Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Squeezed by Life's Pressures

Leslie Basham: Joni Eareckson Tada says sometimes God allows suffering to reveal the condition our hearts.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Pain and problems and paralysis become the lemon that He squeezes to reveal the spitefulness and the selfishness. We are at the core, each one of us, dog-nasty sinners. We don't like it; we don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it, but that's the truth about me, and I need to know it.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Holiness: The Heart God Purifies, for Monday, June 24. 2019.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Often when I’m tempted to be discouraged, I think about the example of my sweet friend, Joni Eareckson Tada—and I know a lot of other people feel the same way. I have seen her display so much grace and joy even while suffering all these years from quadriplegia and in more recent years from chronic pain, and cancer. 

A few months ago Joni was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and here’s what she wrote about that experience:

When nurses and aides, respiratory therapists, and doctors asked how I was doing, I could say, "Jesus gives me His peace. It’s not as the world gives, so my heart’s not troubled and I’m not afraid.”

Now, how does someone have that kind of attitude while suffering so greatly? Today, Joni will show us how she’s learned to have joy not just in spite of suffering, but because of suffering. 

All this month we’ve been focused on the theme of perseverance here on Revive Our Hearts. And there’s no one better to address that topic than Joni Tada. So we are going to bring you a powerful message Joni delivered at one of our True Woman Conferences.

Today and tomorrow we’ll hear from this friend who has been such an amazing example of perseverance over the long haul. I hope you’ll listen carefully to every word. Joni shares honestly about the disappointment she felt years ago when her prayer for healing wasn't answered the way she wanted. She shares about how she's learned to grow and thrive in Christ, even in the midst of adverse conditions.

Before Joni came to speak on that opening evening of the True Woman '14 conference, we wanted to encourage her for the way she has served the Lord faithfully under extremely trying circumstances. 

Nancy (True Woman '14): Hebrews 13:7 says this, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."

Joni, I along with these women and thousands and millions of others around the world are so grateful for the way you have led us and instructed us in the ways of the Lord. You have pointed us Christ. You have demonstrated what it means to experience freedom and fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

I have to say, I don't know any other woman who better embodies what it means to be a true woman of God.

So tonight, we had it on our hearts to honor you and the Lord by presenting you with the first True Woman Award. If Bob can come, we have a special presentation we want to make to you. [Watch presentation.]

Joni: Oh, my goodness! 

Nancy: Now, this is going to require a little explanation. This is a page out of an original Bishop's Bible, dated 1585. It's Isaiah 35. We selected that passage because we felt it particularly represented what Joni has shown us. Let me read a little bit of it. This is in very old English. Let me read it to you in English we can understand.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God . . ." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. . . . A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness . . . the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall fade away (vv. 3–6, 8, 10).

Joni: I can't wait!

Nancy: And Joni, there's an inscription on the bottom. This part is not inspired (this rest is). This comes from our hearts and it says: To Joni Eareckson Tada, thank you for giving us a picture of the loveliness of Christ; for stirring us up to pursue holiness, and for pointing us to the promise of the new heaven and new earth. True Woman '14, October 9, 2014, Indianapolis.

Joni: I'm honored.

Nancy: We love you.

Nancy: And after Joni received that True Woman Award, she spoke from God’s Word, and we’re going to hear that message. 

Revive Our Hearts is all about freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.” As she started her message, Joni told us she really relates to the “fullness and fruitfulness” part of that line.

Joni: But that part about freedom . . . that is a different story. Freedom for me has never been—and it continues not to be—an easy thing to pursue. Freedom from anxiety, freedom from worry, freedom from fears of the future, freedom from discontented feelings, freedom from a sour, peevish spirit early in the morning when my chronic pain hits my left hip. It's always been that way. It's been so hard to find freedom in my soul.

I remember forty-seven years ago, after I broke my neck in that diving accident, I used to lie in the hospital bed staving off depression. Now, I didn't know as many Scriptures back then as I did hymns. And so I would often sing to quiet my anxious soul: "Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by."

I would so often go to that hymn, because it so much reminded me of a favorite portion of Scripture. In fact, it was the kind of Scripture that I often asked friends to read to me when they would come to the hospital during visiting hours, from John 5. Let me read it for you now, and I think you'll understand why I thought about it so much.

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" (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.

But by the time I graduated out of that hospital a couple of years later, my fingers and my feet had never gotten the message. I still could not walk.

My sister Jay Kay invited me to come to the family farm in Maryland to live with her there, and so I did. One afternoon we were watching Christian TV, and we heard an advertisement that there was going to be a faith-healing service in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Kuhlman was coming to town.

I don't know how many of you remember Kathryn Kuhlman. She was kind of the Benny Hinn of her day. My sister and I wasted no time. We registered; we signed up, and I was there the following Friday night. The ushers escorted us into that grand ballroom in the Hilton. Over to the wheelchair section they took us.

I sat there with, oh maybe, sixty, seventy, a hundred other people with very, very significant disabilities. We anxiously awaited the beginning of the service. The organ crescendoed, hymns were sung, Scriptures were read, testimonies were given, and then all of a sudden a spotlight came on and Kathryn Kuhlman herself came waltzing onto the stage in a long white gown.

Oh my goodness, my heart was pumping. There were more testimonies, more Scriptures, and suddenly the spotlight went over to the far corner of the ballroom. It seemed as though healings were happening over there. And then the spotlight shifted slightly, and over in that corner there were more healings happening.

And I wanted to say, "Well, come over here where all the hard cases are!" (laughter) But the spotlight never made it in my direction. Maybe about an hour-and-a-half later the ushers came to escort all of us with disabilities out early. I guess they didn't want us to create a traffic jam at the elevator.

So there I was, number fifteen in a line of sixty people using wheelchairs, white canes, walkers at the elevator. I could hear the music on the other side of the wall. The service was continuing on, winding down. And I looked up and down this long line of broken people, and I thought to myself, Something's wrong with this picture. Something's wrong.

That night, when I got back to the family farm, I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking, What kind of healer, what kind of savior, what kind of rescuer, what kind of deliverer would refuse the prayers of a paralytic? Okay, I thought, if God's not going to heal me, I am just not going to do this. I am not going to live this way.

And soon a bitter root, a real spirit of complaining, began to take hold of my life. Nothing anybody did was good enough. Everything everybody did was wrong, and every hurdle I faced became a reason to feel sorry for myself. Most of all, Jesus, the One I wanted to feel close to, He seemed so far, so removed, so distant.

If I couldn't be healed, then I told my sister Jay the next morning, "I don't want to get out of bed. Just turn on the air conditioner, close the drapes, turn off the lights, shut the door, and leave me alone!" But even in that darkness—weeks I spent in that bed in the dark—I couldn't live with that kind of despair! I couldn't! There had to be something more.

So even then, in that dark bedroom, I would sing to comfort myself. One hymn most often I sang was a plea for help: "Oh, Jesus . . . Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. When darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, (oh Jesus, I'm so helpless!) O abide with me."

And with that hymn I prayed, "God, if I'm not gonna die, then You please show me how to live. I cannot do quadriplegic. You show me how to live." It was my first prayer. I mean it was sincere and honest and from the heart. It wasn't long or wordy. It was short and sweet and so sincere.

Those were the days, then, when my sister would come into the bedroom . . . I would ask her to turn on the light, draw the drapes, and get me out of bed (which she happily did). And most often, during those days she would push me into the living room where I sat in front of a music stand much like this one.

She would push me in front of it, lock my wheelchair, plop my Bible on the music stand, put a mouth stick in my teeth, and then I would flip this way and that with my mouth stick, trying to make sense of it all. Of course, I was still interested in healing. I still wanted to know what the Bible had to say about it, and I found out.

In the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, there Jesus is performing all kinds of miracles long, long into the day and even past sunset. And the next morning the crowds returned—more sick, disabled people. Simon and his companions, they quickly go looking for Jesus, but He's nowhere to be found. Jesus had gotten up early that morning and gone to the top of the hill to a solitary place to pray.

Finally, Simon and his companions find Jesus, and they tell Him about all these sick and disabled and diseased people at the bottom of the hill, all looking to be healed. And what does Jesus say to them? In verse 38, He says, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."

I couldn't believe that! I had to read it again. All those sick and disabled people, looking to be healed, and Jesus says, "Let's go someplace else." Uhh! How could He turn them away? How could He turn away people like me? And that's when it hit me. It hit me that it's not that Jesus did not care about all those people; it's just that their problems—especially their physical problems—weren't His main focus. The gospel was His focus.

The gospel that says, "Sin kills; hell is real, but God is merciful. His kingdom can change you, and I am your passport." And whenever people missed this, whenever they started coming to Jesus just to get their problems fixed, the Savior would always back away.

No wonder I'd been so depressed! I had mainly been into Jesus to get my problems and pain and paralysis fixed. Yes, Jesus cares about suffering, and He spent most of His time on earth trying to relieve it. But the gospel of Mark showed me His priorities, because the same man that healed blind eyes and withered hands also said, "Gouge out that eye, cut off that hand if it leads you into sin, if it leads you astray."

Oh my goodness, that's when I really got the picture. 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.

Psalm 139:23: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and . . ." [sings] see if there be some wicked way in me. Cleanse me from every sin and set me free. I so want to be free!

And for the last forty-seven years in this wheelchair, that has been my prayer. And God has been answering, exposing sin and selfishness in my heart, reminding me of the many times I will fudge the truth or hog the spotlight or allow stiff-necked, stubborn pride to push me away from Him, putting worthless idols before my eyes. God has been answering that prayer, and He has been exposing in my heart the things from which I really do need to be free. And I am so far from being finished. I have such a long, long way to go. God is still searching. God is still testing.

Remember that bitter root, that spirit of complaining I just told you about . . . how nothing anybody ever did was good enough? Well, it was around 1985, just a short time after I married my husband, Ken, and he was really starting to struggle with the non-stop, 24/7, day-to-day routines of my quadriplegia.

Now, to be sure, my friend Judy Butler and many other girlfriends were helping out, but still, the bulk of the pressure fell on my husband's shoulders. One day, he had been ignoring me all afternoon, giving me the cold shoulder . . . wouldn't even talk to me.

That night I begged him, "What's wrong, Ken? Tell me, what's wrong?" Still, he wouldn't say anything. But right before we went to bed, he sat on the edge of our mattress and, slump-shouldered, confessed, "I feel so trapped! I don't know how to explain this, but I can't do this. I can't do it. I am so trapped!"

To which I replied, spitting out, out of nowhere, "Well, why didn't you think about this when we got married? Didn't you know it was going to be this hard? Where was your head?" As soon as I said those things I felt like, Ah, I wish I could stuff them back into my mouth! And I turned to Ken and said, "Oh, sweetheart, I am so sorry. I did not mean to say that. That's not like me. That's not like me at all!"

But you know what, it is like me. It is just like me, just like me. And so, I am not the paragon of virtue that I would often like to think I am. No, no, not at all. And God, to remind me of that, does not remove hardships. No, He pushes them my way. He brings them, He allows them, He permits them, He purposes them, ordains them, whatever word you want to use . . . they come!

And pain and problems and paralysis become the lemon that He squeezes to reveal the spitefulness and the selfishness. We are, at the core, each one of us, dog-nasty sinners and we don't like it, we don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it, but that's the truth about me, and I need to know it.

Search me, oh God, and test me and try me, and show me the sin of which I am so easily capable. So in those tired, middle years of our marriage, I learned to sing a different song about healing: "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul."

God began to uproot that bitter spirit, especially that spirit of complaining, and replace it with perseverance and endurance and confidence in Him, in Jesus. And most of all, He gave me an empathetic understanding of other people who suffer, especially my husband.

Anytime I dare think that I have arrived, God squeezes that lemon more, revealing the not-so-pretty stuff of which I am made. In the last ten years or so of our marriage, God has squeezed it especially hard.

Nancy: That’s Joni Eareckson Tada. Tomorrow, we’ll hear part two of that message. We’ll hear how Joni and Ken Tada have grown closer to the Lord and each other through adversity.

I’m so thankful for Joni’s example to me when it feels like that lemon of adversity is being squeezed on my life.  And I’m thankful that she takes us back to God’s Word for perspective we can trust when life seems so confusing.

At Revive Our Hearts, we want to give women that kind of encouragement they can trust. We want the Lord to use this ministry to help women thrive in Christ, even when the world around them seems barren and difficult. 

I’m so thankful the Lord chooses to use this ministry to encourage women, women like Joni Eareckson Tada. 

Joni: The Bible says in Hebrews 13:3 to encourage on another daily. I think that at Revive Our Hearts the team bends over backward to provide that daily encouragement—whether it's through Nancy's daily radio program or through the daily blog, women have access.

Women can reach out and find true Christian encouragement by the solid teaching that comes out of Revive Our Hearts. I think that's what I most appreciate about this particular ministry. It so centers on the Word God. Nancy and the team are fully convinced that it is God's Word which will transform a life. It's not necessarily someone's testimony or somebody's story, but it is the Word of God lived out through that testimony and story. That's what changes the hearts of others.

We need that daily. Women need daily encouragement. It's why the Bible says to encourage one another daily. Life can be that hard that we need encouragement daily, and Revive Our Hearts provides it.

Nancy: I'm so encouraged that the Lord uses Revive Our Hearts to bless women like Joni through our online resources and over the radio and podcasts. And He uses listeners like you to make this kind of ministry possible. Without the prayers and financial support of our listeners, we couldn't do what God has called us to do.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size this month, we’re saying thanks by sending you a new book by Elizabeth Elliot. Now, I know Elisabeth went home to be with the Lord several years ago, but this book has been drawn from a message series she gave years ago that had never before been published. It’s called Suffering Is Never for Nothing. It would make a great follow up to this message from Joni that we've just listened to.

You can go online to make your gift of any size, and when you do be sure to request Suffering Is Never for Nothing. Our website is ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

Joni Eareckson Tada says suffering is like a textbook. Hear what she means, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is providing you with daily encouragement from God's Word. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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