God’s Comfort When You Are Discouraged, Depressed and Fear the Future/Program 6
|By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Michael Easley; ©2012|
|In our final session, we’ll focus our time on how to endure pain God’s way. In this program, we’ll hear some of the Bible’s words of hope and better understand how to apply its principles to our lives. As we do, we’ll find that despite our difficulties in this life, God is there and offers help in times of pain.|
Today on the John Ankerberg Show, God’s comfort when you are discouraged, depressed and fear the future.
- Tada: But just to simply trust and obey when you’re suffering. Don’t have to understand all the reasons why. That’ll come on the other side of eternity. God will turn over the underside of this tangled embroidery where there are so many dark and twisted threads that don’t make sense, and it’ll be all made plain. He’ll give us the key that will unlock sense out of our seemingly senseless suffering. And until that day, we trust and obey. And leave the answers to Him.
- Easley: I think in the frailty of our limping lives, God is doing something I do not understand. And my quest is not to be successful but to be faithful.
My guests are: Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni & Friends, an international ministry for people with disabilities; and Dr. Michael Easley, President Emeritus of Moody Bible Institute and lead pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. We invite you to join us for this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.
- Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. And I’m talking with Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada. And we’re talking about suffering and pain and how God helps you, and what about healing, and all these important questions that you have. And many of you, you are suffering at home right now. And you have a multitude of things that we could point out that might be affecting you right now. But the bottom line is, you’re coping with it. And yet, if you have constant pain like these guys do, chronic pain, debilitating pain, screaming pain, that just grabs everything in your universe, as it goes on. What I want to talk about today is, as it goes on and on and on and wears you down and it keeps on going, how do you cope with that? What does God help you do? Joni, 45 years you’ve been in this wheelchair. Then, a couple of years ago, I hear you have breast cancer and you go in for chemo. And then, on top of that, your tailbone, your sacrum there is splintering, and you’ve had operations where they never even gave you anesthesia. And now you’ve got screaming pain throughout your body. And I’m saying, alright, if you aren’t the one that can talk to all the people that are suffering out there, I don’t know who to invite, okay. So, I’m asking you. Let’s start with this thing. You’ve got pain right now. I watch you take the pills right now; same thing for Michael. You’re hurting right now. Let’s start with the cancer. This is like Job 1, 2, 3 and 4. Give me an update on the cancer, and then how’s God helping you through all this?
- Tada: Well, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, a three inch tumor in my breast. I went through a mastectomy and very rigorous time of chemotherapy which ravaged my already frail body. My thin bones, very porous, pain was off the charts; nausea, sickness, my eyebrows falling out, eyelashes, my hair. And my husband Ken is driving me home from chemotherapy one day, and we started talking about how suffering is like little splash-overs of hell, like little whoa, whoa, what was all that about? Like, wake up. And then we started thinking, well, what are splash-over’s of heaven? If the splash-overs of hell are those things that God permits so as to wake us up out of our spiritual slumber, well, what are the splash-overs of heaven? As we drove up the road toward our home and pulled into the driveway, we paused for a moment, and I said, “You know, Ken, I just don’t know that splash-over’s of heaven are those days when things are easy-breezy bright and comfortable. I do think that splash-over’s of heaven are finding Jesus in my hell.”
- To find Jesus in the middle of your splash-over of hell is so indescribably sweet, because I just do not think that I could daily take up my cross with confidence, did I not first embrace the cross that Jesus took up on my behalf. There’s nothing sweet, nothing satisfying about cancer, quadriplegia, pain, if I do not first find sweetness and satisfaction in His cross. I think my life is one big flannelgraph of Philippians 3:8-10 where the apostle Paul says, “I want to know Jesus.” Oh, yes, I want to know Jesus. I want to know the power of His resurrection. Bring it on, Jesus. I want to know the fellowship of sharing in His suffering…. Well?
- And then He beckons me into this inner sanctum of that fellowship where I am to become like Him in His death. Bingo! That’s what my life’s all about. Jesus has whispered in my ear, “The core of My plan for you, Joni, is to help you get rid of sin. And I’m going to help you in the strangest of ways. Your pain is going to be a dark companion, but a companion nonetheless, though it be very dark.” And so, daily I become like Him in His death. I pick up my cross daily and die to the sins that He died for on His cross. That’s what it means to become like Him, to become symbiotic with Him in His death. I die to the anxiety. I die to the fear of the future. I die to the discontent and malcontent of not wanting things to be this way. I die to that, Jesus, if I could but exchange it for Your life, Your peace, Your contentment, Your joy, the sweetness, the savoring of that aromatic embrace of the Savior. That’s what my life is every single day. And cancer was just one more push, shove further down that cross, dying to…
- Ankerberg: Were you surprised?
- Tada: Oh, sure. I mean, I don’t want your viewers to think that I’ve got this all figured out. I’m no veteran. I’m no professional at this. I am not a strong person. I am the weakest of people; but I know enough that, when I wake up in the morning, I’m needing Jesus desperately. Somebody said to me the other day, “Oh, you know, He allows all of this to you because He can really trust you with it.” I said, no, no, no, no. He allows it because He knows that I know I cannot be trusted with it. I’m the least likely candidate to enjoy life in a wheelchair. Remember, I’m the athlete. I’m the hockey player. I’m the rock climber, the beach camper, the tennis player. I’m the least likely candidate. But I also know enough about me to know that I’m going to go where the hope is, and that’s at the cross. That’s at the feet of Jesus every morning.
- Ankerberg: Michael, you face screaming pain every day. How do you cope? How do you keep going when you know it’s not going to change tomorrow and the next days; it’s probably only going to get worse?
- Easley: I’m thinking, Joni’s comment about, I call them platitudes, that people say to us. You know, “we learn so much from you,” or this type of thing. I go, you know, I’d trade this in a heartbeat. I would give this to all kinds of people. I’m not that spiritual. One of the reformers said it’s not how well you’re doing, it’s how well you’re doing when you’re not doing well. And I think that’s become sort of my, you know, prayerful hope in the process, is that, number 1 for me, I’d do the next thing. And I’ve given this counsel as a pastor for 30 years: when your spouse dies, when your child dies, no matter what the trauma is, you do a load of laundry; you’ve got to do this or that for me. I’ve got to get out of bed in the morning and I feel like a gravel truck just hit me most mornings. And I’ve got to get into a hot shower. I’ve got to get my medications going.
- And, secondly, I go down in my basement and I hunker down with this for a half hour or an hour, sometimes longer. And it’s this where I find life.
- And, thirdly, I have to do something for someone else. If I’d just look at the preoccupation of suffering and pain in Michael’s life, I’m a bitter, cynical, apathetic person. But once I get out and do something for someone else, whether it’s, you know, someone whose marriage is in trouble, helping my family, interface with my wife and kids, their struggles. It’s not about me. “This life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” I’m dead to sin. I’m very alive to it. I’m very alive and tempted for selfishness. One of our worship leaders back at the church I’m privileged to serve has written a song, and part of the descant is, “Our struggle here cannot compare with what we have to gain.” And when I get through the one, two, three clarification steps, John, I’m able to say, you know, this is nothing compared with what I have to gain.
- Tada: Hallelujah!
- Easley: And it gives us hope. It gives us hope.
- Ankerberg: I want you to talk about a lady that you know that’s even worse than you two guys. It’s the story of the gal that’s got the problems with the nerve endings.
- Easley: Yeah, Barbara has MS. I believe it’s pronounced trigeminal neuralgia headaches. Different types of MS manifest differently, and it’s these excruciating headaches. In fact, she and I learn the word together from Latin, “excruciate;” it’s from crucifixion. And she’s in the same boat, no pain medications will help her. And she says, “I have three things in the bottom of a dark tunnel: me, God and pain. She has to stay in her bed. Physical touch, noise, light, all put her over the top. She has to be carried to the restroom and bathed in what she calls these episodes. And when she comes out of them for a brief spell, I will talk to her and say, “Barbara, how do you do this? How do you do this?” And she says, “When you’re alone with you, God and pain, no one can do anything for you. But you draw close to Him.”
- And my friend Jim, with the two liver transplants, he said there’s a sweet place there. No one else is there except Christ. Now, do you want to go back there? No. But when you are there, there’s no place else to turn. And as I hear Joni speak, and listen to Barbara, I want to slip off my shoes when I hear them talk; because I don’t do it that well, John. And that’s the body of Christ, where they’re ministering, imperceptibly, in their struggle, to people they don’t even know. And this is the life of faith: that my circumstances may not change; will I be faithful regardless of them?
- Ankerberg: We’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to hear more from these two. Stick with us.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking to Joni Eareckson Tada, and we’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley. And where I want to go in this segment is that, Joni, you’ve been in that wheelchair 45 years; Michael, many, many years in terms of this constant pain. How do you conquer your fear of what lies up ahead? You guys are both intelligent people. You know where this is going. The last thing you want, Joni, is another operation. The same thing for you, Michael. But it may come. Also, our lives are coming to an end. How do you conquer this fear of what lies ahead? Joni, you want to start us off?
- Tada: I must confess, I am a little afraid of what lies ahead. I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t afraid. And so, what I do to quiet my heart is much of what Michael just shared. You know, I hunker down with God. I do the next thing. And I think of the needs of somebody else around me in a situation more difficult. That helps. But I also sing. I usually memorize a song when I’m traveling. I try to memorize a hymn. And, gee, on this trip it’s “Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, both soul and body bear your part. To God all praise and glory.” Be joyful in the Lord, my heart; soul, come into alignment; stand at attention, get erect. Body, get in line with the Lord. Get in line with the Spirit. You’ve got work to do today. Rally your sensibility.
- I will speak to myself. I will sing to myself to keep me happy. “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow,” the Bible tells me, “and I know He watches me.” For me, it’s such a comfort to my soul to sing to myself, to quote Scripture to myself, to remind myself of things I know to be true. And I have no idea what lies ahead. Like I said, I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m afraid. But perfect love is going to cast out that fear: when time comes, and I need His love, it’ll be there.
- Ankerberg: Michael.
- Easley: You know, I want to go like my grandfather did, quietly in his sleep, not screaming like the passengers in his car. (Laughter) I think fear is one of those things, it’s indefinable at times: when you first learned you had to have a bypass; when you first learned you have cancer; when you first learn you need yet another back surgery, and this one’s big. You go through a cycle. But I guess for me, John, just knowing the actuaries: you know, we’re going to leave our wives, more than likely. And from just a pragmatic point of view, this is the day He’s given me. Will I be faithful in it?
- A couple of quotes that I keep in the front of my Bible. One is Phillips Brooks, 1884, from a little devotion called The Candle of the Lord. He writes “The reason we’re led into and out of trouble again is not merely that we may value happiness more from having lost it once before and gained it again, but that we may know something which we could not know except by that teaching.” And I love this, “That we may bear on our nature some impress which could not have been stamped except on natures softened to receive.” And I think, in the frailty of our limping lives, God is doing something I do not understand; and my quest is not to be successful, but to be faithful. I will try to bless Him today. I hope I won’t be a cynic tomorrow. I can get into that very quickly. I can get bitter very quickly. But if I go back to those three, you know, I get up in the morning. I do the next thing. I spend time with Him, and I’m directed to, “How do I serve You with what I have today?” I don’t really fear a lot about the future. It just doesn’t worry me as much.
- Tada: First Peter 4:19, “So then those of you who suffer according to the will of God,” do two things; number 1, “commit yourself to your faithful Creator.” That’s trusting God. And number 2, “continue to do good.” That’s obeying God. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way,” really to be happy, is just to simply trust and obey when you’re suffering. Don’t have to understand all the reasons why. That’ll come on the other side of eternity. God will turn over the underside of this tangled embroidery where there are so many dark and twisted threads that don’t make sense, and it’ll be all made plain. He’ll give us the key which will unlock sense out of our seemingly senseless suffering. And until that day, we trust and obey and leave the answers to Him.
- Ankerberg: Michael, there are a lot of people that don’t know the Lord Jesus personally. They know about Him. They have no idea what you guys are talking about.
- Easley: You know, a verse that many of us perhaps stumble across at some part of our journey, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not of yourselves. It’s a gift of God, not as a result of works, lest no man should boast.” And for whatever reason, that verse just rocked my world; because I was living in the “do’s and don’ts” religious system. If I do these things and don’t do these things, then maybe I have a chance to get to heaven; but not so sure. But to understand that God, in His kindness, gave me this grace, undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. And by faith, by belief to appropriate, to trust in Him to do for me what I can’t do for myself. He miraculously gives me this gift called eternal life. And that transaction is indescribable of human terms, that He loved so much that He gave us this gift.
- So for me this is the great hope. If there was nothing else, I would eat, drink and be merry. I would go out and party my brains out and just be hedonistic and satisfy my sinful cravings—and do all that to what end? And I would die. But to know that I have the hope of a living God who loves me, cares for me, who loves everyone hearing us talk today, or watching this broadcast, that He loves you. He sent His one and only unique Son, monogenes, one of a kind Son.
- I often say I would die for people. I would die for Cindy; I really think I would. I would die for my wife. I would die for any of my kids. There wouldn’t be a discussion. But you know, John, as much as I love you, or Joni, as much as I love you, I would not give either of my kids, any of my kids for either of you. That’s what Christ did. He was the Son of God. God the Father gave His monogenes, His one and only. No greater demonstration of love. And that’s how much He loves everyone who’s watching and hearing us. And for you to trust today, to put your faith and confidence in Him,… and that goes back to the hope, the hope that we have beyond…. We’re all headed toward the grave; nobody gets out of here alive. So where do you want to be? And we want to compel our friends listening to us to put their trust in Christ, in Christ alone, for their salvation.
- Ankerberg: Joni, sometimes when I listen to you, I think you’ve already made a visit to heaven, because I’ll sometimes I feel like you’re already living on that side of the tracks. Hope is something that God has given to us that is fantastic, okay. Let’s close this series of programs. Talk about the hope you have for the future.
- Tada: I am such a citizen of heaven. I live, eat, breath, hope. I have such a wonderful eternal hope. Jesus, my blessed hope. The God of all hope overflows in my heart when I trust and obey Him. Real, real quickly, I remember there was a time when a woman had called our office desperate. Her husband, a pastor, the year before had broken his neck in a motorcycle accident. He had lost his pastorate, was severely depressed, had shut himself in his bedroom, in bed, turn off the lights, turn on the air-conditioner, draw the shades, keep it dark. “I don’t want anybody in here.”
- And she asked if I would speak to him on the phone. And she tucked the receiver under his phone, and I tried everything to get through to this man. He was a pastor. He knew all this stuff that Michael was talking about. And yet, singing to him, praying with him, speaking about all those portions of Scripture; nothing got through. And then I said, “Ron, have you ever seen a movie called The Shawshank Redemption?” And I heard this giggle on the other end. And I said, “Well, remember that line in the movie where Andy Dufresne is sitting with his prison buddy Red in the yard, and he’s saying, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” And I said to Ron, “There are 15,000, maybe 20,000 other quadriplegics like you and me, and they’re deciding whether or not they can get out of bed this morning. Ron, you’ve either got to get busy living or get busy dying. Would you join me in getting busy living today?”
- And I will tell you this, to make the story short, months later he came to one of our family retreats at our ministry. This man eventually had reassumed the pastorate. He passed away a month ago, but when I talk about him, I think how precious a gift is hope. And I want our friends who are watching this today to embrace the God of all hope, mercy, comfort, grace, and to know that He holds the answers in His hand. Just take His hand, and that’s enough. That can be enough. You might not know all the answers, but just having Him embrace you, holding His hand, that’s enough.
- Ankerberg: For all that you guys have said, I think my audience would like to give you a collective hug and just say thank you. Very few people, maybe nobody that they know, has talked to them like you’ve talked to them. And God has used you, I believe, in a great way in ministering and encouraging and helping and answering questions that so many people have. Thank you for making the effort to come all the way from your homes to here, and all the effort it took for you just to do these six programs. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We appreciate you very much. We’re going to continue to pray for you.
- Tada: Absolutely.
- Ankerberg: Folks, thank you for being with us. Join us again next week.