Joni Eareckson Tada

Where is Jesus when you need Him most? Whether it’s a chronic condition or a tragic accident, even believers find themselves ill-equipped to handle the myriad of afflictions that often catch us by surprise. That’s why it’s so important to learn now from those who have come before us, people like Joni Eareckson Tada who discovered just how essential it is to practice daily closeness with Christ.

“Suffering has a way of heaving you beyond the shallows of life where your faith tends to feel ankle-deep. It casts you out into the fathomless depths of God, a place where Jesus is the only One who can touch bottom.” —Joni Eareckson Tada, The Practice of the Presence of Jesus

In this conversation with Charles Morris and David Wollen, Joni discusses the many ways she experiences the presence of Jesus in her own daily life—even when overwhelmed with pain and fatigue. Whatever you may be going through right now, we pray this conversation will help you discover new ways to experience Christ daily, even when He seems far away.

More from Joni Eareckson Tada

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What does it mean to practice the presence of God? Rather than relying on “cafeteria-style spirituality,” Joni Eareckson Tada reminds us that God shares His joy on His terms—and His terms call for us to, in some measure, suffer like Jesus.

In fact, Joni goes on to describe how Christians too often want to numb or run away from pain and discomfort. But if we want to get to know this “man of sorrows,” God wants us to feel our own afflictions deeply.

Listen in to the full Haven Today radio series featuring Joni’s full interview to hear more about practicing the presence of Jesus.

The Practice of the Presence of Jesus by Joni Eareckson Tada

Daily Meditations on the Nearness of Our Savior

Discover the joy of intentionally dwelling in the presence of God as Joni Eareckson Tada weaves contemporary insights with the timeless wisdom of seventeenth-century monk Brother Lawrence.

“Suffering has a way of heaving you beyond the shallows of life where your faith feels ankle-deep. It casts you out into the fathomless depths of God.” — Joni, from the Introduction

The Practice of the Presence of Jesus ushers in wisdom from two everyday saints—Joni and Brother Lawrence—to teach and inspire you to experience the nearness of God in your life. Through rich devotional content from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, accompanied by original art and never-before-published insights from Joni, you’ll experience a unique blend of past and present wisdom on such themes as humility, thankfulness, fear, worship, obedience, and more. Each devotion ushers you into the peace of the Good Shepherd.

It’s not something I talk about often, but having had polio affects my life every single day — especially since post-polio symptoms have increased as I grow older.

I don’t remember catching the virus at 18 months. It was the early fifties. Polio was at its height, running rampant, killing or paralyzing people for the rest of their lives. The Salk Vaccine — the first major step to eradicating polio — came out just one year after I contracted it.

Thankfully our Seventh-day Adventist physician in a small Kansas town insisted my parents drive me to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Wichita. It was there that I received the life-saving treatment invented by Australian nurse Sister Kenny, where hot moist towels were wrapped around my body multiple times a day.

While this didn’t rid me of all of the effects, it remarkably relieved the outward symptoms. It probably saved me from living a shortened life in an iron lung.

So as far back as I can remember, I’ve had to live with a disability.

Weakness on one side, fatigue all around. While other kids could go run and play, I had to spend six or seven summers of my childhood in the hospital for orthopedic surgery. I spent weeks at a time on crutches with a cast either over my effected leg or even my good leg.

Decades later, the illness I had hoped would only torment my younger years returned, and now I have what doctors call post-polio.

When I read about the reemergence of polio in America today, I shudder to think of what some people are going to have to go through, as I did. Two biblical instances speak loudly in my ear, even to this day. Paul was given his thorn in the side, and Jacob lived with the lifelong limp the Lord gave him after his famous wrestling match in Genesis. Just like Paul, I have prayed for God to heal me, but my disability has been what he used to draw me closer to him.

On a practical level, I am reminded every day of my weakness, but I am also reminded that the Lord is strong. And it is out of his strength that he gives me the grace I now experience in abundance — something I can share with others.

All last week, Joni Eareckson Tada has joined me on the program. From a wheel chair, paralyzed from the neck down, she’s outlived so most other quadriplegics. And yet every day she turns her face toward heaven and looks to where her strength comes from. That bolsters my own faith and gives me the impetus to do the same thing.

Joni’s new hardback book Songs of Suffering has also become a resource that helps readers seek refuge in the Lord — even in the midst of hardship — and rejoice in his goodness.

We all have troubles as Christians, yet God’s Word promises that if we just keep looking to Jesus, he will lead us through it all into his glory when we finally see our savior face-to-face. That’s a hope I hang tightly to in my own daily struggles, and I know that’s the case for Joni as well.

But before I sign off, I also want to remind you that Haven has a team of prayer warriors standing by to take your requests for prayer. Whatever may be happening in your life right now, you can always follow this link and let our team know how we can pray for you.

About the Author

As the leader of Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” Charles is a former secular journalist, who has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He began working in the Christian world after seminary, coming to Haven as the fourth speaker in 2000. He and his wife, Janet, have written several books, including Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus.

Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls

As an author, speaker, and advocate for people with disabilities, Joni Eareckson Tada has inspired people around the world with her story of faith in the midst of suffering. In this beautiful collection of hymns and devotions she acts as a “song leader,” guiding readers through their own painful seasons with heartfelt praises to God.

Songs of Suffering includes 25 hymns with accompanying devotions and photography designed to spark hope in hardship. Opening with a special message from hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty, this book is a source of comfort for anyone who needs biblical encouragement, prompting readers to seek refuge in the Lord and rejoice in his goodness.

There’s something about music that powerfully connects our minds with our hearts. Few people know this as intimately as Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident 55 years ago. She has also battled stage 3 cancer, pulmonary hypertension, and chronic pain. In the moments when it becomes too painful to even string two words together to form a prayer, Joni says that hymns are often her most dependable source of comfort that leads to Jesus.

In this conversation with Charles Morris, Joni discusses how hymns have been a constant companion in her relationship with Jesus. Even in her darkest moments, these “songs of suffering” are what the Lord uses to comfort her, guide her, and give her hope.

Whatever is going on in your life today, we pray this musical and encouraging conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada will help you discover new ways to rejoice in Christ’s peace and goodness, even during your own painful seasons in life.

More From Joni Eareckson Tada

You can also find the podcast on …

If you liked what you heard, please write a review and help new listeners discover the show!

Sign up for the Great Stories Podcast newsletter to get a weekly update on new episodes each Wednesday. 

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.