Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/24/23

The Practice of the Presence of Jesus

It’s a wonderful life. In the first part of my conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada, the successful radio host, inspirational speaker, painter, author and founder of Joni and Friends (her ministry devoted to helping and showcasing those who, like her, are living with disability) recounted how she rose from depression after a diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic at the age of 17.  As our discussion she focuses on the life lessons she has learned and shares in her latest book (and associated app) The Practice of the Presence of Jesus: Daily Meditations on the Nearness of Our Savior.

JWK: The themes covered in your book include humility, thankfulness, fear, worship, obedience, hope and abiding in Christ. Maybe we can take those one at a time. The first is humility. How do you practice humility?

Joni Eareckson Tada: Humility is something that you don’t strive for. It just happens to you. It’s where you learn to put yourself under others and their needs. For instance, people say to me sometimes “Well, you’re Joni Eareckson Tada. Sure, you’re paralyzed but you’ve got a husband, you’ve got a mission to accomplish, you make a salary, you’ve got a comfortable home. You’re blessed! You know, you’re the exception!”

My response is always “Yes, I am the exception to the way most people with disabilities live – but that requires me to do everything in my power to make certain that other people with disabilities have a better life.” So, I divest myself constantly of the blessings I’m given to pour them into the needs of other people with disabilities around the world. It is why I started Joni and Friends. I just wanted to pass on the blessings to others. Some people say that’s a humble thing to do. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I don’t look at it that way. I just do it.

JWK: You just mentioned that one of your blessings is that you are happily married. May I ask briefly how that came about?

JET: My husband?

JWK: Yes.

JET: Well, I never had any aspirations to marry. I was a quadriplegic. I pretty much reasoned that my daily care would overwhelm any man, anybody. Ken often quotes this Bible verse…that says “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks in the heart.” So, he fell in love with my heart.

JWK: How did you meet?

JET: I was in church and not listening to the sermon. I saw the back of this man’s head. I didn’t know who he was but I felt strangely compelled to pray for him – and I did. I didn’t see his face. I didn’t know anything about him. I just saw the back of his head and I just felt compelled to pray for him. I almost wheeled up to him afterward to let him know what I did but I let it drop. Then we happened to be introduced by mutual friends about a month later and the first thing that I said to this man, Ken Tada,   was “Turn around. Let me see the back of your head.” It was the same guy! I said “I know you! I prayed for you!” That was many years ago. We’ve been married coming up on 42 years. He’s a great guy. In fact, I can hear him in the kitchen unpacking groceries.

JWK: That’s wonderful. That leads me to another theme in your book – which is thankfulness.

JET: “In everything give thanks,” First Thessalonians 5:18 says. It’s a theme. You know, God did so much for us. He gave His Son. His Son was ripped to shreds on an instrument of torture. All He asks of us is to believe in Him, follow Him and be grateful. Just be grateful. Don’t try to pay Him back – because you’ll never be able to pay back what He did for us. Just be grateful. Live a live of gratitude. That’s what I strive to do. Gratitude is very healing.

JWK: I think so too. I see the word “fear.” When you say “fear” what do you mean?

JET: Fear of the future, fear that my pain is gonna get worse.

JWK: And one of the themes of your book is how to deal with fear.

JET: Exactly. I’ll just give a personal example. Like I said, I deal with neuropathic pain. At night sometimes I can’t sleep. I could get very anxious and let fear take over – like “I can’t stand this! How am I gonna live like this?! I’ll never get any sleep!” That could be my mantra but that kind of response only makes fear worse, only makes anxiety worse, only makes your pain worse.

So, instead I speak calmly to my pain and I focus on Christ, the Prince of Peace. I invite Him into my pain because He’s the Man of Sorrows (who is) acquainted with grief. He understands pain. When I focus on Him rather than my fear and anxiety I have peace. It says in The Bible “Be anxious for nothing.” That is “Be fearful for nothing.” “In everything give thanks.” “The peace of Christ which passes all understanding will keep your heart and safeguard your mind.” So, there a way to combat fear. It’s to get your focus off your own anxieties and put them on the Prince of Peace, Christ our peace. “In this world you will have trouble but I have come to give you peace.”

JWK: How do you define worship?

JET: We’re all worshippers. We’re just wired to do that but most of us worship the wrong thing – or else we worship an idol that looks very much like us…Don’t walk into a worship service and expect to get something. Right there you’ve got your focus on yourself. Walk into a worship service and be prepared to give something – give God praise and thanksgiving. Again, gratitude for what He’s done, your salvation, your health, your strength, your job, your family, your friends. These are all gifts of God. Worship should be like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and just being breathless in wonder (at) how great God is. Amazing! I want the reader to rise to an excitement about worship.

JWK: And hope is very important.

JET: Yes! We can’t survive without it. People need hope. They need to know that…everything is going to be okay. The Christian hope is the confidence that one day – maybe not on this Earth – everything will be okay. Christian hope is heavenly hope. It is the assurance that, in the end, God will work out everything for His glory and for our good. If we could just but believe that we would be very hopeful people. We would be filled with hope. The way to that kind of perspective is Romans 15:13 (which) says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace…as you trust in Him.” So, if you want to be filled with joy, peace and hope it’s “as we trust in Him.” I love it that it’s “all joy and peace” – not just some.

JWK: And, finally, which I think you just touched on, “abiding in Christ.”

JET: Yes…To abide in Christ is to live on His grace daily, to draw from His strength every minute – and to acknowledge that.

JWK: And, of course, the Shepherd will come looking for you should you make a mistake and get lost along the way.

JET: Absolutely. He’s always looking for the lost sheep. He’s always out there pursuing us. I love Psalm 23 where (it) says right at the end (that) His mercy and goodness pursues us all the days of our lives. He’s running after us. He’s constantly a force of love and a deluge coming at us. He just opens up the reservoir of who He is and floods us if we would but just open up our eyes, open our arms and open our hearts to Him.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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