God’s Help When You Suffer – Program 3

By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
Death is coming. How can you prepare yourself to face eternity?


Finishing Well

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. My guests are Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada, and today we’re starting with you, Joni. Our series of programs has been for folks in our audience that are suffering. First you hear the bad news; we’ve covered that. What goes through your mind; what God does for you. Then we had the second program which is the duration. Now we come to the fact of the finish. Death is coming. For some that are watching right now, it may be this week it’s coming. It may be in 24 months it’s coming. They don’t know when it’s coming, but they know it’s coming, alright. And we’re going to talk about approaching the finish, because both of you thought you were going to die many times here, especially you, Joni, and I want to go back to some of these events. Let me introduce it this way. You broke your neck when you were 17, been in that wheelchair for 46 years. During the last 12 years you’ve been racked with searing pain that nobody can help you with. Then in 2010, on top of all of this, you’re told you have breast cancer, okay. What went through your mind?
Tada: Well, the very first day I got the diagnosis my depression lifted, because I thought this is my ticket to heaven.
Ankerberg: I’m out of here!
Tada: Oh, my goodness, I’m going to be out of my wheelchair after so many years, so many decades, dealing with so much pain over the previous decade. But then in the same instant I looked into my husband’s eyes, and I saw tears well. And I heard him confess to my sister Jay, who had come out to California to help me with my mastectomy and chemotherapy, “I might lose my best friend,” he said. And when I heard him say that, that totally revolutionized my thinking. I began to look at my cancer in a whole different way. I looked back on my years with chronic pain and quadriplegia as kind of a Jeremiah 12: If you can’t run a foot race successfully against men, what makes you think you’ll race against horses?
Well, in the previous decade I had been in a pretty rigorous foot race with this chronic pain. But now, with the cancer, I was in a race against horses. And all the lessons I have learned—how to lean on Jesus, the scriptures that had meant so much, the hymns that I sang to myself to console my soul in the middle of the night—all that rallied to help me look at cancer as, you know what? God’s going to do something big here. And I often quoted Dr. John Piper, this cancer isn’t going to win if I die; it’ll only win if I fail to cherish Jesus Christ. But die or no, I’m going to hold fast to Jesus.
And that cancer of the last three years has brought me and my husband together in such a warm intimate, personal way, has melded our hearts in this sweet union around the Word of God. I know it’s odd to say this, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Besides, I’ve got this marvelous hope of heaven, John. I’m a big fan of Jonathan Edwards, a great American theologian. He once said that everything we do down here on earth has a direct bearing on our capacity for joy, service and worship in heaven. I don’t want to waste my suffering. I’m certainly not going to waste my pain. And I am not going to waste my cancer. I’m going to get actively engaged in a partnership with God to invest in heavenly glories above, not only for my sake but for my husband’s. He means the world to me.
And I wear this crown around my neck. It’s a necklace. I don’t know if your viewers can see it, but it’s a little crown. And I’m not wasting the cancer or the pain or the quadriplegia, because I’m accruing crowns in heaven that I’ll have a chance to cast at Jesus’ feet. And what a glorious day that’s going to be.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I think they’re going to have to have a truck to bring them in. But let’s talk about you and Ken. Let’s get personal. In your book about you and Ken, An Untold Love Story, and you’re telling it, folks need to hear this. And the folks that are approaching death, we want to come back to that. But before you get there, this pain that you are having, the searing pain and the daily routine and it was just pushing you guys over the edge, and it was separating you. But talk a little bit about how God started changing both of you, and how this cancer actually did bring you back together.
Tada: I’ve often said to Ken that, you know, when I die it’ll probably be of pneumonia. That’s what they tell me, the spinal cord injury statistics. And I remember one particular bout with pneumonia. It was horrible. I mean, it’s bad enough being paralyzed, lying flat on your back with gravity as your enemy, but then to not be able to breathe and sit up is just so claustrophobic. So during the night Ken had to get up many times to sit me up in bed, get behind me, press on my abdomen, pound on my chest. His hands were filled with wet tissue, phlegm all over his arms. And he’s coughing me and coughing me, and lays me back down, and I am worn out. He goes back to bed. I am worn out. And I remember praying, “Jesus, I need to see You. Tonight I need to feel Your touch. I need to know You’re here. Show me, Jesus, Yourself.”
Well, I drifted back to sleep just for moments, and then the phlegm began to gurgle and I had to call Ken again. He gets up, comes over. And in the dim light of the bedroom lamp I look up and I said to him, “You’re Him, you’re Him.” And he said, “Who?” I said, “You’re Jesus.” It was the most eureka moment, to look into my husband’s eyes and to see the face of Jesus. And it was a revelation to me how God gave me my husband to be my savior, my rescuer, my deliverer; to represent, as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, an earthly deliverance of this wonderful heavenly spiritual deliverance that Christ had offered me, Ken was offering me as standing by my side as my advocate. He was my savior, at least on earth, representing Jesus, oh, so well in the midst of my pain.
Ankerberg: Say a word to those that are sick and have people like Ken taking care of them. The folks that are taking care of them, some of them feel trapped. They can’t get out. Their strength is gone too. And it’s like after the tenth time, please wake up and turn me, you didn’t want to ask that eleventh time, the twelfth time, okay. What do the people that are sick need to say to the caregivers? We’re going to cover this up ahead a little bit more. But right now let’s throw it in.
Tada: “Thank you. Thank you!” Our lives should be one long epiphany of gratitude to all those around us who relieve our hurts, who share our burdens, who carry our cares, who intercede on our behalf. “Thank you.” And to mean it from the bottom of your heart. A spirit of gratitude is a precious thing when you’re hurting, when you’re in pain. But to not only say thank you, but to affirm those people around you, recognizing them for the sacrificial efforts they are making. I have often said to Ken, “Sweetheart, you’re amazing. You just put me to shame. I so admire your perseverance. I recognize that quality in you, and to me it speaks volumes on how I can persevere. Thank you, sweetheart.” I mean, those are all ways of gratefully expressing gratitude, just an affirmation of what God is doing in their life. And we who are sick, infirm, ill, we have this incredible opportunity to build them up in Christ, to edify them, to get in partnership with the Holy Spirit and become part of their own sanctification, their own growth in Christ. That’s a wonderful job for somebody like me in a wheelchair: to thank a caregiver and mean it from the heart.
Ankerberg: What would you say to the person that’s dying right now? How can they calm their heart? What do you want them to know about Jesus? If you start to go into a tailspin next week, what are you going to be relying on?
Tada: Well, I would ask our friends watching to keep by their bedside a list of scriptures that will be their anchor in the midst of the maelstrom. Pilgrim’s Progress has a marvelous chapter toward the end where Pilgrim is facing that turbulent river that he needs to cross before he enters the Celestial City. And his faithful companion, Hopeful, has been by his side those many miles. And he keeps his hand on Hopeful’s shoulder, and together they step into this swirling river of death. And the current is so strong, the whirlpools are so great, that Pilgrim feels himself going under. Hopeful never looks back; he always keeps looking forward to the Celestial City. But Pilgrim knows enough to keep his hand on the shoulder of Hope.
Those scriptures by your bedside can be your way of keeping your hand on the shoulder of hope, reaching out to the Lord Jesus, seeing Him as your blessed hope, the One who’s going to lead you across that turbulent river of death to that glorious moment when you’ll step on those celestial shores, leave behind the death, the disease, the disability, the pain, the sorrow and get birthed out into heaven’s lap. And you’ll start laughing and you’ll start crying and you’ll look around and say, “I knew it was going to be this good, but I can’t believe it’s this good. It’s really this good.” And those are thoughts that bolster you and keep your heart focused where it needs to be. Fix our eyes on Jesus, not only the author, but the finisher of our faith.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I always think about Jesus has got His hand on me and He’s not going to let go. I might be too weak to hold on, but I don’t have to worry about it, because He’s going to hold on to me through the river. Now, folks, we’re going to come right back and we’re going to talk with Michael; because, Michael, you almost died as well. What were you thinking about? And then I’m going to ask you to take us into a situation where you come to the person that is dying and the family is there. And you and I and Joni, we’ve all been there, in the situation where you come into the room and this is the last thing that’s going to be said. What do you say to the family? What do you say to the person last time around? Stick with us; we’ll hear that in just a moment.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada. And, Michael, you almost died. Take what you believed during that time and apply it to this situation, where you come into the room of somebody that is dying—husband, wife, maybe even a child. The family is around the bedside and the person that’s dying wants to know, how can they be sure they’re going to heaven? There’s other family members that maybe are even skeptical about even talking about God because the person is suffering. First of all, what’s the message that you would convey to people that are dying, or see up ahead that they’re going to die pretty soon? What does God want them to know?
Easley: Dr. Howard Hendricks, a great friend and mentor for 30 years, had this saying, that we think we’re going from the land of the living to the land of the dying, when it’s just the opposite: We’re going from the land of the dying to the land of the living. And I’m struck, John, that in the gospel of John several times Jesus is troubled. He’s troubled in His spirit. He’s troubled at Gethsemane, the oil press. And yet, after the Upper Room Discourse when Judas has betrayed Him and left, the first thing He tells His disciples is, “Do not be troubled. Believe in Me, believe also in My Father. For where I go there are many dwelling places, many mansions for you.”
And it strikes me that the solution to anxiety and trouble and fear is trust. Christ was facing an excruciating death—excruciating, the Latin term for crucifixion—an excruciating death on our behalf. And we’re all fearful when we face that threshold. We’re walking on this threshold of that one time we cross it. And I don’t know; like Joni, there’s times I’ve wished I would die. I would rather die than live with this. But, you know, there are people; Ken’s here, Cindy, my kids are here. There is something to be said for living faithfully as long as we can.
So, first of all, I’d say, number one: it’s okay to be troubled. Christ was troubled. But the solution to that is to believe in God. And in that discourse we note perhaps too well, in verse 6 He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” And so we’re trusting in Christ’s work, the one troubled who takes all our sin, your sin, my sin, Joni’s sin, all our sin, on the cross. The wrath of God is poured upon Him in our place, instead of us. And then, by trusting in His life, death, burial, and most importantly, resurrection, He grants us not only forgiveness of sin, but eternal life. This life is dim. It’s foggy. It’s a mist; it’s a vapor. And we cling so to, our healthcare, we cling tenaciously to pain-free existence. And I really wonder, when we wake up with that celestial air, we’re going to go, “Why did we worry so hard to cling to this life, because it’s not life? It’s the land of the dying to the land of the living.” And the hope that we have in Christ is the only hope that I know to give.
And so, whether it’s a child, a parent, the angry family in the waiting room, that I share the simple message that Christ shares with His disciples: “Don’t be troubled; believe. Don’t fear; trust Me.” When you cross that threshold in the old hymn, “the things of the world will grow strangely dim,” we should modify it, the things of the world won’t mean anything to us. It’ll blow our minds when we see Him face to face. And I think the hope of heaven is something we need to rekindle. We’re clinging to the wrong place. We’re trying to make earth heaven; and earth will never be anything better than a clean bus station at best, because we’re journeying to the undiscovered country, to a new land, a new hope with Him.
Ankerberg: The person in the bed says to you, “Michael, I don’t have Jesus in my life. How do I receive Him? What do I have to do?”
Easley: Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us that it is “by grace that we are saved, through faith, not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.” Grace is undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. We all are on a freight train going to hell. Undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. By grace you’ve been saved. By faith; faith is the means by which, it’s the way we embrace; we hold on to, we take. So I like the words “believe”, “trust,” “have faith in Christ.” “By grace you’re saved, through faith, not of yourself.” You and I can’t do a thing to garner God’s attention. “Not as a result of works.” Why? Because I could look at Joni and say Joni’s done this a whole better than me; live like Joni. John’s done it better than me; live like John. No, you can’t; there’s no index to say do it like this person. So, “not as a result of works.” Why? Because we could boast about it: Well, do it like me, do it like Joni. It’s a gift of God and the recipient embraces the gift, trusts the giver.
So, simply said, I’m putting my faith in Christ by grace; I’m believing Him through faith; not what I do, but what He’s done. And the remarkable thing is, He grants you, He grants me eternal life, eternal life. Not disabled life, not painful life, not depressing life, not discouraging relationships, eternal life with Him. You know, the reality, John, is we’re all going to live forever. It’s either with Christ or separated from Christ. These bodies were not meant to live forever, but we are designed in the image of God, and we will live forever either with Christ or apart from Christ. And the gift is available for any and all who believe.
Ankerberg: Right now, I think there’s a lot of people that have listened to you and they say, “I want Jesus,” because if what you’re saying is true, and they believe in their heart that is true, they want it. They want to go to heaven, but they want this Jesus. They know they’re sinners, Michael. They know that they’re not going to stand before God and have a case to be made why God ought to let them into heaven. They know they’re not headed that direction. I want you to lead them in a prayer that they could say right now that would allow Christ to come into their life, where they could invite Christ into their life, if they desperately want Him to come in. They just want Him to come in, alright. Would you pray that prayer? And, folks, I’d like you to pray this prayer with Michael if you would really like to invite Jesus into your life to be your Savior, to take you to heaven, to forgive you of your sins.
Easley: It could be as simple as this—and this is not a prayer to me or to John or Joni, this is a prayer to God, your Father. And it would be simply something like this. “Dear Father, I recognize I’m a sinner. Nothing I can do can gain Your attention or get Your favor. But You loved me and You sent Christ to die in my place, on my behalf, instead of me. And by trusting, by believing, by putting my faith in You, I receive a free gift called eternal life. You forgive me of my sins and you move me from a destination of death and separation to a relationship with Christ forever. Thank You for this indescribable gift of forgiveness of sins, of a relationship with Christ and that You now dwell in me in the Person of Your Spirit. And may my life be a thank you back to You for all that You have done. And I pray in the powerful, resurrected name of Christ, amen.”
Ankerberg: Thank you. Romans 10:13 is a promise to you if you prayed that prayer. It says, “Whosoever”—who does whosoever mean? It means you; put your name there—“shall call upon the name of the Lord”—if you called, if you prayed, what does God say He’ll do? The last three words in the verse—“shall be saved.” That’s what God did to you.
Now, folks, as good as these three programs have been, with these two, wait until you see the next three. We’re bringing their mates out here. And we’re going to talk about the same situations, but through their eyes. Because how many of you are taking care of your mother, your father, your husband or your wife? They’re suffering, but you’re the caregiver, okay. These are the guys that are suffering. I want to talk to the people that have been taking care of them. How do things look through their eyes? We want to encourage the caregivers. So I hope you’ll call people and tell them to listen. This is going to be fantastic stuff. I can’t wait to do these programs with Cindy Easley and Ken Tada. All four of them will be here, so join us next week.

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