Recently lost a loved one?
Recurring episodes of depression?
If any of these conditions describe you or someone you love, absorb the perspectives and comfort of Joni Eareckson Tada’s Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing (NavPress, 2014).
Joni, a quadriplegic for almost 51 years since a diving accident at age 16, writes a compact but powerful devotional book marked by raw transparency and deep knowledge of God’s Word. Each reading offers a snippet from her story, and Bible texts that sustain her.
Insights I gleaned include, but certainly aren’t limited to, the following:
*Honest, desperate prayer is a means of resiliency during affliction.
One of my highlighted excerpts is this: “God may not always say yes to specific requests at specific times, but He will always say yes to the cry of a hungry heart that needs Him more than anything else.” She also wrote, “I learned a long time ago to stop asking God why, but I frequently ask Him for how. How am I going to go forward? How can I endure this? How can I stay positive and productive as I battle the chronic pain?”
*Memorizing Scripture fuels persistence during suffering.
She views her trial through the lens of God’s Word, and the result is a rock-solid theology of suffering. Her memory verses enable her to view the character of God experientially, not theoretically. She asserts that He is still good, wise, loving, and actually takes comfort from His sovereignty. From reading the Bible, she has learned, to use James I. Packer’s words, “not to expect on earth what God only promised for heaven.”
Her book bleeds Bible. The anecdotes from her life are vital, but the impact of the book is how God’s truth applies to her experiences (and to ours).
*Affliction creates a dependency on the Lord that fosters an all-satisfying intimacy with Him.
Not long after her accident, a friend told her what the decades since have affirmed: “Now is your chance to increase your soul’s capacity for God.”
*Suffering can purify one’s heart and expedite growth toward holiness.
Joni has experienced what the late Robertson McQuilkin advocated: “Adversity is a means of God’s grace.” Joni insists, “The higher priority is not our comfort or temporary prosperity, but the healing of our sin-damaged soul.”
On another page of the book, the following excerpt was spawned by a cancer diagnosis in 2010: “Suffering sandblasts us, stripping us of our sinful ways, leaving us raw and exposed–so that we might be better bonded to the Savior.”
I’ve also discovered that a heart softened by pain is more open to the purifying work of God’s Spirit, even when the pain wasn’t spawned by my sin.
*A heart-massaging truth for the hurting is to focus on the future: this life is temporary, but heaven is forever and will include perfectly-conditioned bodies.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, Paul describes the return of Christ and seals it with these words: “And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
Revelation 21:4 says, “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer by any death, there shall no longer be any mourning , or crying, or pain.”
Faith in heaven is not an escape from this world, rather a means of endurance to keep obeying and serving the Lord no matter how much we hurt, because affliction is temporary. This belief catapults Joni into a busy schedule of speaking engagements, writing, and ministry to the disabled through her organization, Joni and Friends.
I’ll close my review with my favorite excerpt from Joni’s book, hoisted from the final chapter. It’s a prayer she offered God while visiting the pool of Bethesda in the Old City of Jerusalem, described in John 5. Folks believed that bathing in the water would heal people. But beside the pool, Jesus, with a word, healed a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years.
With tears streaming down her face, Joni prayed:
Thank You for the healing You gave me. The deeper healing. Oh, God, You were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. Because that “no” has meant “yes” to a stronger faith in You, a deeper prayer life, and a greater understanding of Your Word. It has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on Your grace, and increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has stretched my hope, given me a lively, buoyant trust in You, stirred 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.
Get the book. If not for yourself, as a gift to someone who knows sorrow. And memorize some of the Bible verses you come across on its pages, so the Holy Spirit will have the fuel to minister to you as He does to Joni.