How to Engage Disability with the Gospel

Have you ever seen yourself in a funhouse mirror? In one mirror you’re half your height and doubly wide. In another you’re stretched out. The reflection is not reality, but it teaches us something about how we view the world and disability.

Our world is kind of like a funhouse mirror. Creation—including you and me—was designed to glorify God, to reflect His character and His priorities. But our “mirrors” are warped or cracked. The world, as Paul says, is sin-tainted and broken.

That brokenness extends all the way down to our DNA. Often disability starts there. “Disability is not an abnormal part of life in a normal world, nor is it a normal part of life in a normal world; it is a normal part of life in an abnormal world” (Stephanie Hubach, 2006).

We shouldn’t be surprised by disability. It’s part of the human experience. But how do Christians of varying abilities engage our disabled children, siblings, or friends with the gospel? It starts by viewing everyone as children of God.

Disability Hits Close to Home

Our son spent the first 100 days of his life in the neonatal ICU, and the medical team was forthright with us, saying he’d likely never walk, talk, or see. Still we held that tiny, tiny baby in our hands and knew there was nothing lacking, nothing less than desirable in him, nothing that reduced our love for him. He was indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, in the very image of God.

From the moment our son drew breath, he had a disability. But what does that even mean?

The prefix “dis” usually suggests something is lacking, less than desirable, needing to be fixed. So the word disability often carries negative connotations. But how does God view disability? How are we as followers of Jesus to view disability? How do you view the people around you impacted by disability?

When I interact with my friends who use a wheelchair to move around, who cannot hear sounds or see well, who struggle daily with pain, who seem unable to communicate at all, I am seeing individuals made in the image of God.

Is this perfection? Holiness? No, but I know full well that every part of us is distinctly, wonderfully made. Whatever our inabilities or abilities, the Lord has designed us perfectly for His plans in this world.

Disability and the Gospel

As our son grew older, he would have to discover this for himself.

A hard day in parenting a child with disabilities is the day the child realizes he is different from other kids. For us, this began a repeating drama which centered on our son tearfully asking us why God made him this way.

“His disciples asked him, ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither, …’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:2-3

In this short passage we see that Jewish culture affirmed that the blind man was made in the image of God. But it also believed his disability was a curse from God for sin, either that of his parents or of his own.

Some Christians around the world still hold this perception today. The truth is, we may not be able to fathom what the Lord is doing in our lives. But we know that whatever our disabilities and imperfections, we have a Savior who not only sees our worth but also conquered sin and death to make us holy and righteous in His sight.

God delights to transform us to be holy as He is holy. This comes through faith in Jesus. When you trust in Him, you believe He is with not only your mouth, but with you for all eternity.

“In every situation and every circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.” John Piper

The Many Forms of Disability

In Scripture, we read about those who are lame, those who can’t speak, those who are deaf, and those who are blind. We read about those with chronic illness and behavioral challenges. These are reflective of what we know in our world today, too.

When we consider disability, we may think of the visible forms it takes (as with someone who uses a wheelchair or someone with Down syndrome). There are also less visible disabilities such as sensory processing disorder, traumatic brain injury, or fetal alcohol syndrome. Often with aging will come other kinds of disability like dementia, vision loss, and chronic pain. The “temporarily able bodied” begin to realize that if we live long enough, disability will arrive in our own lives. When we comprehend how wide-ranging it is, our fear of disability lessens and our compassion expands.

Disability is everywhere, but the brokenness of the world won’t last forever. God has compassion on those with disabilities, and that is good news for all of us.

How Churches Can Engage

Have you ever worked on a puzzle and in frustration thought, there must be a missing piece? In our house, this usually results in a family member walking by the puzzle and randomly, easily finding the piece thought to be lost. If even the one piece were truly gone, the puzzle would feel incomplete. A church without members who have disabilities is as incomplete as a puzzle missing a piece.

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in four Americans has a disability. Yet few churches reflect that mix. Sometimes we may not know if church members are impacted by disability. We must ask, are we intentional about reaching out to, adapting our teaching for, and enfolding those around us whose lives clearly are impacted by disability? As we have been observing, God has a heart for disability ministry and the disabled. But do we?

If we don’t, we’ll never know how incomplete we are. As we welcome these families into our fellowship, we see the richness they add to our church communities and soon will find it difficult to imagine life any other way.

I know families who have struggled to be a part of “regular life” activities, but caring for their loved one with disabilities makes it hard to do so. Often it’s just easier to pass on going to restaurants, sporting events, parties, church services, etc. The effort it takes to mount up an outing doesn’t feel worth it. They begin to settle for going it alone and withdrawing from the community.

When our son was younger, the exhaustion of trying to manage him in public settings pushed us in that direction, too.

Praise God for loving friends and family members who keep inviting, keep reaching out, keep dragging us along! And especially praise God for His Word which instructs us of the truth that we were made to be in community. He warmly welcomes us all into life and especially into the church.

What You Can Do

If you want to engage disability with the gospel, you can simply start by reaching out, showing up, and making a place for people of all abilities to find love and community with God’s people.

Though all of our abilities differ, we need each other to be the complete community He has called us to be. He sees each person impacted by disability as critical to the body of believers. After all …

“Missing pieces do more than complete the puzzle; they fill in an empty space.” (unknown)

More Resources

  • This article is adapted by this month’s Anchor Devotional by Kevin Daane. To follow along for the rest of the month or start from the beginning, you can click here to find the digital edition for August 2022.
  • Follow this link to start getting Anchor Devotional in your mailbox.
  • This week on Haven Today, Charles Morris is joined by Joni Eareckson Tada to talk about the hymns that have brought them through their greatest trials. Click here to listen.
  • Get a copy of Joni Eareckson Tada’s incredible new book Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls.

About the Author

After 18 years as a pastor and counselor, Kevin Daane is now the director of ministry engagement for Engaging Disability With The Gospel, an organization which helps churches enfold our friends with exceptional needs into the body of Christ. His wife Kathy is the editor of Anchor. In 35 years of marriage, they’ve learned much and have been humbled often, especially through parenting their son with exceptional needs. Kevin enjoys biking, hiking, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with family, particularly their new grandchild, a baby girl. What gives him the greatest joy, however, is pointing people to Jesus.

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