Prophetic Preaching By Tim Moore (Editor’s Note: Our special contributing author, Pastor Robert J. Morgan,…
Hope in Lamentations with Joni Eareckson Tada (Part 2 of 4)
By Nathan Jones
In a recent episode of Christ in Prophecy, we interviewed one of the living heroines of the Christian faith, Joni Eareckson Tada. She is the founder of the ministry Joni & Friends which brings the Gospel and care to those who are challenged with disabilities.
Joni’s life changed in an instant when she dove into the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck. At the tender age of 17, she became a quadriplegic. Refusing to wallow in despair, she overcame unexpected adversity to serve as an example of how to live by faith through extreme suffering. In Part 1, Joni shared her testimony. In this next part, she will share some of the Bible verses that have helped her become an overcomer.
The Apex Message
Nathan Jones: Joni, let me tell you how much of an inspiration you’ve been to me. My father used to take me to book trade shows in Nashville, and I remember looking up at you and watching you paint. I can’t even draw a stick figure, and here you are painting with your mouth! This shows how young I was because I was looking up at you sitting in a wheelchair. And then, years later, when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism, I ran into you at a convention. You stopped everything and gave me some information about your ministry, Joni & Friends. My wife and I have been supporters of your ministry for 15 or so years now. So, I just want to tell you being an overcomer has been an inspiration to so many people, especially to my wife and me.
Joni Eareckson Tada: Oh, Nathan, thank you! I’m still drawing with my mouth. I recently drew a picture when my occupational therapist encouraged me in occupational therapy to draw something that expressed my feelings. And so, I drew my face in anguish. It is a face of, “Oh, God, I’ve got to do this. This is the way I’m to live my life?” Not only is it my portrait, but it is also everybody’s portrait. At times we all say: “God I can’t do this. This is my life? How am I going to manage?”
And so, that particular charcoal drawing pretty much expresses where I was at the time of my injury. And, oh, the difference the Lord Jesus has made! And it is why that particular charcoal drawing is one of my favorites, for it reminds me of where I have come from and the power of the grace of God to change things.
Tim Moore: You reminded me of what happened when Jesus spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth. He proclaimed a Messianic passage that was fulfilled in the hearing of the people sitting there that day. But, the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy, He did not read, for it pointed to a time when the Messiah would indeed fulfill the rest of the scripture which foretells that the Messiah would bestow “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” That is so evident in your life.
And yet, as we look into the book of Lamentations — a book of lament and despair — the prophet also has a moment when he glimpses the hope that exists even in the midst of despair. In times of trial and despair, what can Jeremiah the prophet teach from the book of Lamentations to those of us living today?
Joni Eareckson Tada: We all know that verse from Jeremiah 29:11. Some probably have it embroidered or placed on a plaque on our walls. “For the Lord knows the plans He has for us, to give us hope and a future.” And yet, Jeremiah wrote that as the people of God were being dragged off into slavery to spend the next 70 years in abject subjection to rulers and domineering tyrants. It was not an easy time for them.
I love Lamentations 3:21-26 because it is so hopeful. Jeremiah says, “But this I call to mind,” okay, whenever you’re suffering, whenever you are hurting, Lamentations 3:21, “…this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The Lord’s great love will keep me from being consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning.” Okay, right there — great is God’s faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion, I will wait for Him.” This calls to mind the goodness of the Lord Jesus and that He is especially good to those who hope in Him, to the one who seeks Him every single morning.
Nathan Jones: Jeremiah had just witnessed Judah being destroyed by the Babylonians and his people taken away into exile, so he is naturally lamenting. Exile is God’s tough love for hundreds and hundreds of years of Israel rebelling against Him and breaking their covenant. God shows them tough love. But, in the midst of their suffering, Jeremiah offers hope that the Lord is also giving. It’s rather a dichotomy, isn’t it? We’ve got tough love, but we also have God showing tough hope. How can we all gain that tough hope?
Joni Eareckson Tada: I love the way you put that, Nathan — tough hope. Hope is best described in Lamentations 3:32-33. These verses are anchors in my life, okay. These two verses have changed my life. Jeremiah says, “Though He,” that is God, “…brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.” Now, get this, “…for He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”
So, right there in that one little Bible verse, Lamentations 3:33 really reflects the heart of God. Though He allows grief and affliction to touch us, He doesn’t do it willingly, that is, He doesn’t do it from His heart. He did not want my diving accident to occur in the sense that He enjoyed it, or got a big kick out of it, or “Oh, let’s break this girl’s neck and now let’s see what I can do with that.” No. No. No! Suffering and affliction, when it comes to us by His overarching will and foreordained plan, is something that God takes no delight in.
That one little Bible verse — Lamentations 3:33 — reflects the heart of God like nowhere else in the Bible. Think of it, the book of Lamentations is divided into five chapters, and the first two chapters are each comprised of 22 verses. The last two chapters also have 22 verses in them. However, the middle of the book is chapter three, and it comprises 66 verses. Now, here is the intriguing part, the exact middle of that chapter is verse 33 which reads, “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” Wow! That Bible verse falls in the exact middle of the entire book of Lamentations. It is right at the apex of the entire book.
I think there’s a good reason why, because when it comes to suffering, whether it was the suffering that the prophet Jeremiah was speaking of to God’s people, or the suffering that God might allow in our lives, God wants us to know that He has the heart of a Father. We may not understand His ways, but He definitely wants you to understand that He has the heart of a kind and compassionate “Abba, Father, Daddy.”
It doesn’t make God happy to see us hit with hardship. But, oh, my goodness, it does make God happy when He sees all of the things He can do in your life due to it, and how He will encourage others through it, if you would but trust in Him and believe that His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!
In the third part of this special interview with Joni Eareckson Tada, she will give some biblical advice to today’s youth who are drowning in despair.