A Spectacle of Glory: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada

2017 Messages

Todd interviews a special guest, Joni Eareckson Tada, who is a quadriplegic who God has used a as a "spectacle of glory". Joni shares her story, her struggles, and trust in God. How, as a young girl, she was paralyzed and what she has learned about God, His character, and how to live a life in submission to Him.

Todd Wagner, Joni Eareckson TadaApr 23, 2017

Todd Wagner: Good morning. How's everybody doing? It is great to be with you. I am really excited about today because I get to share with you a friend. I say all the time one of the kindest things you can do is share your friends with other people. That is why we are so relentless in constantly reminding one another that we need to do everything we can to share the friendship of God, the kindness of God expressed through his Son Jesus with everybody we meet.

There are a lot of folks who have no idea who God is. They think he's a bully. They think he's manipulating, somebody who needs to be appeased. They don't know of the kindness of God. If you are friends of God through the grace of Jesus, then I can't imagine that you're not sharing his goodness and your friendship with him with others.

Well, this morning I get to share with you a friendship I have had for decades. It's been closer with me toward her, because I have followed Joni from afar. Our lives reconnected recently about five years ago. We were at the same conference speaking, and then later at the same conference again when we celebrated her life, but we get to celebrate the life of God in her this morning, and we have much to learn from this saint.

This is, as I will say in a moment, a spectacle of glory of God, and this is not just a thing. This is my friend and a beautiful person, Joni Eareckson Tada. Would you welcome Joni with me? Joni is a painter and a singer. She is a composer. She was nominated for an Academy Award a year ago for a song. She is an author and an incredible communicator, and she is a quadriplegic.

Joni Eareckson Tada: You're wearing me out. Do I do all those things? I can't believe it.

Todd: Joni, some people don't know how you have found yourself in that seat for 50 years. There's a movie about her life. It's simply called Joni. I would encourage you to avail yourself to it and be encouraged, but even more you get to be encouraged because she's here with us today. What I would love to do for the folks who haven't yet had a chance to know about God's work in and through your life is just to share that story.

Joni: Well, I cannot believe 50 years ago… I was 17 years old. I had gone to the Chesapeake Bay with my sister Kathy for a swim before we both went separate ways to college. I took this ridiculously stupid dive into such shallow water, and immediately my head hit a sandy bottom that snapped my head back, crushing my vertebrae, and severing my spinal cord at the fourth cervical level. What that means is I'm a quadriplegic.

I do have pretty good shoulder muscles, so I can shrug my shoulders. I have good biceps, so I can do this. That's about it. As you can imagine, Todd, when they pulled me up out of the water, rushed me to the hospital, and doctors told me that I would never walk again, I would never use my hands again, that I was a quadriplegic for the rest of my life… I mean, I was an athlete. I was a lacrosse player. I loved basketball. I loved horseback riding. I loved canoeing and hiking, and suddenly I was going to have to face life in a wheelchair.

I became overwhelmed with depression. The one bright spot of my hospital stay was occupational therapy, where they taught me to write and type and draw, since I was a budding artist, with pencils between my teeth. To show you how I felt back then 50 years ago, let me put up this sketch.

Todd: This is one of the first drawings you did as you became proficient drawing with your mouth.

Joni: Right. It's a drawing I did of myself on a Stryker frame, and the message I wanted to convey was, "O God, this is now my life?" It's not just my portrait. It's your portrait. It's anybody's portrait where you get hit broadside with a deep disappointment or an unexpected divorce or a bad medical diagnosis, and suddenly you're just reeling with shock, and you think, "O God, this is now my life? I have to do this?"

I sank deeper into depression. There were nights when I would wrench my head back and forth on the pillow, hoping that I would break it up at some higher level and thereby end my life. But little did I realize there were Christian friends who were rallying around me, praying for me morning, noon, and night, and slowly that depression began to lift as people began to open to me the Word of God. I had some pretty tough questions, and I needed to have solid answers.

Todd: I don't want to get ahead of myself, because I know so much more than so many others do, but let's just talk about that for a second. First of all, some people look at you, and especially if they've tracked your life for 50 years… God has used you around the world. I know you spoke when the Iron Curtain fell down and the gospel flooded into the USSR for the very first time.

He used an old man with Parkinson's disease (Billy Graham), a blind interpreter from Russia, and a woman who's in a wheelchair who's a quadriplegic to share the gospel for the first time to the Russians who for 70 years had been shut out in an atheistic, communist world ideology. I know, Joni, you've traveled around the world.

Joni and Friends is a ministry that does more for disabilities and people in suffering than any other ministry that God has used since his Son. It's just amazing what God has done. They look at you, and they must be like, "This woman must have been chosen by God because of her deep devotion." Kind of like Job, righteous and blameless and feared God and shunned evil. "So I can trust Job with this circumstance." That wasn't your story prior to this event.

Joni: No. I was active, athletic, healthy on my feet. I'd come to Christ through Young Life as a 14-year-old kid just entering my sophomore year of high school, and I don't know why, but I thought the abundant Christian life meant I was going to get great grades, get an academic recommendation to college, lose weight, get a new boyfriend. It was all about me. Even my trials, not having a date on Friday night, were all about me. "How is this going to fit into my pattern for good?"

I finally did get the boyfriend, I must confess, and lost a little bit of weight. I'm ashamed to say that that relationship with my boyfriend was sordid, because I was such a hypocrite. I would go to Young Life Campaigners, and we'd do our Bible study. I'd go to church on Sunday morning, but then on a Friday night with my boyfriend in the back seat of his Mustang it was a different story. I look back on those days with great shame, because I made such stupid decisions.

The Holy Spirit kept knocking on my heart. "Joni, this is wrong. Don't go there." I would say goodbye to my mom and dad early Friday evening and head out the front door, and I went there. I went there so often that finally I became a slave to the very choices I had made. Christ had set me free from sin, but I kept making the wrong choices in disobedience and ignoring the righteousness God had given me access to.

Finally, I'll never forget, on an April Friday evening coming home from a date, I ran up to my bedroom, threw myself on my bed, and started sobbing into my pillow. "O God, please, I don't want to be a hypocrite. I don't want to say one thing and do another. My walk is not meeting my talk at all. There's this huge gap, and I need you to narrow that gap.

How do I do that? God, do something, anything, anything in my life to jerk it right side up, because I'm going to go off to college, and I don't want to end up sleeping with my boyfriend and disowning you and shaming your good name even further, staining your reputation even more than I already have. So, God, do something."

Just a couple of weeks after graduation, not but three months later, I took that dive. I broke my neck. I remember lying in the hospital bed looking up at the ceiling, thinking, "God, how could you have taken me so seriously? I mean, if this is the way you answer one of your children's prayers to be drawn closer to you, I don't think I'll ever trust you with another prayer again. What are you doing?" Because to me, my disability, this quadriplegia, seemed so overwhelming.

I had a friend, however. His name was Steve Estes. He was only a 17-year-old kid, but my girlfriends in high school who were Christians all knew I needed somebody to help guide me through the pages of Scripture to put all this together. I'll never forget. He showed me a passage in Hebrews, chapter 12. This young kid started talking to me about the discipline of the Lord, that good fathers discipline their children. Not out of anger. Not to punish me. No. All of my punishment against my sin was borne at the cross.

All of God's wrath and anger against me and my Friday night dates was poured out on Jesus, and all God has left for me is forgiveness and love and tender mercies and the Holy Spirit's energy to live a life that pleases him. "Joni," he said, "God is going to discipline those whom he loves. I don't know how that's going to pan out in your life, but you can trust him." Pretty tough words coming from a 17-year-old kid.

Todd: To a girl who recently snapped her spinal cord and is in a wheelchair.

Joni: They were tough words, but for me at least, they were helpful, because this was a sovereign God dealing with a child who was a wayward sheep, and I was ready to plummet off the cliff, and I got rescued. I can look back 50 years later and say it was worth it. The quadriplegia was worth it. I would rather be in this chair knowing Jesus than on my feet healthy and active and athletic and disobedient without him.

Todd: Okay, that's one of those statements that everybody kind of goes, "Is she serious?" "I would rather be in this wheelchair with Jesus than on my feet and healthy and active without him." I think people look at you… Because this is where our stories first collided. Twelve years after that happened to you and Steve began to speak into your life…

I had just trusted Christ, also through Young Life. It was late in my high school years, and I was encouraged by a friend to go… My Young Life leader went to a church. I didn't have one. He said, "Come with me to this thing. There's this gal I want you to meet." I go, "Who is she?" "Just come. Her name is Joni. She's an athlete like you, loves sports, but she's no longer playing sports." That's kind of how I was invited.

I took one look at you, and I kind of assumed why you weren't playing sports, but I heard your story, and I remember watching your life. At the time, I was 17 and you were 29. I just sat there and listened. I went home after that and wrote in a journal a prayer that just said, "Lord, if what it takes for me to know you is that I would end up in a wheelchair…" As an athlete, you can't imagine anything worse than having your physical health being taken away.

"If the only way I can learn the goodness of who you are is by something like that happening to me, then let it happen to me, but please, God, let me have a tender enough heart that I would learn that another way. And, Lord, if I end up in a situation like Joni, I pray that I would have lived by your grace in such a way that I would know the reason I'm in a wheelchair is not because that's what it took for me to be there."

That was how God used you in my life. It was a deal where I just said, "I want to know what she knows. I want to know you. I've heard about your love and your grace, but I don't think I know the depth of your goodness that that 29-year-old woman does." I was drawn to Jesus because of you. I wanted to know more of him because of you. I go, "If she can sing and she can declare your goodness like that… I think you're good, God, if you allow me to continue athletic success."

I'm embarrassed to say had I not broken ankles several times and needed surgery and other things and had a gross amount of lack of talent… Had God given me what I thought I was going to get through sports, I don't think I'd have pursued him. Here's a verse, Joni. I think this is a really tender topic, because we don't know why you're in a wheelchair. It's not like that's the only way God was going to answer your prayer. Correct?

Joni: Correct.

Todd: It could have been, but Psalm 119:71 says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes."

Joni: When I was in the state of that drawing that I just showed you a moment ago, that state of anguish, I had by that time come out of the hospital. I had lived with my sister Jay on the farm, but I told her, "I don't want to get out of bed. Just shut the door, turn out the light, turn on the air conditioner, and leave me alone." Day after day for almost two weeks I laid in that bed in the dark, paralyzed, daydreaming, fantasizing what life used to be like.

Finally, I just couldn't bear that hopelessness any longer. I just couldn't sit in that corner of self-pity anymore. I remember screaming out in my head, "God, if I can't die, show me how to live." It was right after that that my sister got me up in my wheelchair, pushed me to the living room, sat me in front of a black music stand on which she put the Bible, and I with my mouth stick would feverishly turn the pages of the Bible.

Todd: That was what you told me in '79, and I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh. If this beautiful girl would want the Bible so much that she'd use a rubber-tipped device to turn the pages, I'm going to use my hands and my heart and my eyes."

Joni: Well, I knew the pages of the Bible contained answers for my plight. At that time I just had nowhere to look. Thankfully, God brought me good Christian friends, including Steve, who helped guide me through the pages of this Word. I ended up drawing a different picture. Can I show you this one? This is a copy of a drawing I had done, and it shows me trying to put together the puzzle pieces of my life.

Sometimes that's the way it feels like. When suffering occurs, it's as though God has walked into your life, kicked the puzzle table, pieces go flying, and there you are, frantically scrambling, trying to pull back and find all the puzzle pieces of your life to fit them together. You want your life to make sense. You want it to be tidy and orderly. You want things to fit.

The challenge is when you go through a deep suffering, sometimes you're not going to find all of the puzzle pieces. You're not going to know the answers why. A lot of those pieces are going to go missing until the other side of eternity. Wisdom is not the ability to figure out God's purpose and plan for your suffering. Wisdom is trusting God even when you can't figure out the plan, even when the puzzle pieces don't fit.

That was one of the things I learned early on, and that got me even deeper into God's Word, because I didn't necessarily at that point want to know why. I mean, sometimes I think when we ask the question why it's with a clenched fist anyhow, but I was starting to ask why with a searching heart. I wanted to know this God, this God who loved me enough to rescue me from sheer destruction and take me right to the edge and pull me back. "What in the world does he have in store?"

Todd: What he had in store was blessing a lot of people like me. Joni, he knew his ability to work in you… It's so funny, because you look at Job… One of the things I say to people all the time is this craziness that if you really love God life will always be up and to the right in terms of all that the world offers you, that our athletic success and our looks and our career and our health will always get better, is crazy.

In fact, I warn them. If anything, you should know that God goes, "I can trust that person no matter what I put them through." Yet here's the other thing. God not only trusted that Job would be faithful. He trusted his ability to work in your heart. He saw in you, this little girl who, as you said, was racked with guilt and shame, who had made a genuine decision for Jesus but had not been discipled…

Even though you were going to a discipleship group, you hadn't made a decision to really follow him, and he just said, "I trust that Joni is going to listen to me," and he started you on that journey with an amazingly difficult… I mean, it's like the worst situation he could give to a little girl, and then say, "Watch my work and beauty in you." We don't know why, but all I can tell you is that because you have faithfully responded, a lot of us have looked at you and went, "I want to know that God."

Joni: Well, 10 words I learned early on from Steve Estes, 10 short little words that changed my life: God permits what he hates to accomplish that which he loves. He hates suffering. He hates spinal cord injury. Oh my goodness. Look at the death of his own Son. Look at the events that led up to the crucifixion of Christ. He hates murder. He hates treason, injustice, torture. Think about those drunken Roman soldiers who beat Jesus, the mob screaming for his crucifixion.

God hates all that, but it says in Acts, chapter 4, verse 28, "These men…" That is, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, the drunken Roman soldiers, the mob in the streets. "These men did what God's power and will had decided beforehand should happen." I mean, he didn't have to push Pontius Pilate or Judas Iscariot to do evil. It was already in their own hearts. All he did was simply let them play out this initiative to put God's Son to death.

So God permits what he hates to accomplish something he loves, because, what do you know, the world's worst murder becomes the world's only salvation. God is this miraculously working God who can reach down into what otherwise looks like horrible evil and wrench out of it positive good for us and glory for himself. God is in this amazing business of aborting, always aborting devilish schemes to serve his own ends and accomplish his own purposes.

Maybe the Devil's motive in my life was to keep me in that wretched relationship with my boyfriend, and maybe when the accident happened, perhaps even… Who knows? He could have instigated it. I have no idea. I won't know until the other side of eternity. But I'm sure the Devil's motive was to shipwreck my faith, what little bit of it there was, and to destroy my hopes and cause me to be someone who would stain God's reputation further.

God's motive was to reach down into that and wrench out of it… "No, no, no. My motive for this young woman is going to be to turn her from a headstrong, stubborn, rebellious teenager into a young woman who is going to love me, serve me, learn something of longsuffering, patience, endurance, self-control, and I will get glory from it." Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare, and it is worth anything…anything…to be his friend, even quadriplegia.

Todd: I hope you're listening, because I know you're lonely. I know you're 35 and single. I know you're 41 and divorced. I know you're frustrated with your family of origin. I know you've been physically and sexually abused. I know you've made a decision to sexually enter into a relationship that has led to a life you decided was an inconvenience to you, and you got rid of it.

I know you're in high school and are wondering if God has been fair to you because of the DNA he has dealt you. This friend has so much more authority to say to you, "I'm telling you, Jesus is who he says he is, even in a wheelchair, even when your life is interrupted with tragedy. If that tragedy will lead you to the King, you will thank God for it." Right?

Joni: Absolutely. In fact, seven years ago, I developed stage III cancer.

Todd: That's what I love about you, Joni. God goes, "Hey, give her quadriplegia. That's not enough. Let's give her chronic pain," which started 10 years ago. It's enough I can't use my body. It's afflicted with pain, and then seven years ago, "Let's just fire breast cancer at her."

Joni: My husband Ken, who is here this morning… Ken, would you stand up? My husband of 35 years. What an advocate he was. He saw me through every single medical appointment, x-ray, bone scan, blood test, PET scan, you name it. My husband stood by me and was my champion. He saw how weak I became, how frail physically. They say lung infections, bladder infections. Your bones become thin. You lose your hair. You lose weight. You have no energy.

One day, Ken was driving me home from chemotherapy, and I was tied down in my wheelchair in the back of the van, and we were having this conversation through the rearview mirror. As we're going down the 101 freeway, we start talking about how suffering is like little splash-overs of hell. Kind of like, "Whoa!" Waking you up out of your spiritual slumber and getting you appreciating the actual hell from which Christ rescued you.

As we pulled up into the driveway, we started talking about, "Well, then what are splash-overs of heaven? Are splash-overs of heaven those times when there is no chemotherapy, no bad medical diagnosis, chronic pain isn't biting at your hip? Are splash-overs of heaven easy-breezy bright days when all the bills are paid and the sun is shining and the sky is glorious?" He turned off the ignition and said, "You know, I think a splash-over of heaven is finding Jesus in your splash-over of hell."

There's nothing more poignant and more wonderful and tender than finding Jesus in the middle of your hell. I think that's what Philippians, chapter 3, was talking about. Jon Abel was leading us in worship and put that verse up there. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death." We really get to know Jesus when we become like him in his death.

What does that mean? It means to daily pick up your cross and die to the sins that he died for on his cross. Talk about identifying with your Savior at the deepest point of intimacy. Right there it happens. So, Todd, don't be thinking I'm a strong person. When Jon Abel was up here describing his morning and how difficult it was for him to think about leading us all in worship, I resonated. I was sitting there, thinking, "Oh my, that was me this morning."

I deal with chronic pain, and quadriplegia is hard, and almost every morning I wake up and say to myself, "O God, I'm so tired of this. I am so tired of the pain. I don't know that I'm going to have the perseverance to do this. I have no resources for this. I have no energy for this, but you do. I don't have any resources, but you do. I have no energy for this day. I have no smile for this day, but you do. I cannot do quadriplegia, but I can do all things through you as you strengthen me, so please be the good quadriplegic today. Give me your smile. Let me borrow your smile for people today. I need you that desperately."

I hope you can see that's why God was so merciful when he allowed my accident to happen. He was so merciful, because he put me in a position of needing him desperately every single day. You don't have to break your neck to believe it, to do it.

Todd: I've learned from you for years. My journals are filled with little things that Joni has said and things I've observed in you.

Joni: You've got to be kidding.

Todd: No, it's true. When we met, I told you… You said to me the other day, "How do you know that?" I go, "If you knew all that I knew about you, we wouldn't have a friendship. I'd have a restraining order." Really, it marked my life, because I looked and I went, "Lord, I think I'm trusting you so I won't end up like that. She ends up like that, and she loves you more than I do. I have to know you like she does."

When God Weeps, a book that you and Steve wrote, is just the best book on suffering I know. You continue to have some stuff I want to talk about that's a resource to others, but here's the thing. I love the statement that God will use us to the extent that we are usable. We can see the extent to which we're surrendered to the will of God by the extent to which we're used.

I think some people think, "That means God is going to make me like Billy Graham in terms of world renown if I surrender to him." That's not what that little syllogism I just said means. What it means is… When we were at the Wilberforce deal… Joni was given the Wilberforce Award, which is a great award that is given to people who have been champions and heroes to be advocates for the oppressed in the world in the name of Jesus, like William Wilberforce was with slavery.

Joni has done more for folks suffering through disability and just the despair of sin than anybody we know really literally since the cross. That's who's sitting here. We just celebrated her life and we just said, "Thank you, God, for the way you've used this woman who made her quadriplegia available to you." God has used you.

I remember you telling that night through tears again when you said, "For 40-something years now, I wake up every morning like, 'Oh my gosh, this is still my lot.'" You can't get up out of bed and go get a cup of coffee, run out with your girlfriends. You have to wait there until somebody comes and gets you.

Joni: It's why every morning when I do wheel into the office of Joni and Friends… Let me say parenthetically really quickly Joni and Friends is a way for me to pass on the blessings that God has blessed me with, because I want other people with disabilities around the world to know these truths I've just shared with you. We have Joni and Friends teams all across the United States, and we're doing church training.

We're doing family retreats for special needs families, 50 of them this year…27 in the United States, 20-some-odd overseas in developing nations. We take wheelchairs and deliver them to disabled children in different countries. I want Becky Ellis to stand up with her husband Josh. Becky Ellis is our area director for Joni and Friends here in Texas. If you want to get connected with what we do, if you have a used but serviceable wheelchair…

Todd: You didn't ask her husband to stand up, but because she's so cute he said, "She's married." That's why he stood up next to her, right?

Joni: Actually, to be honest, my husband told me, "Make sure you have Josh stand up."

Todd: There you go. Good, Josh. I don't blame you.

Joni: Anyway, every morning when I wheel into the office of Joni and Friends, I glance at this photo I have on my wall, and it's a picture of a man in Africa to whom we gave a wheelchair. He lives in this little house with only three walls and half of a roof. He is destitute and poor, but he has a smile on his face.

I look at that and think, "Man, I'm going to squeeze every ounce of effort I can possibly squeeze out of this quadriplegic body to serve people like that man. I don't want to sit in mediocrity. I don't want to sit back and just be ordinary. No, I want to be extraordinary for Christ. I want Christ to be extraordinary through me. I want to do everything I can to reach people like him with the love of Jesus."

That's a noble calling, and that's your calling. Mine, of course, is to people with disabilities around the world and here in the United States and here in Texas, but your calling is to your neighbor, your neighborhood, your friends, people who are struggling as I once was, and you have the answers like Steve Estes. You have the Word of God, and you can show them, inspire them, encourage them, lead them, pray with them. Who knows what God may do in their life through your investments?

Todd: It's so great, because you went two places with that. First, it's great that you helped that guy in Africa, but this morning you had to be Jesus' kindness to the women who came to help you get dressed, to your husband who shares life with you. Again, the degree to which God will use you is the degree to which you're surrendered, and God uses those to the extent that we're usable, but we have to think what we mean by using us is who's there with you today, right there.

It's not like you have to figure out, "How could God use me in Africa?" He'll use you in Africa when he sees you being used right where you are. That's what you're so amazing at, Joni. Every day you wake up… You may not be being interviewed by Larry King that day, but today you go, "I'm going to be around everybody I'm around, and I'm going to let Jesus love them." That's for all of us.

The other side she went to… You guys have never heard the name Steve Estes. Even big Joni fans… I think a lot of them just see the name on the book. They don't really know Steve. Steve was a 17-year-old kid near her who, because he had prepared himself to be a lover of God, could walk into the room of a classmate who just heard she's going to be in a wheelchair as long as she can breathe and tell her, "God is good, and if this is what it takes for you to know the fullness of it, there's a blessing there," and then to open the Word of God to you and teach it to you.

You don't even know who Steve Estes is, but the reason Todd Wagner was blessed, the reason you're being blessed is because the Holy Spirit used a vessel named Steve, who was a student of the Word, to be ready, and now he's in the shadow, and you've been on stages all over the world. You've talked to hundreds of millions of people, written books that have affected more, and it's because one guy we don't know knew the Word and was ready.

So many of us are not headed toward divorce, despair, sexual abuse, abortions. Maybe some of us aren't headed toward those things, but the question is…Are you ready when God puts you this week in the path of somebody who has ALS, who was just betrayed, who is 46 and still single and thinks that's a curse? We have to be.

One of the things you did just a few years ago is you started to look for a company that prints Bibles and said, "We want to write a commentary around the Scriptures." We use it here. We have a ministry to the chronically ill and caregivers. It's called Refuge. What we equip them with is this thing called the Beyond Suffering Bible, which, again, there's my friend Joni blessing me again. Tell them about this Bible that you worked on for six years.

Joni: Our Joni and Friends team contributed to this, as well as Steve Estes. I wanted to work with Tyndale Publishers in producing a special edition of the Word of God which would be a Steve Estes, a helper, a guide, somebody that you open the Word and you look for answers, you look for hope, you look for encouragement, and it's there. This is just like I was once, not knowing where to find things in the Word of God. This Bible will guide you to those passages and those profiles in Scripture that speak of other believers in the Lord who wrestled with sin yet came out victorious. Thank you, Todd, for mentioning this.

Todd: I do it for you, because here's the thing. This Bible has all the same truth this Bible has, except this is like reading your Bible with Joni. It really is what it is. What I would encourage you with… Some of you guys are in despair, maybe early on in that first drawing, looking up like, "What are you doing to me?" If you will get around a godly person or get around this Word and then let your life slowly become…

"These things which you've heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful 'Jonis' who will be able to teach others also." I think what's so great is that you've done that, and this is like being able to sit down with Joni and read God's Word. It just gives you her insights and, like you said, Steve and others who have just said, "What can we learn about the goodness of God in the midst of suffering in a way that will encourage you?" It's an amazing resource.

There's another one I want to talk about. The reason I'm doing this is because not everybody… It took me 31 years to get back together with you after we met in 1979, where our lives collided again through our friend Chuck at that Wilberforce weekend, but I've prayed that there would be a time that I could share Joni with you, my friends.

She wrote a daily devotional recently, and it's called A Spectacle of Glory. Let me shut my mouth and let you talk about why that's the title. It's a beautiful title, and it's what you are, but explain that. You didn't name it like this is your autobiography named A Spectacle of Glory, but talk about how we all should be.

Joni: In the book of Exodus, chapter 3, we read about Moses who was tending sheep in the deserts of Moab, and he sees what appears to be a bush that is aflame, and yet it's not burning up. It's not consumed. So in Exodus, chapter 3, verse 3, it says, "So Moses turned aside to see this strange sight, why the bush was not burned up." I love that, because to me it's a perfect picture… This idea is not original to me. I think John Owen, the Puritan, must have shared this years ago.

Todd: I think it was Newton. I only know that because I've read your book.

Joni: Oh, thank you. To me it's a perfect picture of Christians who suffer graciously. They are people who the skeptics and cynics of this world look at, and they rub their chins and think, "Why is this person not complaining? Why are they not consumed by their trials? I must turn aside and see this strange sight. Why is this person not burned up?" Every day, you and I through our trials have a chance to be spectacles of God's glory, showcasing to others his power to sustain.

Please don't think I have it all packaged and all neat and tidy. No. I am a sinner just like you are. I every day have to go before the Lord to confess sins of greed, pride, manipulating my husband with precisely timed phrases. I have to confess sins of worry, anxiety. Heaven is a holy place that is being prepared for holy inhabitants. I want to be holy. I want to be like Christ. To be most like Christ… Everybody says, "I want to be like Jesus." What does it mean to be like Jesus?

Well, yes, it means to be kind and good and generous and compassionate, but to most be like Christ, if you want to really be like Christ, sin less. You can't be sinless, but you can sin less. Jesus came to this earth to confront sin, not only at the cross but in the lives of everyone around him. Sometimes he did it forcefully, often he did it gently, but that's what he's doing in our lives. We need to prepare ourselves for this heavenly abode that is really where the actual story is going to begin.

C.S. Lewis said that this earth is just like a title page of the real adventure that will begin once we step onto celestial soil. I want to do everything I can on this side of eternity to invest on the other side, because every decision I make, everything I do down here on earth, has a direct bearing on my capacity for service and worship and joy in heaven. I don't want to jeopardize that eternal estate. I don't want to diminish it. I don't want to make light of it. I want to treasure it. "Lay up your treasures in heaven."

So friend, join me today in saying "no" to sin, as the book of Titus says, and "yes" to godliness, because then we are most like Christ. Then we will truly be spectacles of glory. Do you know a good place to begin? People often say, "Well, where's God's will? How do I start tomorrow morning?" How about Philippians, chapter 2, verse 14? "Do everything without grumbling or complaining." Can you do that? The Bible thinks you can. The Holy Spirit is ready there to help you. You can do everything without grumbling or complaining.

Todd: So, yeah, you can do quadriplegia. You can do breast cancer. You can do chronic pain.

Joni: Oh man, the chronic pain is where it's really hard for me.

Todd: You can do California. You live there.

Joni: LA traffic. Oh yeah.

Todd: I mean, God has afflicted you with a disease, but really, Joni… I would listen to you say that, when I heard you say it again to me a few years ago… "I wake up every morning like, 'O God…'"

Joni:"I can't do this."

Todd: I want to just stick this in. We're going to do hopefully a conversation offline about this too, but just briefly, because I know the horror of well-meaning people who have not been students of this Word who think the only reason people are in wheelchairs is because God has smote them or because they needed it or if they just had faith they could get out of it. You've had people walk up to you and tell you, "I'm going to pray for your healing, and if you have faith…" How do you respond to that?

Joni: Well, people often do that, and I always welcome prayers for healing. I really do. If you want to pray for my healing, great. I'm happy for you to pray for my healing. Being paralyzed is no fun. It's hard. It would be great to be out of this wheelchair. But usually when people say, "May I pray for your healing?" I will say, "Great. Can I give you a couple of things specifically to be praying about?"

"Oh yes," they'll say. "Okay, well, please pray that my heart won't be so quick to record the wrongs of others and not forget them. Would you pray that I will not cherish inflated ideas of my own importance? Would you pray that I not wake up tomorrow morning with a peevish, sour attitude? Would you pray…?" I go on and on, listing all of the things in my heart that are in desperate need of healing.

Think about it. Jesus healed blind eyes and withered hands, and that's wonderful, but the same Jesus also said, "If that eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. If that hand leads you astray, cut it off." Right there, we have Jesus' priorities when it concerns healing. There is a deeper healing he's much more concerned about. Walking is good, but there are more important things in life than walking. There are more important things in life than having use of your hands. What could possibly be more important? A heart bent on pleasing God. Make it your ambition to be pleasing to God.

Todd: Heal me of that affliction. Right. You can get up and run and be strong and out of your wheelchair, but when there's still that sickness that will be with us until we're in glory, the sanctification process…

One of the reasons I was so glad you were here is last week was Easter, and we talked about being free from sin's decree, where the justification of God happens; being free from sin's dominion, which you've done an amazing job talking about here, where we're being sanctified and no longer a slave to sin because I see the beauty of God; and being free from sin's despair, where I'm not going to live in the hopelessness that my life can't be joyful because of some circumstance.

You have modeled Easter and the resurrection power of Jesus Christ as good as any friend I know, as good as anybody on this side of glory. You are a spectacle of glory. There is a consuming fire inside this human soul that is not being consumed by the fire of trial. It's beautiful, Joni.

Joni: Absolutely. And it's joyful. I'm so joyful.

Todd: We talked about this. Right after Philippians 2:14 where it says, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing," it says in verse 15, "so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a perverse generation, among whom you will be as a star, as a light in the world." I just love that. That's kind of what Joni is. It's like you can't help but go, "If we had more of that, it would be like, 'Wow, there is hope that is here.'"

Did you hear the unbelievable thing she just said? When people say, "I want to pray for your healing," she says, "You do that. You go, girl, with all your wonderful Holy Spirit power, but would you please pray… Because I'm not sure God wants me out of this wheelchair right now. I am absolutely sure God wants me out of my bitterness, my grumbling, my sin, my self-righteousness, my judgmentalism. You pray that gets healed."

Joni: Yeah, because it's preparing you for heaven, and heaven is going to be… Oh my goodness. A chance to be there when Jesus is crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be up front. I'm going to get where the good seats are. I want to be a part of that party. I'm so excited to be there.

Todd: Well, this is why I had you here. You're going to be way up in heaven, and I'm trying to curry some favor so you give me a decent job, because I'm going to be serving in your kingdom. When God doles out gifts, I'm going to be like, "Okay, Joni, remember me?" Over here in "Tuberville" while you're ruling over this metropolitan glory.

Joni: But you know what? Hold on a second. The apostle Paul, when he started out in his ministry, called himself the "least of apostles," and toward the end of the ministry he called himself the "chief of all sinners." I'm a sinner, but, boy, I want to do everything I can to get actively engaged with my own sanctification each and every morning when I wake up.

"Holy Spirit, I come before you. I'm standing at attention. I'm getting my soul in alignment. Give me your marching orders. Help me. Guide me. Convict me. Show me the way. Reprove me. Correct me, but keep me on the straight and narrow, the narrow gate. I don't want to be on the broad path, Lord God. You put me on the narrow gate." That's a good way to get yourself prepared for heaven.

Todd: If you want to know why there is some spectacle of glory in Todd Wagner's life, it's because I have been a student of faithful friends who have gone before me. I've learned from Joni. She has been my teacher for years. I just go, "Okay, Lord. I want to know you like Joni knows you." I wanted to share her with you today because I want you to know… Sometimes we think, "Yeah, you love God. Life is good and perfect and beautiful and blah, blah, blah." No, no. God is good and perfect and beautiful, and I need him. It so frustrates me…

You and Ken have this amazing marriage. You're this saint of God used around the world, and for 35 years you've been married. Doesn't it drive you crazy…? You guys have had significant marital issues at times, and you can't convince people of that. Like, "No, you're Joni and Ken, for goodness' sake." Like, "No, we're sinners who desperately need Christ."

Joni: Absolutely. Ken and I butt heads on more than many occasions. Recently we were in the city of Boston. We had landed at Logan Airport. We were going to one of our Joni and Friends family retreats in New England. We have them here in Texas down at Camp Allen. Sign-ups are with us if you would. Anyway, we had landed at Boston. Traffic was horrible, so Ken asked my girlfriend and me in the back to open up our Google Maps and find a close restaurant.

As soon as you type in "restaurant," you get a zillion little red pins that crop up, and you have to choose one. Well, I just chose the nearest one, which landed us right off the next exit down into downtown traffic that was even worse than the freeway, and my husband was livid, fit to be tied. "Why would you choose such a restaurant in downtown Boston? Where is your head?" I said, "I don't know. You wanted a restaurant, so I got you a restaurant." On and on, back and forth.

Todd: Been there.

Joni: So we get into the parking lot…

Todd: To the restaurant, I mean. It's a good one.

Joni: My girlfriends walked ahead, and Ken and I are just standing there. I'm sitting there. He's standing there on the street corner, and we are just frozen silent. Finally, after about a minute or so of stony silence, Ken says, "So what's the big picture here?" I said, "Well, the big picture is that this is a really stupid argument and that we're going somewhere to encourage people in Christ and that you and I should be living above this kind of triviality, and I am so sorry that I disappointed you. Forgive me. I will try to do better next time. Jesus, help me."

I mean, we went back and forth talking about the big picture, that we're saved, we're sanctified, we are heading for glory, we're investing in heaven. That's the big picture. I encourage you if you're in a relationship with your friend, your mother, your husband or wife, just keep reminding yourselves of the big picture. When you come to an impasse… "What's the big picture here? What's really going on in the heavenlies? How can we rise above this and just live more nobly, more courageously, more valiantly?" Ken and I do it all the time. We remember what that big picture is and recount it to each other, and it really helps.

Todd: That is how you get over sin's dominion. Paul says in Colossians, "If, then, you've been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above where Christ is. Set your mind on the things above," the big picture. We're going to be home quickly. This is our moment to die to our flesh. Joni, you bless me, because I go, "If that woman can be the fullness of the glory of God in a circumstance that is a tough one, then surely I can be in mine."

I know we all play this game of comparison, but I'm sorry that guys like me needed sisters in Christ like you to teach me how good my God is, but you have borne this affliction well in a way that has helped me go, "What's the big picture, Todd? Your God is good. Look at it evidenced in your servant Job, in your servant Joni." Thank you. God bless you.

Joni: God bless you. Love you.

Todd: I'm going to pray. This is just fun for me. I started Watermark so eventually maybe Joni would come, and she did. It took me 17 years, but here we are.

Father, thank you for this dear sister. Thank you for Ken. Thank you for Becky. Thank you for the team at Joni and Friends. I pray that you would just stir all of us to jump in and do our part and hook up with this ministry in every way that would bring you glory. Father, abundantly supply them most of all with your Spirit so that Joni today can be a spectacle of glory to folks as she's gracious in the midst of her chronic pain, and for Ken as he's gracious to others in the midst of being a man whose wife is pulled in a lot of directions, and for each of us, Lord, we want to be spectacles of glory.

Thank you for the way that Joni is evidence that we can do that if we just make ourselves available to you. So, Lord, teach us. May we imitate Christ as Joni is imitating Christ. This is not about her. This is about Jesus in her. So thank you, Lord, that today we can live our lives in such a way where it's not about us; it's about Christ in us. We're going to walk or roll ourselves out of this room, and everywhere you send us we have a chance to be shining lights in the midst of a dark and perverse generation that needs to know of the resurrection power of Christ.

Would you use the thousands of us who are in here to be that for this city and the planes and the cities we're going to be in this week? Send us on mission, Lord. Help us to do all things without grumbling or disputing as we die to our selfishness and quadriplegia and let Jesus live for us. In Christ's name, amen.

In 1979 I met Jesus, and not long after that I met Joni, and it set my life on a course that has been a blessing. I pray that today you meet Jesus if you don't know him, and if you do know him, like I did, that you would meet Joni and it would change you forever because you would go, "Okay, he's enough for me," because you see the sufficiency of the resurrection in my dear sister's life for 50 years.

This is a holy moment, folks. It really is. This is Job live in person, saying, "Hey, my God is enough." Those were Job's words we just sang, and it's Jesus' sufficiency we just saw. I have nothing else to offer you. I want to give you nothing else. I want to heal you from a heart desperately scarred by sin. I can do that through Jesus. Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you. I have Jesus who died for you. God permitted what he hated that he might cause what he loves: redemption while he's still just. Trust in that God.

May God set you free from sin's dominion. When you see his beauty and his power, you no longer follow your flesh, the ways of the world, and the lies of the Enemy. You follow him, because you see that he is good even in a wheelchair or a divorce or brokenness or suffering from your own stupid sin. You don't have to listen to sin anymore when you know the goodness and kindness of God.

Set your mind on things above, the big picture, and then you'll be free from sin's despair. You won't have that hard early drawing when Joni was still trying to figure out the goodness of God, but you see the puzzle pieces start to fit. This is just a moment. These are my 50 years to serve you. It's a vapor on earth, and then forever there are eternal glories that far outweigh anything by comparison. It's coming. I believe it. She believes it. Many of you believe it, and you live that way, as bright lights in the midst of a dark and perverse world. That's your charge.

If you're here and you're still enslaved to sin, would you trust Christ? Turn to somebody and go, "Help me." Take that perforated section. Check the box. Come visit with us. Come to Jesus. If you know him, let's go. Let's go, church. This isn't a game. This is your moment to be a spectacle of glory for your good and the glory of God. Are you ready? Have a great week of worship.