As a child I remember hearing the story of a teenage girl named Joni Eareckson who had become a quadraplegic after diving into the Chesapeake Bay. In a brief moment, Joni went from being an athletic 17 year old to spending her life in a wheelchair; unable to move her body from her neck down. In High School, I had the privilege of hearing Joni speak at Emmanuel Faith and then I got to meet her in person in college. I marveled at her faith in the midst of trials. How could someone who had lost all mobility and lived in constant pain, continue to proclaim God’s goodness, let alone learn to paint with her mouth, and run an international ministry for the handicapped?
This past weekend, Pastor Ryan taught from Daniel 3: “Faith in the Fire.” We know that fire refines and that according to Romans 5, suffering produces endurance. We may know that God is with us in the fire, but have we really experienced it? Can fellowship exist in the middle of a fire? Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that everything is worthless compared to the infinite value of knowing Jesus. Verse 8 says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”. This suffering produces a righteousness that depends only on faith in God. Verse 10 goes on to say, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
In the days following her accident, Joni’s story was long from over. The immediate pain and depression that she experienced was just a glimpse of the agony to come. Today, over 50 years later, which also includes a bout of cancer, Joni still wakes up every morning in pain; relying on her husband and caretakers to bathe her, dress her and care for all of her physical needs. Joni has been honest about her suffering; not minimizing it, but instead embracing it as such that she could connect with the pain that Jesus went through; sharing in his sufferings and experiencing sweet fellowship with him. Joni demonstrates a person who experienced God in the midst of suffering in ways that we may not experience him at other times.
Long after her accident Joni wrote, “It’s as though God is reintroducing me to suffering, like I”m brand new to it and have never experienced it before… yet perhaps the gift of this pain, this quadriplegia, this cancer, is that it forces me to recognize my deep, deep need of God..” In her suffering Joni found fellowship, another in the fire, holding her in her pain. Joni says, “He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.”
What fire are you experiencing today? Do you feel alone or are you finding fellowship with God in your suffering? Following is a link to “I am not Alone” by Kari Jobe. Take a few moments to listen to the words of this song. Believe it in your heart; you are not alone. Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Live)
Director of Counseling and Soul Care