God’s Help When You Suffer – Program 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
Looking back in our lives, can we see times that God has been faithful in our past? But can we trust him to be faithful when we face bad news about our health?


The Diagnosis

Today on The John Ankerberg Show,

Dr. Michael Easley: There are places, everyone gets there, John, when all the props are knocked out, you’re alone with God and the acknowledgement, it’s just me and pain. I can’t; Cindy can’t help me; no one else can help me; medications can’t help me. And it’s okay, it’s okay to say, “I’m lonely, Lord, and I’m afflicted, and I really need your help.”
How will God help you the day you hear bad news from your doctor? When you come to realize you will be living with pain and suffering the rest of your life? How does God help you make it through each day under such trying circumstances? Or when you recognize you are approaching the end, how will God help you then?
Joni Eareckson Tada: And I started thinking back on all the times when God has helped me, small ways, little ways, big ways. And somehow it broke through the bizarre, twisted, mind-bending, confounded, dumbfounded reality of my quadriplegia.
My guests today are Dr. Michael Easley, President Emeritus of Moody Bible Institute, and lead pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee; and Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni & Friends, an international ministry for people with disabilities. Hear them talk about God’s Help When You Suffer on this special edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. We’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada, and we’re talking about three points in time that we’re probably all going to experience. And one is the big bad news that you receive. Your doctor tells you, you know what? You’ve got cancer; you’ve got ALS; you’re going blind. Or because of your accident you’re going to have this disability. Or maybe you broke your neck, and the fact is you’re going to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life; the bad news. I remember when my mother watched her best friend go through ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, for two years; suffered and died. And a week after my mother buried her best friend, then her doctor told my mother she had it. She had a clear picture in her mind of what the next 24 months were going to be for her. And she went into a nose dive. She went into depression. And I want to talk about that moment today, because I’ve got experts in pain here, experts who have faced this moment. And when you face this moment, I want you to have something to fall back on. Michael, you had one of those moments, and you were flying around the country. You were the president of Moody Bible Institute. You had, you know, thousands of kids at the school. And here you were; you’re starting to suffer with pain, and then all of a sudden, somewhere along the line you got the bad news. Tell me what happened.
Dr. Michael Easley: Well, since 2001, John, I’ve been dealing with pain and different degenerative disc disease issues, and had had one surgery and then a second one in 2008. And that was a defining time that said you have to change your life. I had a great doctor in Illinois, and he said, “Dr. Easley, you’ve got to change your life or you’re going to be in a bad way.” So, as I tell people, it wasn’t a hard decision, but it was a big decision, to change all that you had hoped to do and had intended to do with what your future was going to hold.
Ankerberg: So what did they actually do to you, Michael?
Easley: Well, the major surgery I had eventually was in my cervical region, and they sawed five vertebral body in half. They fused five levels on each side of my cervical region, and I’m held together with titanium rods and screws called a mountaineering system; I kind of like that name, a mountaineering system. So my neck is fused in most of the flexion areas. And as a result of the disc disease and the fusions, I live with 24/7 chronic pain.
Ankerberg: I remember when you told me you were going in, okay. And you didn’t know, Michael, that you were going to come out alive.
Easley: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay, so what was going through your mind?
Easley: You know, John, I’m a man of the Word and I find all my hope in the Word. People can give you some help and encouragement, but I have to go back to the scripture. And the psalmist, in Psalm 40, I call it hindsight theology. He does a great job in telling us, “I looked back on my life and now, at this present time, I can see God’s faithfulness.” And a couple points from Psalm 40 where he said, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” A: I don’t like to wait. I hate waiting, and it’s insufferable for me. The Hebrew is interesting there. It’s two words. It’s really, “I waited and I waited.” And I think for all of us who are faced with difficult news, or traumatic news, the unknown, the first thing you’re going to have to do is learn to wait patiently. And the Hebraism is, “I waited and I waited,” and we might say “and I waited and I waited and I waited.” But then he turns and he said, this is God’s action, “He inclined.” So the one in trouble, the one in pain, the one in difficulty, has to choose to wait on God. But then the psalmist says, “I looked back and He inclined His ear.” It’s like He cupped His ear down to us. And said, “He inclined His ear to me; He heard my cry.” We don’t get this: God hears the prayers of His people. It doesn’t change the situation, but the psalmist says in 116, “I love the Lord because He hears my prayer.” So I should love God just because He hears me.
Ankerberg: Yeah, Michael, and I love the fact that you say that this is hindsight theology in the sense that David is in problems. But while he’s approaching the problems that he’s in personally, and his enemies around him, the fact is, he’s looking back to other times that God rescued him. What you’re saying is Christians out there, listen, when you are faced with this, first thing is, stop for a moment; back up and look at the history of how many times God pulled you out of the mud before, out of tough situations, really tough situations. And then believe He’s going to do it again here.
Easley: And even if He doesn’t do it again, John, will we be faithful? Because He may not do it again. And I think part of hindsight theology is understanding: God’s been faithful to this point in my life; and I may not be better, Joni will not walk, but God is still faithful. And that’s where we hang our hope. He says, “He brought us up out of the pit.” And again, he’s looking back on a past event, so I know God helped me and delivered me at that point. And then he says, “He sat me on a rock.” And we’ve got an image here of waiting in the mire, in the pit, drowning in the mud, if you will, and God puts us on a rock. It may not be literally, but it will be spiritually. And it will be real in our spiritual lives. And then finally he says, “He put a new song in my mouth.” And as you and I’ve talked, and we’ll hear Joni’s story as well, that’s a transformation: that when you’re miserable and in pain and there’s a place, I’ll sing again one day. I’ll find joy again one day. And then he transitions and he says, “How blessed is the man who made the Lord his trust.” So now we take it full circle. When the trauma comes, when the bad news comes, stop, wait; wait on Him. Look back on your life, how He helped you in the past. You were in a miry place; He put you on a rock. I can trust You, God. And it might be a long wait, but there will be a day when I will have joy in my heart. And the man and woman who gets that, he or she is blessed.
Ankerberg: You’ve got this great illustration of getting prepped for surgery and going down the hall. Talk about that.
Easley: Yeah, a friend of mine, and I have shared this story of when they get you ready for surgery and the pre-op and they take your clothes away and they give you a scantily gown with holes everywhere, and they tell you to put it on, and they put IV’s in you, and the last act is you take your wedding band off, in my case, and give it to Cindy. And she gives me one last kiss, and you’re laying down with strangers. You can’t see their faces. They’re masked up. They’ve got their head covered. And they’re wheeling you down these halls of suspended ceilings and lights and exit signs and doorways. And it’s the corridor of death or life. Everything left behind. You say goodbye to your kids. I wrote letters to my kids. I wrote letters to my wife. I wrote letters to friends. Last sermon. You put it all aside, and you leave your clothes behind, your jewelry behind, and they take you into a room. And complete strangers put you on a table, put you under and you don’t know what they’re going to do to you.
Ankerberg: What was God doing for you while you were rolling down the hall?
Easley: Life, all the stuff of life, doesn’t mean a thing. You have three things: You have yourself; you have pain; and you have God. And those people are going to do their best. They are. That’s what they’re trained to do; and you trust them, humanly speaking. But whether you wake up or not is God’s decision. It’s God’s verdict.
Ankerberg: Alright, so talk to the person that’s just like my mother, that just heard this, and we’re going into a period of time, you may be coming to death. You don’t know. Or you’ve got a long duration, but your life has changed big time. What’s your advice to them on the basis of the Word of God?
Easley: It’s hard to face the change. It’s, not to minimize it—big decisions are tough—but what are you going to do? So you learn to wait; waiting I wait. And I’m patient on Him. And I’m transferring the energy of worry and fear and depression and discouragement as best, as feebly as I can. “Lord, I need your help. And there was a past time when You helped me. I’m clinging to that, Lord. And maybe again You’ll put me on a rock. And even if You don’t, I know You’re faithful. I know You’re a good God.” And it’s hard for all of us when we’re struggling and facing difficulties. We’re grasping for medical, for help, our spouses, people. No one can fix it for you. And in that spot of being alone with God and living in pain, I think that is the loudest teacher we ever have is that it’s just Him and me.
Ankerberg: Yeah, when I was talking about before that God’s helped you in the past; He’s going to show up again. You underlined a verse about being lonely. I think it’s what, verse 16? Tell us about why you put a box around verse 16.
Easley: You’re referring to Psalm 25:16 where the psalmist says, “Turn to me, be gracious to me, for I’m lonely and afflicted.” And there are places, everyone gets there, John, when all the props are knocked out, you’re alone with God and the acknowledgement, it’s just me and pain. I can’t; Cindy can’t help me; no one else can help me; medications can’t help me. And it’s okay, it’s okay to say, “I’m lonely, Lord, and I’m afflicted, and I really need your help.”
Ankerberg: I remember when I went in for heart surgery, okay. I had 10 bypasses all at the same time. People said there’s not that many arteries. All five were blocked and then feeder arteries were blocked. Everything was blocked, okay. And I told the Lord, “I don’t have enough strength to go through this.” And I remember rolling down that hall and, yeah, you’ve got nothing. I didn’t know if I’d come out of it. All I know is I had liquid peace inside. Jesus is enough, even when you don’t know what’s going to happen. All I remember, He was there. And it was so terrific that you could joke with the nurses. You could have a good time going, because He was there and He was in control, and that was enough.
And, folks, I’m telling you, the Lord will be with you, whichever way it goes, whatever your circumstances. In this program we’re talking about hearing the big news. The next program we’re going to talk about the duration. You come back from that and you’ve got to suffer, okay. How does God help you in that? And we’ve got experts on that again.
We’re going to take a break, and then we’re going to talk to the expert here. She has had this moment of bad news multiple times through her life. We’re going to ask her, does it get any better when you hear it again and again? What does she cling to? We’re going to talk to Joni Eareckson Tada when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada. The one and only Joni Eareckson Tada. And we’re talking to folks, Joni, out in the audience, that have received bad news. They might have gotten word from the doctor they’ve got cancer or they had an accident and they’re disabled or they’re going blind or all the things that happen to people in life. And they’re in turmoil, and they need a word of encouragement. They need a word of hope here. Take the time, maybe; I mean, there are so many times when you’ve heard this bad news. Go back maybe to the first one where I can’t think it gets any tougher where the doctor says, “Joni, your neck has been broken and you’re not going to walk again. You’re not going to be able to use those arms again.” Alright, take us back. What do you want to tell the people about that moment?
Joni Eareckson Tada: When doctors told me that I would never walk again, that I would never use these hands again, I don’t think I knew how to process the information. It just bounced off my brain. And I think I was somewhat comforted by an onslaught of get well cards and gifts, and stuffed bunny rabbits, and visitors coming into my hospital room, and so much activity, and going in for tests, and…. But then the reality struck when I was released from the hospital, sent home to the family farm. And I’m sitting in my wheelchair by a window overlooking the pasture, watching my sisters saddle up their horses to go horseback riding. And it’s quiet, and I’m alone, and I think that’s when the horror of the bad news began to sink in.
There were many long, desperately lonely days by that window, looking out over the pasture. And I think I literally beat myself up with memories from the past, all that I had lost. What if I had not taken that dive? What if I had not gone to the beach? Somewhere in the middle of that, a glimmer of a bit of encouragement came through. I recalled a friend of mine when he had come to visit me in the hospital had opened up his Bible—and a lot of people did that then—but he read from 1 Samuel. He said to me, “Joni, one day; I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but you’re going to look at your wheelchair and you’re going to call it your Ebenezer.” I said, “Say what?” And he read the passage from 1 Samuel where the prophet had seen this incredible rout of the Philistines by the Lord God. And so Samuel raised the stones as a memorial, and he calls it his Ebenezer. And he says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
In the last segment I was listening to Michael talk about remembering all the times. In fact, you, John, recounted it as well. Remembering all the times that God has come through, that God has been there. And sitting by that window, overlooking the pasture, I wondered how this wheelchair could be a stone of remembrance for me. And I started thinking back on all the times when God has helped me, small ways, little ways, big ways. And somehow it broke through the bizarre twisted mind-bending, confounded, dumbfounded reality of my quadriplegia, and I just clung to the cross. That’s where the Lord had helped me in the past. He had rescued me from hell. He had saved me. I had put my trust in Him as a teenager, and if it was only that, certainly that was enough. God had helped me there at the cross and He, in some incredible way, was going to help me daily bear this cross. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what tomorrow was going to be like. But it was a beginning.
Ankerberg: I loved your illustration that when you couldn’t move your arms, your legs, when you were on that Stryker table, you couldn’t even scratch your own nose. You had the claustrophobia. That you actually thought of Jesus on the cross and you hooked it up to Hebrews where He’s the great high priest who can sympathize, empathize, with what we are feeling. Talk about that.
Tada: I wanted so much to put my trust in the whole Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But God seemed so sovereign, and His sovereignty at that point scared me. The permanency of this paralysis; you mean God might leave me like this? You mean this is the way life is going to be? It frightened me to death. So I couldn’t—I know this isn’t theologically correct, and Michael will probably chide me for it later—but I just couldn’t wrap my heart or my head or my hands around the sovereignty of God at that point, at that point. Later on I did, but at that point it was too frightening. The future was too overwhelming. And so I ran to Jesus. “Oh, Jesus, You understand! You know what I’m going through. You can bear my sorrow.” And I’d thought about Jesus paralyzed on His cross. That thought came to me, and it comforted me enormously to know that my Savior understood what it meant to have hands that could not move. He was in a twisted, contorted position, nailed to that cross. And I felt as impaled to my wheelchair. But it was so comforting to know that my Savior understood. And not just that He understood, but that, because He overcame—His death, His suffering—He would give me the power to somehow overcome as well. It was just a little mustard seed size faith that I was wrestling with, but it was enough to get me started in the right direction.
Ankerberg: Alright, Michael, take that passage in Hebrews 4 about Jesus being our great high priest and explain that shortly.
Easley: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession; for we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we, yet without sin.” And we get this picture of Christ interceding on our behalf. Every pain, every disappointment, everything we’ve longed for, languished, wondered, He’s experienced. And so He’s interceding on our behalf. And so we cling to this great high priest where we’re completely inadequate. We have one who knows everything about us and who’s already been down that path. And that’s our link. I’m clinging to the high priest in my place, on my behalf. He understands everything that we’re going through.
Ankerberg: Joni, I wish I’d done a program for my mother. I can’t believe I never did. Okay, it went right over my head. I was swarmed over with what she was going through. But now I’ve got friends out there, and you’ve got friends, and Michael knows people, and there are people across the world that have heard the bad news. It’s going to change their life forever. It may shorten it. They may have a duration where they’re going to have pain and suffering. To those folks right now, they want to know, what do you want to say to them? Encourage them.
Tada: Oh, I would tell people first to just to take a big sigh. Breathe deep and sigh. And share your sorrow with friends, of course; but please be warned that although misery loves company, it’ll drag you down quick. So get around some hopeful people. Get around hopeful people who will pray for you, encourage you, point you to God’s Word. And then breathe in God’s grace, exhale fear. Breathe in God’s mercy, exhale anxiety and worry. Breathe in the love of God, and exhale fear of the future. And Michael says a wonderful thing about dealing with pain. His advice is, quote, “Do the next thing.” Just get up and do the next thing, and be looking for other people whose bad medical reports may even be worse than yours. They’re out there. They’re in your hospital. They’re in your neighborhood. They’re in your church family. Connect with them, pray for them. Even when Jesus was on His cross, His deathbed, He was thinking about others to His right and to His left. He was taking care of His mother and counseling His best friend at the foot of the cross even as He was dying. And He can give us grace to do the same. And the bright perspective that will overwhelm you when you’re able to look past your own diagnosis to the diagnoses of others, that’s when healing begins.
Ankerberg: Fantastic word. Michael, there are some people that say, “I haven’t got any idea of knowing Jesus like the way you guys are talking about Him.” How can they know Jesus intimately? How can they know that He’s the One that’s forgiven their sins and is going to enter their life and be with them no matter what?
Easley: At some point the props in life fail us. People fail us; friends fail us; stuff fails us; our health fails us. And unless we’re trusting in Christ and Christ alone, we have no hope. He lived, He died, He was buried, confirming His death. And then He was resurrected. And He was resurrected to a new life and He offers that to any and all who put their trust in Christ and Christ alone for their salvation. We’re so wired to do our part, to do our thing. What do I do to get God’s attention? Be a little better, works orientation—it doesn’t get any attention from Christ. His work alone. So we’re trusting in what He’s done on our behalf in our place. And by trust, by faith, by belief, He gives us a free gift, a free gift called eternal life. It’s the most lavish gift He can give. And so these bodies of ours that are decaying and decomposing and degenerating go away, and we get a new life, a new creation, that will be with Christ forever. And Joni will dance with Ken and I’ll be pain-free and it’s an eschaton, a new kingdom we can’t imagine. Why would we cling to the sinful carcass of self and disappointment when God gives us an offer of an eternal life, forgiveness of sins, fellowship with Him forever? It’s trust. Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
Ankerberg: And, folks, you can pray and ask Jesus to come into your life now. Just say, “I’m putting all my trust in You, what You did at the cross is all that’s necessary for me to stand before God, cleansed of my sin, and I’m going to trust You for that. Then come into my life and empower me. Help me to live in the circumstances that I’m living.”
Now, we’re talking in this program about hearing the bad news. Next week we’re going to talk to the sufferers about, you come home from the first big bad news, and now you’ve got the duration. You’re suffering with pain and it seems like it’s going on and on forever. Joni’s been in that wheelchair 46 years. Michael’s been suffering for a long time. How does God help you when every day it’s suffering and pain? A lot of you are there. Then we’re going to talk about coming toward the finish, because some of you are getting toward the finish.
And then our next set of programs, three of them, we’re going to have their mates here. How is it for the caregivers going through the same situation, when their mates heard the bad news? How did they react? When they’ve been taking care of them all of these years? What happens? What do the caregivers need to know? How do they get help from God? And then the caregivers, when you come to the end line. So that’s the series of programs, and I hope that you’ll stick with us. It’s going to be something I think that’s going to be very valuable. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next week.

Read Part 2


  1. […] God’s Help When You Suffer – Program 1 By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley […]

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