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Christian Growth Through Experience: Joni Eareckson Tada’s Story

July 28, 2017 Leave a comment

It has often been observed that people who have little difficulty in life remain shallow and do not mature as much as those who experience more problems in life; and trials are promised to believers, to help us grow.  Sometimes also we can learn from the lives of others, and see the similar inward growth that they have experienced. The personalities and the actual trials and experiences are very different, yet God works the same new birth and growth in His people.

One of my readings in the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge is a memoir/autobiography:  Joni Eareckson Tada’s “The God I Love:  A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus,” from 2003, a Kindle deal earlier this year; regular price is $4.99.  I think I had heard of Joni’s story from other kids, while growing up in the late 1970s, but first read Joni in my early Christian years, around 1990; in the late ‘90s I read the sequel (her move to California, learning to drive, and relationship with Ken Tada).  This later book does not include all of the same details from the previous two autobiographies, but looks at her whole life from early childhood on (the accident, the beginning of the first book, comes at the Kindle 40% point), through her later successful years in the ministry Joni and FriendsThe God I Love is a tribute to her parents, but also her perspective in later life as she wonderfully describes the providence of God and her inner spiritual growth through the years, in response to the accident as well as later events.

Joni’s background included a happy childhood in suburban Maryland, in an affluent and naturally gifted family (her father was on the 1932 Olympics wrestling team, and an artist), as well as a strong Christian and healthy (normal) family; her personality was friendly, outgoing, popular and well-adjusted, and a good network of family and friends who supported her after the accident — though with a very strong daredevil trait, as evidenced in her many experiences in horseback riding.  Despite these many outward differences (from me), though, the inner life and spiritual growth of a Christian is one that all maturing believers can relate to:  the “wow” moment of regeneration, when suddenly everything became clear, the new heart to love God and desire to follow Him (for Joni, at age 14), and the initial interest stagnating at a shallow, superficial level (and her subsequent backsliding);  then an event which put a stop to the backsliding (her diving accident) and began anew the serious focus and study of God – a gradual process over several years.  Then, after the great trial: building new memories and realizing God is still with you, that “it will be okay.”  Later, having overcome the initial trial and taking on a new challenge in life – thinking that now you have it all together and can coast along; finding out by experience the daily need to stay close to God.  That lesson must still be learned again, years and decades later; when you think you have accepted the life circumstance that God brought to you, and doing okay there, then God throws another problem on top of the original one.

Besides being a great artist, Joni writes so well and expresses her life lessons learned, including several gems such as these:

(Seven years after the accident, in 1974)

We had entered another ordinary, brown-paper-packaged moment and unwrapped it, discovering a hidden grace—grace that was able to suffice, atone, and make up for anything I might have lost.  Whether howling like a coyote over some newfound truth in the Bible or blending my voice with others’ in an ancient Latin antiphon, the moments kept whispering, “Hang on.  One day you’ll bathe in joy like this.  Satisfaction will shower you, peace will encompass you—and it will last forever.”

After her initial fame and doing the Joni movie:

With rest came repentance.  A lot of sucker shoots had sprung up during the year the movie was made, … I took inventory of what was worth keeping and what needed to be cut away.  Things like neglect of God’s Word …. trifling in prayer… cherishing a puffed-up idea of my own importance … most of all, feeling I could run my life on cruise control.  I repented of it all and asked God to give me his strength.

… Each mile I put between the past and the future in your hand, I learn more of your providence and I find out who I am.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in her new life of exciting travel to Eastern Europe:

I knew God was requiring me to make choices.  He was revealing walls in my life he wanted to tear down—not Berlin-sized walls, such as confinement to a wheelchair, but small ones: pride that raised its ugly head, the temptation to rehearse successes, my still-fierce competitive spirit, the constant itch to have things my way.  Now Jesus was taking a sledgehammer to my despised walls, reminding me that his freedom doesn’t mean merely, “Obey my rules,” but, “Obey me.” The old guard was crumbling…

The point made in the Challies’ Reading Challenge, and noted by others in reference to the value of reading, is so well taken: read a variety of different types of books.  Reading serious Puritan theology books, and Spurgeon sermons and other devotional material, have great value.  But it’s also good, and part of a well-balanced Christian life, to also read biographies and memoirs, especially of strong and mature Christians.  Joni Eareckson Tada’s The God I Love is a superb autobiography, a story that puts so much of life into perspective while realizing more and more that we all have our trials, and that maturing Christians will experience great trials, great difficulties – some have it in outward hardships, or physical problems (it was necessary for God’s purposes, for Joni to literally break her neck, to get her attention), while others experience it in more inward ways of depression and the “slow martyrdom” described by Spurgeon, of difficulty in family relationships – yet we all grow and come to learn the need for daily dependence upon God, and to have greater love for God, the One who is in control of each of our lives.

 

 

 

Increase our Faith

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Over a year ago I briefly mentioned this topic, with a quote from Spurgeon’s “The Necessity of Increased Faith.”

The local pastor recently discussed an amazing story from his dear friend — the man’s daughter miraculously healed of Lyme’s disease (truly something to praise God for, something beyond all we can understand) — and in marveling at the amazing power of God, declared a hope for God to “increase our faith.”  The meaning he apparently attached was the general wish, hope, and nice thought, that God will continue to amaze us by showing the great things He can do in people’s lives and situations, such as this recent testimony of God’s healing.  It was a nice thought, but passive, lacking in depth and understanding as to how God accomplishes the increase in our faith.

It is an easy thing to say “Lord, increase our faith,” but through my own experience I realize that greater faith comes with diligence on our part. (James 4:8, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.)  During my early years of Christian faith, I only understood the basic gospel message, salvation in Christ and having my sins forgiven.  Yet like most young, immature believers, I did not mature or increase in faith so long as I stayed in the same basic situation — singles group teaching and more socially-focused weekly study groups, and only casual Bible reading.  The lack of discipline and diligence in such a life led too often to emotional moments of despair and self-pity, doubting God while focusing more on self’s desires.  Increase of faith never just happens as we continue idly in a routine situation with lack of effort on our part.  Only since taking on more effort, listening to and reading good sermons and spending more time in God’s word, have I noticed true spiritual growth and increasing faith.  As with any growing believer, now I face far greater trials of faith than in those early years; yet the times of doubt and despair — though they still come — do not last nearly as long, and the way out comes to mind more readily: recalling specific Bible passages that answer to a particular personal difficulty and uncertainty; relating specific Bible situations to my own; understanding God’s Divine Purpose of the Ages.  Greater faith reflects on greater understanding, to take God at His word, fully trusting in what He promises concerning our glorious future and the great things yet to come.

Well said Spurgeon, concerning the increase of faith — in its extent, of what it will receive:

Usually, when we commence the Christian life, faith does not grasp much—it only believes a few elementary Doctrines. I find that many young converts have not gone much farther than believing that Jesus Christ died for sinners. By-and-by they get a little advanced and believe Election. But there is very little beyond that they receive—and it is not until many years that they believe the entire Gospel. Some of you, my Hearers, and a great many that are not my hearers are miserable little cramped souls—you have learned a cast-iron creed and you will never move out of it. A certain somebody drew up five or six doctrines and said, “There are the doctrines of the Bible,” and you believe these. But you do not want to have your faith increased—for you do not believe a great deal more that is in the Bible.

…I think, as we grow, we shall have our belief increased. Not only are there a few cardinal Doctrines that will be enough to steer our ship by, north, south, east, or west, but we shall begin to learn something about the north-west and north-east and that which lies between the four points! Many people, when they hear something a little contrary to what they have usually heard, say at once, “That is not sound.” But who made you a judge of what is sound?

So true that is.  (Spurgeon then went on to give a specific example of increasing faith — his then new understanding concerning the Millennial Kingdom.)  Thus, when the local pastor prays that God would increase our faith, it comes across as very shallow and insincere.  For he who casually says “increase our faith” doesn’t really want it — since he picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe, even declaring that those who want to “divide” in fellowship over differences in eschatology are being divisive about things as unimportant as food and drink.

A few more quotes concerning the connection between increase of faith and our understanding of the scriptures:
John MacArthur:   if you never get anything else, get this, your faith, your trust is based on your view of God. If you’ve got a little God, you’re not gonna trust Him. So if you want more faith, you get into the Bible. Find out what kind of a God you have, and that’ll increase your faith.

J.C. Ryle especially states the case concerning diligence and growing faith:

All that believers have is undoubtedly of grace. Their repentance, faith, and holiness, are all the gift of God. But the degree to which a believer attains in grace, is ever set before us as closely connected with his own diligence in the use of means, and his own faithfulness in living fully up to the light and knowledge which he possesses. Indolence and laziness are always discouraged in God’s word. Labor and pains in hearing, reading, and prayer, are always represented as bringing their own reward. “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4.) “An idle soul shall suffer hunger.” (Prov. 19:15.)

Attention to this great principle is the main secret of spiritual prosperity. The man who makes rapid progress in spiritual attainments–who grows visibly in grace, and knowledge, and strength, and usefulness–will always be found to be a diligent man. He leaves no stone unturned to promote his soul’s well-doing. He is diligent over his Bible, diligent in his private devotions, diligent as a hearer of sermons, diligent in his attendance at the Lord’s table. And he reaps according as he sows. Just as the muscles of the body are strengthened by regular exercise, so are the graces of the soul increased by diligence in using them.

Do we wish to grow in grace? Do we desire to have stronger faith, brighter hope, and clearer knowledge? Beyond doubt we do, if we are true Christians. Then let us live fully up to our light, and improve every opportunity. Let us never forget our Lord’s words in this passage. “With what measure we use;” to our souls, “it shall be measured to us again.” The more we do for our souls, the more shall we find God does for them.

Receiving Grace

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

From the daily J.C. Ryle quotes email, I noticed the following from the recent 4th Mark of Regeneration:

The Regenerate man values grace. Those who have most grace, and are most like Christ, are those he loves most. He feels that they are members of the same family with himself, his brethren, his sisters, children of the same Father.

It appears that J.C. Ryle is talking about differing levels of grace amongst believers:  if some are “most like Christ,” it suggests a difference; that some, while believers, are not at the same level of spiritual maturity in their walk as others.  Certainly the Bible does suggest this in some places, such as discussion of the believer’s rewards (gold or silver, versus wood, hay and straw).  Some Bible passages talk about a “measure of grace” we each received, as apportioned by God (Ephesians 4:7).  2 Corinthians 6:1 warns believers against receiving the grace of God in vain; many ideas have been suggested concerning what that means, and one suggested meaning is that it refers not to salvation, but “to the loss of potential blessings related to spiritual growth, knowledge, and joy… they have failed to progress in their Christian growth and stand in danger of losing those spiritual blessings and rewards they otherwise might have obtained.” Certainly I have come across similar ideas before, such as when MacArthur speaks of the believer’s greater reward from our faithfulness to Him in this life  — a greater capacity to know, love and glorify God.

In a brief conversation with someone concerning my present circumstances, he encouraged me to “be assured of receiving grace.”  I was unfamiliar with such wording, “receiving grace,” but I think I understand the idea.  God gives us grace to handle whatever situation He has placed us in, and sometimes gives more grace.  When a person experiences a time of spiritual awakening and renewed interest in the word of God, coming to understand and love God’s word all the more, that is evidence of receiving grace.  Then, when that person experiences greater trials, some persecution of being misunderstood — even compelled to continue attending a church at which the preacher does not truly search out and honor God’s word — that too is a situation in which the person receives grace, the grace to persevere through this test.  As I’ve read before, I think from Spurgeon, the more recent convert does not have tests so difficult, but as the believer matures, greater tests and trials will come.

And now for some great words from John MacArthur, which relate so well to one such greater trial of dealing with professed believers who are more interested in getting along, who neglect the study of God’s word and disparage those who do study it.  From a “Strength for Today” devotional:

The focus of theological discussion also reflects the contemporary hostility to knowledge. To a shocking extent, truth is no longer the issue; the questions being asked today are, “Will it divide?” or “Will it offend?” To ask if a theological position is biblically correct is considered unloving, and those who take a stand for historic Christian truth are labeled as divisive.

But knowledge is inseparable from moral excellence and Christian growth. It should be obvious that people can’t put into practice truths they don’t know; we must first understand the principles of God’s Word before we can live them out. Peter knew well the importance of knowledge in developing a stable Christian walk and the assurance of salvation that accompanies it. Therefore, he urged his readers to add knowledge to their moral excellence. Gnosis (“knowledge”) refers to insight, discernment, and proper understanding of truth. …

The Bible commends child-like (i.e., trusting, humble) faith, but not childish faith. Paul exhorted the Corinthians, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking . . . in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20).