you, and I know it was a process, to come to see this as a providence of God, as an expression of God's love rather than His wrath toward you? 

 

Joni:  Well, for quite a while in the first year or so of my paralysis, I remember asking God "Why?" out of a clenched fist. Like, “God, how could You have answered that prayer in such a drastic measure? I mean, come on. I'm just a new Christian, and if this is the way You deal with the prayers of new Christians, You’re never going to be trusted with another prayer again.”

 

So I was asking why out of a clenched fist. But frankly, Nancy, I got tired of feeling sorry for myself. I got tired of the self-pity. I got tired of comparing my lot in life with all my other girlfriends who were on their feet and shopping and going off to college and playing sports and getting married. I just got tired of the self-pity, and so I began asking "Why?" not out of a clenched fist but out of a searching heart.

 

I think because God hears the cry of the afflicted, we’re told in Psalm 10:17, I think He then opened up His storehouse of mercy and poured out upon me supportive Christian friends who then gently led me through the Word, helping me understand that God permits what He hates. I mean, He hates spinal cord injury. He took no pleasure in my diving accident. But He delights in how permitting what He's hating to accomplish something that He loves—and that is Christ in me, the hope of glory.

 

I just am so grateful I had the good counsel of wise Christian friends to lead me through the Scriptures to grasp that yes, this was providential. God is sovereign; He is in control, and He'll permit what He hates to accomplish that which He loves.

 

But, can I give a warning? You don't have to break your neck to believe this. But I think I am your warning today, ladies. Those of you who are entrapped or enslaved in sexual sin, or those of you who are fantasizing about that man who works at your office or that guy at your church, or you are entering into a risky relationship, a friendship with a man that on one hand you've convinced yourself you think it's morally pure, but on the other hand you know that it's risky, it's wrong, it's deceitful; let me be your warning, okay?

 

God is merciful. I think He allows the examples of people like me to serve as a warning to others that, "I will deal with you with severe mercies. I'll give you blessings, but they'll be bruisings. They'll be bruisings of a blessing."

 

So ladies, turn from that and get into God's Word. Find the counsel of wise Christians. Surround yourself with prayer warriors who will enable you to be released from that sin, and get right with God. Let me be that warning. 

 

Nancy:  You mentioned self-pity. There's probably nobody else in this room who ever struggles with self-pity. But was that a battle just early on or is that something that has recurring temptations, something you've had to deal with along the way? Forty-five years is a long time to deal with some of the limitations that you have. Does that crop its head up again in your life?  

 

Joni:  Oh, absolutely. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, "Any man who would come after me must take up his cross daily and follow me." And frankly, girls, I'll confess, every morning when I wake up, especially now that I'm in my sixties and that I deal with chronic pain, it is so hard. I mean, I've told this story before, but I will relay it again.

 

I will wake up in the morning, Nancy, and I will be lying there with my eyes closed. You know how you can set your attitude for the day right in those few seconds when your eyes are closed and your head's on the pillow? You know how it is. You're just thinking about the day and all the appointments and things you’ve got to do, and you are kind of like setting your attitude for the day.

 

Well, I tell you, I'm fighting a battle, a cosmic battle, because I just don't know how I'm going to make it to lunchtime. “God, I can't stand this routine. I've got girlfriends coming in here in a few minutes, and they are going to give me a bed bath. They are going to do my toileting routines. They're going to cinch on my corset. They're going to pull up my pants. Tthey're going to get me dressed, sling me in a wheelchair, push me to the bathroom, brush my teeth, blow my nose. Oh God, I am so tired of this. I don't think I can go on. I have no strength for this. I cannot do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through Jesus Christ as You strengthen me. So give me Your strength. Would You please get me up this morning, Jesus? Live through me.” (applause)

 

Nancy, when I was at my worst pit of self-pity, it was so horrific. I don't want to go back there. It's so terrifying. I don't want to go back to that kind of depression and self-pity. So every morning it's a desperation to need Jesus and require Him.

 

The cross that I take up daily is not my wheelchair. For that matter, your cross is not your irritating husband or your irksome mother-in-law or your dead-end job. No, those are not our crosses to bear.

 

Our cross, let's define that real quick. When Jesus took up His cross, He was dying for the sins that you and the rest have committed. So when we daily take up the cross, we are dying to the sins that He died for on His cross.

 

So my cross to bear is not my wheelchair. It's my attitude about my wheelchair. It's your attitude about your dead-end job or about your irksome mother-in-law or your irritating kids or your husband. It's your attitude. This is what I've got to put to death.

 

So in the morning when I'm setting my attitude, while my eyes are still closed, "Oh, Jesus, I need You. Please give me Your grace. I require You urgently. May Your mercy come meet me and help me get out of bed and give me Your smile for the day." And girls, that is the Christian way to wake up in the morning. That's the biblical way to wake up in the morning.

 

Don't be ashamed of the affliction, right, Nancy? Don't be embarrassed by the limitation. Boast in the affliction; boast in the limitation; glory in the infirmity. Because it's the sheep dog snapping at your heels that drives you down the road to Calvary every single morning, needing Jesus desperately. Oh girls, wake up tomorrow morning needing Him desperately, and you can't go wrong. (applause) You can’t go wrong.

 

Nancy:  One of the things I so appreciate about you, Joni, every time we talk, you’re quoting Scripture. You’ve clearly not just got it in your head, but you've internalized it; you've meditated on it. It's right there at your fingertips. How do you stay in the Word? How do you get the Word into you? Just give us a glimpse into your journey with the Scripture.


Joni:  Like you, I'm on the radio. I do a five-minute daily devotional on radio stations across the country called Joni and Friends. I have to find time to get into God's Word, especially if I'm going to be sharing insights with others. Lately, I have been so enjoying the book of Philippians.

 

Philippians 3, I love that verse, for we are citizens in heaven. "Our citizenship is heaven, and we await from there a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to bring everything under his control and who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body" (vv. 20–21).

 

I love the fact that the book of Philippians is written by the apostle Paul when he was in jail chafing at his chains. He's talking about joy, and he's thinking about heaven. Now that I'm in my sixties, I don't look back and think, “Oh, if only I were on my feet again. Oh, those were wonderful days.”  No, I'm at the end of my life where the time is shorter between here and eternity than here and when I broke my neck.

 

So I'm thinking about, Oh, my glorified body. Oh, what a day that will be!” I'm singing songs about heaven and rejoicing, investing in heavenly glories above. Everything we do down here on earth, every conversation we have, every small, little drastic obedience that we offer to God is an investment in eternity.

 

I don't want to waste my suffering. This is my only chance, this hardship. To squeeze out of it like Rumplestiltskin, weaving gold from straw, I want to weave rewards of heaven out of the affliction that I deal with daily. Because the more crowns accrued to my eternal estate will be the more that I can cast at the feet of Christ on the day when He is crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords. So my life is all about investment in eternity. It's all about making the most of the opportunity and not wasting the suffering.

 

Nancy:  There have to be times—maybe I feel this because I know there are in my life—when your motivation to make it all count for eternity kind of flags, it wanes. I know in my own heart there are many times when I'm just thinking, “I can't keep pressing into this.

I thank God for you, because I often think of you in those moments. I think if God can give Joni grace to keep pressing on, He can give me grace.

 

What keeps you from falling off the cliff or into that pit of, "I've had enough of doing this, let somebody else do it now?” How do you keep your thoughts reined into the obedience of Christ when the temptation comes to just not keep thinking Godward thoughts?  

 

Joni: Real quickly, I have a team of girls. I call them my "get-up, get-down, on-the-go girls." I've got twelve, thirteen different women who on seven different mornings get me up or else help me lie down in bed at night, or travel with me. I'm with three of them right now.

 

Both Katherine Martinez who's with me and Rainey Florine . . . Just last week I was at work. Girls, this is the truth, and I said, "Stop; hold on, everything. I need prayer. My attitude is so rotten. I want to go back to bed; I don't want to do this work. I just have such a rotten attitude about the day. I'm so peevish; my disposition is so sour. Girls, would you please stop and pray with me? Would you pray for me?"

 

And Rainey, I had to do that like two or three times during that day, didn't I? With separate different girls, not just Rainey and Katherine, but I think Judy Butler. I'll grab anybody in the hallway. “Would you come in here and please pray for me?” (laughter)

 

I think that kind of transparency is so required of us, girls. (laughter) How many of us stop and just say, "Time out. Stop everything. Would you pray for me? I need you to pray for me. My attitude is so bad; my disposition is so sour. I'm so peevish; I'm so selfish thinking right now. I'm irritated at my husband or my kids or—stop, and would you pray for me?" And then grab hands with that friend, and just let her intercession be God's way of washing you and cleaning you.

 

That's what I do, Nancy, when I feel like, “That's it; throw in the towel, I've had it.” I'll find the nearest girlfriend, and I'll say, "Would you just come over here and pray about me? I just need prayer so badly." I think God rewards that vulnerability and that transparency.

 

Nancy:  God gives grace to the humble.

Joni:  Absolutely. But He resists the proud.

Leslie: Joni Eareckson Tada has been talking about the great need for women to connect with other women in the body of Christ.

Joni recorded that conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss at True Woman '12, the conference Revive Our Hearts hosted last fall. I always love hearing from Joni when we air her messages. 

We’re able to bring you this kind of helpful material thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts. Your gift helps us speak to women across the U.S., and, as Nancy explains, around the world through the Internet. 

Nancy: Leslie, I’m thinking of an email we received an email from a listener in Egypt who’s been listening to Revive Our Hearts for about a year. Now, as I’m sure you are aware, being a believer in Egypt isn’t easy. This listener also deals with all the normal pressures of life, like raising three boys. 

After we aired an earlier series with Joni Eareckson Tada, this listener said, “Listening to Joni has made me realize that there are fruits of suffering.” In other words, Revive Our Hearts has encouraged her to turn to the Lord in the middle of her suffering, and allowing Him to use it in her life to bring forth good fruit. 

This woman was so grateful for the kind of perspective that she gets from the Revive Our Hearts podcasts. She said, “I’m writing to thank you for this great service and to let you know that you’re influencing the lives of others who live miles and miles away.” 

Well, when you support Revive Our Hearts financially, you’re helping us speak to this mother of three in Egypt along with many other women all around the world. We can’t continue producing and airing this program without your support.

May is always an important month, as we close the fiscal books and get ready to begin a new budgeting year. As we’ve been sharing, we’re asking the Lord this month to provide at least $350,000. That will help us end the fiscal year on budget and also allow us to move forward in pursuing some terrific opportunities that the Lord has given to us. 

Earlier this month we launched the Spanish language version of Revive Our Hearts on Aviva Nuestros Corazones, now available five days a week in Spanish. We’re exploring some other significant opportunities to share Revive Our Hearts in some strategic places around the world. And beyond that, we want to take advantage of the technologies that are available to us today that can help us be more effective at making the program available online. But these are opportunities we can’t fully pursue if we’re not able to end our fiscal year in a healthy financial position. 

So when you help us here during the month of May by sending a gift of any size, we want to send you this new book about Ken and Joni Tada’s marriage that’s just been recently released. It’s called Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story.

I think that this is a book that you are going to really enjoy. It’s got a lot of pictures of Ken and Joni in the middle and just a great story, parts of the story that have not been shared before. So be sure to ask for that book when you call to make your donation at 1-800-569-5959, or if you’d rather give online, you can do that by visiting us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. When you donate any amount to meet the fiscal year-end goals, we’ll send you the new book by Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband, Ken. It’s called Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story. It’s an honest account of what it looks like to stay together even through major physical and emotional challenges. Ask for the book Joni and Ken when you donate any amount by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, as a newly married wife, Joni Eareckson Tada discovered her husband planned on watching football every Monday night. She thought this was a terrible, unspiritual way for him to spend his time. Find out what she did about it when she’s back tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.