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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Joni Eareckson Tada

A Different Kind of Healing

A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. Her best-selling autobiography, Joni, and the feature film of the same name have been translated into many languages, introducing her to people around the world.

Married to Ken Tada since 1982, Joni has visited more than 45 countries. She has served on the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the U.S. State Department. Joni established Joni and Friends in 1979 as a ministry dedicated to extending the love and message of Christ to people who are affected by disability whether it is the disabled person, a family member or friend. She spoke recently with Scott Harrup, managing editor.

evangel: You’re dealing with cancer right now. I wanted to share with you that our staff has been holding you in prayer.
What a blessing. Thank you for that. That’s especially comforting today. I’m feeling a little weak. You know, that happens when you’re battling cancer and taking some medication to prepare for chemotherapy. It’s just nice to know that people are praying. I think that a Christian is remiss in not asking other believers to pray that healing might come. Sometimes I think we don’t experience healing because we don’t ask. I’m asking friends to remember me in their prayers that God would push back this cancer and restore me to good health.

evangel: Along with prayer, how can believers respond in a godly manner to someone who is either sick or dealing with a long-term physical challenge?
I think a great example is the four friends who lowered their paralyzed buddy through the roof to see Jesus [Mark 2:4]. When that paralyzed man was placed at Jesus’ feet, Jesus looked up at the four friends, and basically He healed that man through the faith of those friends. When we pray about healing, it’s good to know that the pressure doesn’t have to be on the person who is ill or the person with the disability, like me.

God heals in myriad ways. He heals all our diseases, it says in Psalm 103. That means if any of us experiences recovery from the flu or a broken ankle or a case of pneumonia or a bad headache, God has done it. He’s the One who heals those conditions.

When we pray for that other person’s healing, let’s also remember to pray for those other things that are perfectly in line with God’s will. I’m grateful whenever someone prays for my cancer, but this may be my ticket to heaven 10 years from now, who knows? But one thing we know — God’s will is that I be made courageous; that my witness be made more bold; that my trust in Christ become more implicit; that my compassion toward other people with cancer might be increased; that my prayer life might be deepened; that I might gain new insights from God’s Word.

These are the things we can pray for people who are ill or sick. That they become stronger, wiser, more kind, more compassionate, more caring, more trusting of God. We know those things are God’s will definitely, and so when we ask for God’s will in healing, those are the sorts of things for which we can pray.

evangel: Your life story has been shared in such depth, but could you briefly talk about the initial diving accident that created the quadriplegia?
Never, ever, ever did I dream, did I imagine, that God would do what He has done through that reckless dive into shallow water. This July 30 marked 43 years that I have lived as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, and it reminds me so much of that verse in Ephesians that God will do more than we could possibly ask or imagine [3:20].

I asked to be healed physically when I was first injured, but God had a different healing in store — an advancement of His gospel that was just far beyond what I could have ever dreamed.

It reminds me of John 14, where Jesus said, “Anyone who has faith in Me will do even greater things than these” [see v.12]. We tend to think that Jesus was only talking about physical miracles. I believe when Jesus says that we’ll do greater things than He did, the greatest thing of all is: Go out and make disciples of men and women from all nations. It’s not just about more healings or better healings or more dramatic healings, but a greater advancement of His gospel.

And, indeed, we see that. Since Jesus ascended into heaven, Christianity has spread throughout the earth, and it’s going even further and deeper into darker corners than ever before. That’s the greater thing.

That’s the wonderful thing that I believe God has done through my disability. I may have asked for healing of a physical sort, but God was interested in using my life to advance His kingdom, to push the gospel out there, to reclaim the earth as His. He’s doing that through this wheelchair, and I’m so grateful. He had a far better idea of healing than mine ever was.

evangel: Our culture today tends to look askance at any form of limitation or illness. How do you see the Christian faith countering that and giving value to people regardless of their situation in life?
We hate suffering. We want to eradicate it, avoid it, give it ibuprofen, institutionalize it, divorce it, get healed from it. We just don’t like to deal with suffering. But yet, suffering is the textbook that really teaches us who we are. We want to quickly eradicate it without first asking God, “What is it You want me to see about myself here in the midst of this?”

I’m asking myself with this cancer, “Lord Jesus, what are You telling me about myself? What are You telling me about my faith? About Your Word? About You and Your character?”

Not long ago, someone wanted to pray for my healing, and he asked how he might do that. I know what he was expecting me to say, of course. “Ask God to get me out of this wheelchair, to heal this cancer.” But I said to him, “May I tell you what I really need to be healed from? It’s my self-centeredness. It’s my itchiness to get things my way. It’s my propensity to want to take credit for things. It’s my pride; it’s my impatience; it’s my laziness at reading God’s Word. These are the things from which I would love to be healed, to be released, to be set free from.”

This goes perfectly with what Jesus said in Matthew 18. We know He delighted in healing all who came to Him in faith, but in Matthew 18:8,9, He says if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, to cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, then gouge it out. Better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. The God-Man who healed those who came to Him in faith was telling people, “I’d rather you go without sight, I’d rather you be maimed and crippled, than have perfect health and the freedom to do what you shouldn’t do and go places where you shouldn’t go and end up in hell.” Jesus places a big priority on a different kind of healing than we do.

evangel: What about the child who is born with a severe birth defect, who has never made a decision, one way or another? What are some thoughts on that?
When you see children with severe disabilities it just breaks your heart, and you may even wonder about the goodness of God. But I think we need to remember that all suffering is the result of this enormously heavy, weighty curse that we live under in a fallen world. The world is wired to be difficult. There will be disabilities; it’s guaranteed. It’s not in the fine print; it’s very clear in Scripture.

The exception is this incredible merciful gift of God when we come through life unscathed. Every time children are born without defects, this is evidence of the incredible mercy of God, that He has withheld the impact of this weighty curse from touching a family. That’s something to celebrate. That’s something to delight in.

I have a friend right now whose child is dying of cancer. It is just heartbreaking. I was on the website of this little girl yesterday looking at the photos, and there is just no answer except to cast yourself upon the mercy of a God who is a whole lot bigger and a whole lot wiser.

There will be birth defects, there will be sickness, there will be spinal cord injury — until that day when Jesus comes back to close the curtain on sin and Satan and all suffering.

evangel: This issue of the Evangel includes an excerpt from your new book, A Place of Healing. Is there something from the book you would like to emphasize?
The book talks about ?1 Peter 4:19, which calls on those who suffer according to God’s will to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator and continue to do good. Committing ourselves to our faithful Creator is to trust Him. Continuing to do good is to obey Him. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” And that rings true whether you experience the miraculous divine intervention and you jump out of your wheelchair, or if you must live life paralyzed, as I do. We must commit ourselves to our faithful Creator and continue to do good — trust and obey.

evangel: Amen. Any other remarks you would like to make?
Just to thank your readers for their prayers for me. Having said all this, my big prayer in the midst of this cancer is to be drawn closer to Jesus Christ. To be made more like Him. To glorify Him. Cancer doesn’t win if you die. Cancer wins if you fail to cherish Christ. And through the toughest of times that are yet ahead, I don’t want to fail at that. I want to cherish Christ through this. So I would ask your readers to pray to that end with me. And I’m looking forward to hearing from your readers as well.

evangel: Where can people contact you?
Joni: I have a special page called Joni’s Corner on our website, []. At the bottom of that page there is a place for visitors to share their thoughts with me. It’s under the header “Share With Us Your Story.” I would love to hear what they think about this article. They’re also welcome to post Scriptures, favorite poems, things like that. I read those remarks constantly, and I’m always inspired to hear what people have to say.


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