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.

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, tragedy will strike us all. Even Christians are not immune to the trials and sufferings that life presents us. In fact, the Apostle Peter says we should expect it.

So what is a Christian to do when faced with tragedy and loss?

On today’s episode of the Great Stories podcast, Charles Morris speaks with author and pastor Robert J. Morgan about the themes covered in his bestselling book The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times. Using the Israelites’ story in Exodus 14, as well as several real-life examples, Morgan shares how the Bible offers several effective strategies to help us go from fear to faith.

It is our prayer that this episode will remind you that the same God who walks with you into hardship will also guide you out.

More Related to Robert J. Morgan

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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.

Sometimes it seems that tragedy strikes when life is going well. I experienced this firsthand when traveling with Pastor John Dickerson, author of I Am Strong.

Before I boarded the plane for New Mexico, news broke about the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, CA, which is about 15 miles from my house. My mind raced to remember if my family might be home or out shopping. Would there be more attacks? Praying for San Bernardino and my family, I boarded the plane while sending a quick text to my wife and was relieved to hear they were all safe.

Later that afternoon, as John and I drove from Albuquerque to Taos, we listened to more of the breaking news and talked about how pain and suffering often come out of nowhere. It was a timely conversation to say the least—especially since we were on our way to meet and interview Joy Veron.

In 1999, Joy was on vacation with her family in Pogosa Springs, CO. On the last day of the trip, her kids ran ahead and jumped into the family SUV. Then the vehicle began to roll in the direction of a nearby cliff. In the blink of an eye, Joy and her dad raced toward the vehicle.

Joy’s body acted as a speed bump, slowing the vehicle enough for her father to leap into the SUV and brake just before they went over the cliff. But Joy’s heroic act cost her the use of her legs, and for the moment, her eyes.

Thankfully, her eyesight came back, but despite numerous surgeries, she was told that she would never walk again.

Even after 16 years, Joy is still moved to tears when she talks about that day. The event is still real. It still affects her every day. But when asked if she had the opportunity to not go through the accident, she quickly replied, “No.”

Joy is not a glutton for punishment; she has learned and continues to learn that relying on God while suffering is far greater than living without God in the so-called best of times. As Psalm 84:10 joyfully proclaims, “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”

Christians who rejoice in their suffering are not masochistic. The pain is real and it hurts! But as Charles Spurgeon so aptly put it, they have “learned to kiss the wave that throws [them] against the Rock of Ages.”

For those who are followers of Jesus, there is sweetness in suffering because He draws near to us in our pain. There is closeness with God in suffering that we don’t often experience when things are going well.

We can also take comfort in trials knowing that God will use it for many purposes. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God is using everything we experience in life – triumphs and trials – for our good if we are truly lovers of God.

Towards the end of John’s interview with Joy, she explained how God had not only used her suffering to draw her closer to Him, but to encourage others who were going through hard times. It reminded me of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “God comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

It was a pleasure to meet Joy on that cool, clear day in New Mexico. The sun was setting on the distant mesas while John and I drove back to the airport. As we reflected on the interview with Joy, we were encouraged that the promises of God for His people are always true. He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Troy Lamberth is the executive producer of HAVEN Today. On the side, he teaches film at Providence Christian College, produces documentaries, and often teaches at his church. He enjoys discovering how Jesus is involved in all aspects of our lives—from faith to film to family—and how our relationship with him shapes the way we live. He and his wife Melissa have three young children.

Friends wield significant power. They can build us up; they can tear us down. In God’s good design, they are one of the primary tools used to help us grow—especially during the hard times.
Think of Job. First, God allows Satan to take his property. Then his children. Then his health. So much of the Book of Job, though, is focused on how his friends react. These friends had the power to help Job, a sufferer, but ended up hurting him. Their negative example shows us what not to say to sufferers if we want to help them (For example, straight from Job’s wife’s mouth: “Curse God and die.”)
In Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, counselor Ed Welch has a few other things that we should not say to sufferers:

It could be worse.

What is God teaching you through this?

God will work this together for good.

What can I do to help?

We want to be better helpers than Job’s friends. So what do we say? What do we do? Many of us feel unqualified to help those we love and helpless to help in practical ways. But as Welch reminds us, “Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love. All they need is wisdom, and that is available to everyone.”
Here are some of Welch’s ideas of how to help:

1. Realize that we are needy.

Sufferers can smell pretension from miles away. And it stinks. But a friend with humility has the sweet aroma of Christ. This friend realizes that he or she is a sinner, also, and has his or her own struggles that may seem impossible to change. “Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength,” Welch writes. “Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow.”

2.  Realize that we are needed.

We don’t need a counseling degree to help, nor do we need decades of life experience under our belt. We mainly need the Word, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. In God’s design, the broken are assigned the job of fixing the broken. It is through broken vessels that God’s glory and love is best displayed.

3. Take the time to dig deep into those inside and outside of your circle.

Go beyond, “How are you?” to “How are you really?” Ask people more questions that will draw out their needs. Ask questions about their family, their job. Remember that we should be seeking out the alien, the lonely, those at church without friends—but also remember that we can’t save everyone. We should start with a couple people and slowly expand our net.

4. Pray, and really pray.

Welch says the best question we can ask sufferers is, “How can I pray for you?” And then pray for them right there on the spot. Then pray for them later, again and again. Follow-up the next time you see them to see how your prayers are being answered.

5. Don’t be afraid to confront people about their sin.

If we truly desire to point people back to Jesus, sometimes we also need to point out their sins to them, for sin is what separates us from God. Welch has hard words for who we are when we avoid confrontation about sin: “[W]e are Pharisees who, during a leisurely walk, avoid eye contact with the dying person we almost trip over.” Care more about their soul than what they think of you.

6. Be patient.

Love the person as you would be loved, you who have intractable sins yourself. Sins that cling, sins that you have spent years dealing with. If we need help in helping, we ask for help ourselves, from our pastors, our church. When we fail, we have even more opportunity to grow and learn and be sanctified.

Above all, be encouraged. When we participate in God’s work, it is not we who are doing the work—it is God in us. “As comfort comes, the Lord has blessed two people—both the one who prayed and the one who received comfort,” Welch writes. “Together they have witnessed the love of God and the Spirit’s power. That is how God builds his church.”
God, in His unfathomable goodness, is using sinners as bricks in His glorious building process. Let us rejoice and give thanks and “press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 3:14)
Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and two children in Virginia.