What Joni Eareckson Tada has learned from nearly 53 years in a wheelchair: A powerful statement that can guide us to God's best

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What Joni Eareckson Tada has learned from nearly 53 years in a wheelchair: A powerful statement that can guide us to God’s best

May 1, 2020 -

Joni Eareckson Tada gives the benediction at the close a session of the Republican National Convention, 2004.

Joni Eareckson Tada gives the benediction at the close a session of the Republican National Convention, 2004.

Joni Eareckson Tada gives the benediction at the close a session of the Republican National Convention, 2004.

Joni Eareckson Tada went swimming at the age of seventeen with her sister in the Chesapeake Bay. She dove into shallow water and severed her spinal cord. As a result, she has spent more than fifty years in a wheelchair, unable to move her lower body or hands.

Joni has become a bestselling author, renowned speaker and painter (she moves the brush with her mouth), and beloved figure in the Christian world. In a podcast interview published yesterday, she was asked to explain a statement she made recently: “In the worst of times, Christians can and should be at their best.” 

She replied, “I think we are at our best when we remain hopeful, confident in God and his hold on the future, and also prayerful and expectant.” Then she made this powerful statement: “I’m a big believer that God permits what he hates to accomplish things that he loves, and that’s been my mantra for almost fifty-three years in this wheelchair. 

“God permits what he hates, this difficult, paralyzing injury, to accomplish something that he loves, and that is, of course, in me, a changed heart and a closer walk with my God. So, that’s it in a nutshell.” 

How can we remain “confident in God and his hold on the future” in these uncertain days? I’d like to close the week by sharing help I found in a surprising place. 

My “lesson from a leaf”

Numbers 4 defines the duties of the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites. It is not usually identified as the most inspiring chapter in the Bible. 

In fact, I read it yesterday only because I follow a plan that takes me through the Bible each year. As a result, I found this text: “When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles” (vv. 5–6). 

I was in “skim” mode when this thought impressed me: if God cares about such minute details in our lives, we can know that he cares about the massive issues we face as well. 

I have written before about the profound “lesson from a leaf” I experienced shortly after becoming pastor of a very large church at the age of thirty. I was overwhelmed and very unsure of myself. As I was telling this to God, my attention was drawn to a leaf lying at my feet. 

The intricacy of a leaf’s design impresses me with the capacity of its Designer.

I sensed the Spirit’s prompting to examine the leaf, something I had certainly never done before. The intricacy of its design impressed me with the capacity of its Designer. And I received my Father’s assurance that if he could design a leaf, he could design my life. 

If our Lord could guide two million Israelites through the wilderness to their Promised Land, he can guide us through the wilderness of these days. 

We have “the whole picture upside down”

I assumed I was finished with life lessons from Numbers 4, but I was wrong. 

As I continued reading, I encountered this instruction: “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die'” (vv. 17–20, my emphasis). 

In our Father’s concern for the details of our lives, he has a plan that is specifically for us. The Kohathites were to do what they were to do and nothing else. If they would “stay in their lane,” their service would contribute to God’s larger purposes for the nation and her future. 

The Peter Principle is a management concept developed by Laurence J. Peter. He noted that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence.” Sometimes organizations promote us beyond our effectiveness, and sometimes we seek such promotion ourselves. 

The good news is that God has a unique call for each of us. The bad news is that he cannot fully use us unless we are aligned with that call. 

There’s an important caveat we should consider, however. C. S. Lewis noted: “We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individuality is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. 

“In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ. There is no question of finding for him a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy. The place was there first. The man was created for it. He will not be himself till he is there.” 

What C. S. Lewis would ask you today

If God can design a leaf, he can design your life. If he could redeem Joni Eareckson Tada’s tragedy, he can redeem your circumstances. As with her, he has a design for you that is uniquely fitted for your kingdom assignment. 

But we cannot fully know his will until we submit to it. We cannot fully experience his power until we surrender to it. This is a decision we must make each day for each day.

C. S. Lewis would ask it this way: will you “be yourself” today?

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