Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Squeezed by Suffering

Special prayer request for Joni: Last month Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. She successfully underwent surgery on June 28. Pray for her recuperation from surgery and in the next months as she will be undergoing chemotherapy. You can read her complete updates on JoniAndFriends.org.

 

Leslie Basham: When you’re under pressure, what comes out of your mouth? Here’s Joni Eareckson Tada.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Suffering reveals the real you—the real Joni—it squeezes me until what comes out but all the impurities and all the selfishness and the self-centeredness—the very stuff that God wants to burn away out of our characters. I don’t know that I would recognize that about myself unless suffering hadn’t squeezed it out of me.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 6.

Today we’ll hear from a true hero of our generation. Those who are registered for the True Woman Conference in Indianapolis are looking forward to hearing from her in person. For details, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Let’s listen as Nancy Leigh DeMoss introduces our guest.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “You can endure most anything, even our sitting vigil by a sick bed, if you know God is sitting next to you.” Those words were written by my friend, Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s here with us this week on Revive Our Hearts talking about endurance, suffering—the message that God has put in her life as a result of suffering over 40 years.

Joni, thank you so much for not only letting God work in your life but letting Him use you as an instrument of grace and redemption in other’s lives. Thanks for joining us here on Revive Our Hearts.

Joni: Oh Nancy, I am so honored and so blessed that you have invited me to this microphone. One big reason is because we’re friends and I always enjoy time to be with you, but because of your heart for women. I have a heart for women as well. It means the world to me that I might inspire some women listening with a few insights that I might share from this wheelchair today. So, thank you.

Nancy: I read the emails that come in from our listeners. I’m so thankful when they write us, share with us, and tell us how we can pray for them and what God is doing in their lives! But I have to say, a lot of those emails are heart-wrenching.

I mean, they are just tough, tough life situations. Some of them are physical, as you have experienced. Some of them, and I wonder if these are the harder ones, are relational: marital issues, children issues, or deep areas of pain, baggage, and dysfunction that seem to go on and on and on.

Part of me, when I read those letters and emails feels, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I feel that if I were in those shoes, I would be in despair. I might feel that it’s hopeless. But you have been in this wheelchair as a result of a diving accident for 40 years now, yet you have a message of hope and grace and perspective that I know is an encouragement to so many who are in life circumstances that don’t ever seem to change.

Joni: Well, thank you, Nancy. But I would want our friends listening to understand that I haven’t got it all figured out. I’m no veteran at this wheelchair even though I’ve been in it 40 years. I’m no professional at this, honestly, Nancy.

I wake up in the morning many times now that I’m getting older and going through the change of life, and the disability is encroaching a little bit more every year. It’s getting harder and even a little more painful.

There are so many mornings I wake up, and even after all these years, my first thought is, “Oh God, I don’t know that I can do this! I’m so tired. I cannot face this, Lord God, another day! How am I going to find the energy to make it till lunchtime? Oh, I cannot wait to get my head back on this pillow!

“Yet, Lord, You’re putting this day before me. Before my girlfriend comes in that bedroom door to give me a bed bath, do my range of motion exercises, get me dressed, set me in a wheelchair, brush my hair, brush my teeth—Oh God, I need to give her a smile. So please may I borrow Your smile today? I need You desperately. Oh, God, please show up. Help me Jesus!”

Nancy, honestly I think that’s the Christian way to live. That’s the biblical way to live. That’s not the shameful way to live. The apostle Paul says, “Boast in your affliction” (2 Corinthians 12:5, paraphrase). Tell the Lord the truth. Go to him in the morning and say, “I cannot do this.” I mean Jesus Himself said, “You can’t do it anyway. You can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5, paraphrase). So why not admit it?

Virtually every morning this paralysis pushes me to the throne of God to require His grace. Maybe the really handicapped people are those who when they wake up in the morning and hear the alarm clock go off, they jump out of bed; they take a quick shower; they scarf down breakfast. They go out the front door on automatic cruise control.

Maybe they are the ones most handicapped because God says in James chapter 4, “He resists the proud” (James 4:6b, paraphrase). Some translations say, “He opposes [He’s against] the proud.”

Who are the proud? The people—the women—who think they’ve got life figured out. Okay, I got this thing. I’ve got it now Lord. I’ll go ahead on my own steam, and I’ll just check in with You every now and again when I need You, but I can do this thing called life. God says, “If that’s the way you wake up in the morning and face your day, I’m against you. I resist the proud, but (and here’s the best part) He gives grace to the humble.”

Nancy, you and I know that the humble are simply those who recognize their desperate need for God; their “empty hand” of spiritual poverty. I thank Him for this wheelchair. I can thank Him for it and in it because it’s what pushes me to His breast every morning for new grace, new perspective, new hope, and new mercies fresh and new every morning.

Great is God’s faithfulness! He really does show up. He really does give me the smile for my girlfriend when she comes in the bedroom to get me up in the morning!

Nancy: I’ve often said that anything that makes me need God is a blessing. Now, often times I don’t live that way. I find myself far too often whining and moaning and groaning under the weight of the things that make me feel needy and desperate. But if I can get God’s perspective on it, anything that makes me need God really is a blessing!

Joni: It’s a bruising of a blessing though, isn’t it? I often call my quadriplegia this strange, shadowy companion. As Sheldon Vanauken said, “It’s a Severe Mercy” (1977). But it’s something that God knows I need.

Suffering is the textbook that teaches us about ourselves. Suffering shows us who we really are. I was having a disagreement with my husband some time ago. Oh, I was just spouting off at the mouth—fuming and having a fit. Later on I apologized to Ken. I said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into me. That’s just not like me.”

He looked straight at me and said, “That is like you. That’s who you are. That is like you.” I felt so humiliated and shamed. But again, suffering reveals the real you—the real Joni—it squeezes us until all the impurities and all the selfishness and the self-centeredness come out—the very stuff that God wants to burn away out of our characters. I don’t know that I would recognize that about myself, unless suffering hadn’t squeezed it out of me.

Nancy: Or if you didn’t have a husband to help point it out.

Joni: That’s right. He shows me all my blind spots, praise the Lord.

Nancy: He really loves you.

Joni: He really does. He’s a great guy, my dear husband. We’ve been married almost 25 years. He is my dearest and closest companion. We both recognize that this wheelchair is what has made our marriage stronger.

Nancy: You’ve said that suffering shows us what we love, whether we love the God of all comfort or the comfort that can become our God. What did you mean by that?

Joni: Well, let me step back and answer that by saying when I was a kid in high school and I first came to Christ with my little J.B. Phillips Bible, they told us to choose a life verse. I flipped through it and I found this verse in Philippians chapter 3. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

I didn’t even know what that meant, but I underlined it and in red I put in the margin, “life verse.” I memorized it because it had that nifty, neat part in it about, “I want to know Christ.” Well, sure we all want to know Christ.

Nancy: As well as the power of His resurrection.

Joni: Oh, bring it on! But then when we get into that part about the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, it’s, “Well, I’m not so sure I want to know You that well, Lord.” But, then comes this part where God beckons us to step deeper into the “fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,” and become like Him in His death.

Nancy, I’ve labored over that part of that verse. I do believe it means that when God invites us into the inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship—of sharing in His Son’s sufferings, He is bidding us to take up our cross daily, and die to the sins that He has died for on His cross. In that way, we become like Him in His death. We die to the sins that He died for on His cross.

The core of God’s plan is to rescue us from sin. That’s really God’s focus. Our pain and problems and comfort aren’t so much His focus. God is most heaven-bent on rescuing us from our sinful selves.

I think that when you get right down to it, when you become like Christ in His death and say, “Okay God, I give up. I cry, 'Uncle,' here. I’m going to confess this sin. I’m going to leave that old habit behind. I’m going to lay myself down and invite You to sit on the throne of my heart. Lead me. Give me power and strength to say, 'No,' to that spiteful, bitter, complaining spirit. Root it out of me, God, and replace it with something new and fresh that pleases You.”

Once we do that, once we get rid of sin and allow the Holy Spirit to root out all those domesticated sins (you know how women are).

Nancy: The respectable ones.

Joni: Oh yes! We domesticate and tame and housebreak the sins we shield from the Spirit’s scrutiny! We’re just so good at that. We’re so clever and coy at that. Those are the sins God’s after—the ones we housebreak and tame and domesticate.

Nancy: Even “spiritualize” sometimes.

Joni: Exactly. God will have none of it. If we’re going to call Jesus our Lord, He’ll have none of it. He will get at those sins if we would but confess them. Then we are laid bare, decimated before the Lord. But then our hearts can be better bonded to His.

Not only do we become more like Him in His death, but at that point it seems we really experience life. Oh my goodness! Joy that enables me to have nothing, yet possess everything—to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing! The kind of peace and power that can have you praising the Lord no matter what your life circumstances—even if you are like me—a quadriplegic.

I think that’s when God infuses that heaven-hearted happy hope into your spiritual veins. It only happens when we say, “No,” to ungodliness and “Yes,” to His grace. God shares His joy on His terms. Those terms call for us to suffer in some measure, as did His beloved Son while He walked on earth.

Nancy: You’ve talked about being initiated into the club called “The Fellowship of His Sufferings.” Sometimes it seems like the dues for that club are awfully high. Why would anybody want to join the club, “The Fellowship of His Sufferings”?

Joni: I think that’s where the “push comes to shove of our faith,” kicks in. That’s what faith is about. It’s focusing on the promises of God. “Oh God, are You sure? You’re telling me here that You really can give me life abundant? You’re telling me that I can actually welcome this trial as a friend, that I can rejoice? Again, You tell me to rejoice in sufferings? Is it possible?”

It takes faith to believe that. But faith is not some nebulous, vague, misty, wistful thinking. No, it’s grabbing the Rock of Gibraltar—solid, real promises of Scripture, and anchoring them into your heart, and every day, keeping short lists and going through your day doing little mid-course corrections.

“Oh Lord Jesus, what do You want me to do here? Oh Father, I lied. I exaggerated. Help me to go back and make it straight.” Little short lists every day—looking at those small, sinful patterns that you know the Holy Spirit is pointing out to you. Clearing and cleaning them up before God is necessary, and allowing His Spirit to empower you to live a life that pleases Him.

Then you find that—my goodness—these promises are real! You no longer have to be surprised at the fiery ordeal because you know it has come to test your faith. That’s not a bad thing at all.

Nancy: Joni, I have to say that over the years, each time I see you—of course you’re always in your wheelchair. But over, I don’t know, 15 or 20 years; occasionally just seeing you in different circumstances, you always have a smile. There’s often a hymn. I’ve heard you break out into singing, even! You are warm and inviting and engaging and connecting with people who are standing in line to talk to you, to ask things of you and ask questions.

I see you in that public arena. You always seem to be living out this message. I have to tell you, that sometimes I wonder, “Does Joni ever really crater emotionally?” I mean, I’m a public person and I know how to do what you have to do at times, when you’re feeling very tired, very depleted, or very worn out. But you seem to always have that joy. Do you ever have to just fight for faith?

Joni: I’ve lately had a very big battle with chronic pain. Earlier this year I was in bed for a couple of months—about two and a half months—with very serious, very severe back pain. It was mind-bending pain. I felt like I was caving in.

I had many dark nights when I just could not ask my husband to wake up one more time to turn me. So I’d just grit my teeth and I stuck it out until sunrise when my girlfriend was about to arrive and get me up because I just could not ask him to get me up one more time.

Yes, there are many times when my disability pushes me up against a wall, and I feel like I’m at a dead-end emotionally. Somebody once told me, “When you feel like that, Joni, just turn around and face that wall and walk through it. You’ll find Jesus in the middle of the wall.” He was right.

I think that nobody really can understand your pain, except the Lord Jesus. I don’t expect that people should understand that when I speak of brightness and the joy of knowing the Lord Jesus and the sweetness and the intimacy of the Savior’s love. I can’t say all that in one breath and convince you that yes, I have many times of anxiety and fear and doubt.

But Nancy, it is at those times—and they happen all the time—that I fall back on the wonderfully godly habits that are just part of my character now. "We rejoice in suffering because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character" (Romans 3:5-6). I’ve changed. I’m no longer the 14-year-old kid that I was once back some 30-odd-years ago.

I’m a woman who has been transformed from glory to glories. I’ve beheld my Savior, and that has been my salvation that in those darkest of moments. I’ve fallen back onto habits that just bring me to the foot of the cross. If my back is hurting, let’s stop and pray. We could be in an elevator. We could be in a hotel lobby.

If I’m with a friend and I’m sensing that I’m tired, I’ll ask them, “Let’s sing a hymn. Can we sing a hymn right now? What’s your favorite Scripture song?” Something, anything to pull my focus on heavenly glories above, where my focus is called to be in Colossians chapter 3 (verse 1).

One more thing Nancy—I know that this life is short. I know that my quadriplegia isn’t going to last forever. I know that I don’t want to get to heaven and look in the rear view mirror and think, “Jesus, why did I waste all those sufferings? Life was so short. It was but a blip on my eternal screen. How could I have doubted you? How could I have lived so selfishly?”

I mean, I know that heaven is about to break on earth’s horizon. Everything I do here on earth, every choice I make, every decision has a direct bearing on my capacity for service and joy and worship in heaven. I don’t want to miss that chance here on earth. I want to redeem the opportunity. That’s just part of the character, the habit that God has ingrained in me.

I boast in my affliction. I rejoice in the limitation. I glory in the infirmity because I know then that Christ’s power rests on me—it rests on all our friends listening who would do the same.

Nancy: But that doesn’t mean it gets easier.

Joni: Nope.

Nancy: You’ve said in some ways, it’s getting harder. I think it would be safe to say that the potential for discouragement and becoming weary in the battle doesn’t all relate to your disability. Some if it is just being a human being. Some of it is being a woman. Some of it is being a wife. Some of it is being in the public eye. There are challenges associated with all of that, that can make us prone to discouragement.

I’m thinking of Pilgrim’s Progress, which I’ve been reading recently. All the way to the Celestial City for this pilgrim, for Christian, there are challenges.

Joni: It’s interesting that you mention that. I was in my mother’s Ocean City condominium earlier this year. My mom has long since gone to be with Jesus. But I found my father’s old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress from the early 1900s. It’s all bruised and battered and dirty and the pages are yellow.

I turned to that last chapter where Christian, where Pilgrim, can see that Celestial City. There it is. Oh my goodness! He starts wading through this river, this turmoil, this horrible maelstrom of problems and fears and anxieties, drowning him, pushing him down.

Nancy: Right at the finish line!

Joni: Right at the finish line! But he holds onto the shoulder of Hopeful, and Hopeful doesn’t look back. He kept going. He kept going.

I want to finish the race well. I want to fight the good fight. I want to cross the finish line and not be ashamed of my Savior. I so long to hear the words: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Nancy: Joni, I can’t tell you how many times in my own “running of the race,” when I have been weary, frustrated, anxious, fearful, and plagued at times with doubts or fears or stumblings—how many times the Lord has brought you to mind.

Joni: Really?

Nancy: Yes. Over and over and over again. I’ve heard other people say this as well. One, it’s been a reminder to pray for you because I know that whatever I’m enduring that day, your challenges are greater in many respects than what I experience on a daily basis just in a physical realm.

But also God has used you to be a “Hopeful” to this pilgrim.

Joni: Well, it’s interesting that you’re mentioning that you struggle, that you doubt, that you have anxieties, you get weary, because that encourages me. It’s like, “You mean Nancy Leigh DeMoss actually has those moments?” But that’s another evidence of the book of James, where we’re told to “confess our sins one to another, so that we might be healed” (James 5:16, paraphrase).

Sin demands that you put up a Plaster of Paris, saintly exterior and a veneer of some kind of “Colgate pasted-on smile,” and push your way through the day. God will have none of that either. He demands that sin not hide behind that veneer.

We do well when we confess to each other, don’t we? That we have weary days and fearful days and anxious days so that we can lift one another up and be real, transparent, and vulnerable before each other, which gives the Spirit of Christ a lot of freedom to move. Wouldn’t you agree?

Nancy: Amen! When we pick up this conversation tomorrow, we want to hear more about some of the things God has used to encourage you in your race and to take you closer to the finish line.

This is Joni Eareckson Tada we’ve been talking with. She is a dear friend and fellow servant and has been one of the great encouragers in my own walk with the Lord. I hope you’ll join us again tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Joni Eareckson Tada both have so much insight to offer. Aren’t we fortunate to be able to listen in on their conversation? But you don’t have to listen just once. You can also order a copy of the interview on CD. It includes all five days of this week’s series, A Conversation with Joni.

We had to trim some of this interview to fit on the radio, but when you order the CDs, you’ll hear the entire conversation.

Better yet, come see Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Joni Eareckson Tada in person. They’ll both be at the True Woman Conference in Indianapolis this September. You’ll also hear from Mary Kassian, Janet Parshall, Crawford and Karen Loritts, and Fern Nichols. Teens will enjoy their own track with Dannah Gresh. And you’ll worship with Keith and Kristyn Getty.

The True Woman Conference in Ft. Worth this October will be equally impactful. Get details on either conference at ReviveOurHearts.com.  Or call our True Woman phone number at 877-966-2608.

Do you ever wonder, “Why is life so hard?” When things are difficult, we tend to assume there’s something going wrong that needs to be fixed. Joni offers a different perspective tomorrow. I hope you can join us for 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.