Desiring God Conference – Session Seven

At lunch time today Doug and I had lunch with Adam (aka Ochuk) who lives nearby. It was great to eat with him (and witness Adam eating his first-ever Big Mac). Ochuk is every bit as well-read and intelligent as one would assume from reading his web site. At dinner we ate with Jack, a new friend, who is a reader of this site. Jack shared with us about his wife, whom he recently lost after an incredible fifty-seven years of marriage. It was wonderful getting to know him.

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The fifth and final session of the day is “Suffering for the Sake of…” by Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni is something of an icon in the evangelical community and in earlier discussion Adam Omelianchuk, Doug and I agreed that it is likely that more people have heard of Joni than John Piper! The conference planners opened up extra seating in order to hold what they feel will be a large crowd of people eager to hear her testimony.

After another beautiful time of worship, which began with an upbeat, but worshipful South African song and ended with the “Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” John Piper introduced Joni. Prior to this, during the African song, Joni was off to the side of the stage, worshipping God by singing and dancing in her wheelchair. It was a beautiful picture of worship. The room was filled with thousands of worshippers singing and clapping their hands, ten or so signing their worship with their hands and indeed their whole bodies, and three or four dancing with joy in their wheelchairs. There was joy in that room – the joy that only Christians can fully understand.

We watched a short video which introduced Joni and her charity which supports the disabled. “Why is the woman in the video so happy?” Joni asked after she took the stage. Because God is happy! But this begs the question, why is God so happy? God is so happy because He is satisfied in His Son. He never tires of boasting about His Son. Jesus shares His joy with us so that His joy might be in us. The catch is that God only shares His joy on His terms, and He may just call us to share in suffering. She quoted often from Shawshank Redemption. “Hope is a very good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Am I going to get living or am I going to get dying?

Joni shared some of her testimony about her accident, hospitalization and hopelessness. And, of course, she shared about her growing realization of God’s sovereignty even in this. Joni pointed out that when God tells us to pick up and bear our cross, it is not a wheelchair or any physical infirmity. “My cross is not my wheelchair. It is my attitude.” Anything that produces bitterness against God is what we are called to die to daily. Through the power of the resurrection we can become like Christ not only in death, but in life! Suffering allows us to be better bonded to the Savior. Joni continually breaks into song as she speaks, even leading the assembled group in songs of praise. Narrative, theology, poetry and prose combine in a seamless whole.

It is little wonder that Joni has served to inspire so many. She is filled with joy despite, and perhaps even because of, her affliction. She sees her disability not as a hindrance but as an opportunity to minister and to bring glory to the one who ordained it from before time. And she looks forward, with great anticipation, to the day that suffering will be no more, and she will spring from that chair.

Joni closed by singing “On Christ the Solid Rock” while the assembled congregation hummed the melody, altos, tenors and basses rising and falling together in a song to the healer of broken bodies and broken hearts.

Quote of the Session: “I did not want to let go of the strange and sick comfort of my own misery.”
Runner-up: “When we finally are able to stop laughing and crying, God will wipe away our tears. And it is ironic that when I finally will be able to use my hands to wipe my tears, I won’t have to.”