About Joni Eareckson Tada
Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is an international advocate for people with disabilities.
A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families, as well as training to churches. Joni and Friends serves thousands of special-needs families through Family Retreats, and has delivered over 100,000 wheelchairs and Bibles to needy disabled persons in developing nations.
Joni’s lifelong passion is to bring the Gospel to the world’s one billion people with disabilities. Joni survived stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, yet keeps a very active ministry schedule. She and her husband Ken married in 1982 and reside in Calabasas, California.
Did Controversy Stir Interest in Joni Eareckson Tada’s Song?
“I think that controversy stirred a lot of interest. I was amazed at the numbers of people in the entertainment industry, in Hollywood, Rolling Stone Magazine, and Billboard Magazine even the Hollywood Reporter commented what a good song they felt it was, and how they felt the academy perhaps had succumbed to too much pressure in rescinding the nomination. But a lot of people listened to it, and in a way I was saved from having to sing this song in front of a billion people at the Academy Awards.”
Joni Eareckson Tada’s Take on Living With Suffering
“Well, I’m never surprised by suffering. I think, we Christians tend to live in life’s joys dreading the coming sorrows. That’s the way our culture has skewed our thinking but the Bible says the Christian should be living in the midst of life’s sorrows and tasting the coming joy. Too often, I think that we as believers would love to erase the word suffering out of the dictionary. We want to give it ibuprofen. We want to medicate it, drug it, escape it.
Believers want to shove it aside, we want to divorce it, institutionalize it, surgically exorcize it, clone it, kill it, do everything but live with it. We just don’t know how to live with suffering and actually, Michael, to be quite honest, we don’t know how to live with suffering apart from Jesus Christ. I know that the times when I sense the most powerful, sweet, poignant, tender intimacy of the Lord Jesus is when I go to Him and say, ‘I can’t. I cannot do this.’ And indeed Jesus says, ‘Without me you can do nothing.’ So I think sometimes we forget that.”
Joni Eareckson Tada on The Danger of Being Self Sufficient
“We tend to look back on that time when we first came to Christ and we say to God, ‘You know, I’ve been a Christian a while and I’ve kind of got the ropes. I kind of know the lay of the land. Lord, I’m going to start my day here and I promise I won’t do anything stupid to stain your reputation. I’m not going to do anything untoward which will smear or sully your good name. But you know, I’ll keep my nose clean. I’ve got the lay of the land. I can do this. So let me handle it from here, God.’
We just go out into the day living life under our own steam. We don’t live with an utter reliance on the Lord Jesus. But it’s suffering which pushes us to that point of “Help, I cannot do this” and causes us to lean hard on the grace of God. Suffering is a mystery and I cannot explain it, but I do know it is not a mystery without direction.
The direction the Bible gives us is to constantly look at Jesus, look to Jesus, lean on Jesus. He wrote the book on suffering and, oh my goodness, when they hang you on a cross, like meat on a hook, you ought to have the last word on suffering. He’s the go to person. He’s the one we cleave to. If it were not for our afflictions, I just don’t think we’d lean as hard on Him daily as we should.”
The Lie That We Can Handle This Life on Our Own
“We think we can and that is the lie, that not only our culture but our adversary would love for us to believe: that we can do this on our own, but we simply can’t. One of the verses that I often think of when things become a little overwhelming is Luke 9:23, ‘If anyone would come after me,’ the Lord Jesus says, ‘he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
I used to think my cross was my wheelchair. But my cross is not my disability, I think my cross is my attitude about the wheelchair. It’s my attitude about the disability. That’s what I have to put to death. To take up your cross means you put to death something in your life that needs to be done away with. My attitude at times stinks! It is so rotten.
I know so many people with disabilities around the world, especially in developing nations, people that I’m friends with. I see how they handle their disability in the midst of crushing, bruising, poverty and pain with no medical clinics, no doctors who are prescribing medications, no help, no social support. God has made the poor of this world to be rich in faith. They inspire me.”
What Inspires Joni Eareckson Tada?
“In fact, I have a photograph on the wall next to my desk. It’s a man in Africa who’s a paraplegic. He was unable to come to our wheelchair distribution. He was able to take some alcohol to deaden his pain. There was no other medication available. For the most part, he lives an extremely humble life doing what he can to eek out a living in this desperate plight that he lives in. Thankfully, the villagers have taken great pity on him because he is a remarkable man of good character.
I keep his photo on the wall. When I wheel into my office and I’m grouchy or I’m peevish and I don’t feel like going on, I want to throw in the towel before the day has hardly begun. I glance up and there’s that man. I don’t even know his name, but he inspires me. He represents to me the one billion people with disabilities who live, and eighty percent of them live in developing nations like he does.
Oh my goodness, I want to do all I can to put to death that rotten attitude that I have, to mortify it, to take up my cross and crucify my peevish spirit and persevere, not only for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of brethren like him. We are called to not only honor God, but to also honor those around us. I owe my Christian sisters and brothers a good testimony, because I’m intimately and intricately linked to them and my victories can become theirs. I certainly don’t want to spread cowardice, or fear, or timidity or bad attitudes by my rotten perspective on the day.”
How Joni Eareckson Tada Knows God Differently Because of Pain
“Take for instance James chapter 1:12, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. Ok, we know that in our heads, but God wants us to feel it in our bones. He wants us to feel it in our bones. How do we persevere under trial, except in the midst of an overwhelming trial, we utterly cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ.
Then we know Him not necessarily better, but we know Him deeper or differently. We know Him perhaps more intimately because we have stepped inside the inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. And I know that many people look at that portion of Scripture from Philippians and say, “That’s just about persecution.” To participate in the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings, is to have a good attitude when you’re nailed to a cross. That is doing something for the sake of Christ. That is bonding with Him in an intimate and personal way when you’re persevering through trial.”
We Can’t Endure Suffering Without Christ
“We’re hard pressed on every side but we’re not crushed. We’re perplexed, and truly we are perplexed, but we are not in despair. Man, we are close to despair. Sometimes it feels like I’m so close to despair. We are persecuted. We are not abandoned, we are knocked down, but we are not knocked out. For every day, we carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be revealed in these bodies of ours.
That’s from 2 Corinthians 4. That’s such a pillar, when it comes to moving forward into our walk with Christ, for you too, Michael, and I hope for our listeners who are struggling. I trust that these wonderful lines from the Bible will encourage our friends.”
What Joni Eareckson Tada Would Say to Someone Losing to Suffering
“Well first, if that person was in pain, albeit facing a short life expectancy, I would remind them that their citizenship is in heaven anyway. For we all eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power who enables Him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies. Perhaps there are friends listening to us whose bodies are racked with pain, or disease, or terminal illness, well God is going to transform that lowly body, so that it will be like His glorious body. That is a hopeful thing to look forward to.
It is so encouraging to know that your suffering will not be wasted as you persevere and trust in Christ. Isaiah 50 says, Let he who walks in darkness, who has not one ray of light, trust in the name of the Lord. Even if you’re in spiritual, emotional, and physical darkness, trust in the name of the Lord, for your citizenship is in heaven. He is going to transform your lowly body to be like His. Continue to trust Him because you are indeed enlarging your eternal estate. Jesus is going to embrace you and say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You have persevered and now enter in and the joy of your Master.”
Joni’s Encouragement to Unbelievers Experiencing Suffering
“But if there are some listeners who do not know Jesus Christ for whom their sufferings are a waste, my encouragement to them would be, not to let it be that way. Do not waste your sufferings. And do not waste your life of sin. Bundle it up. Put it at the foot of the cross. Confess it before your God and invite Him to sit on the throne of your heart and allow Him to send His Holy Spirit to empower you to live the kind of life with what few remaining days you have.
To live the kind of life that will not only please and honor Him, but accrue for you a citizenship in heaven and a rich welcome, and a reward awaiting you in heaven. Let this suffering be not that what drives you away from God, but let suffering be that, which drives you to Him.”
Did you miss Part I? Listen here.