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         Sufficient Grace

 

     All the passages below are taken from Joni Eareckson Tadas book, A Lifetime of Wisdom---Embracing the Way God Heals You, which was published in 2009.

 

CENTRAL PRISON, DC DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

LORTON, VIRGINIA

NOVEMBER 1978

 

I'm back in the van with the team from Prison Fellowship, looking out at the gray November landscape rushing by. I don't think anyone feels much like talking. A visit to the infamous DC Department of Corrections facility would be enough to make anyone feel a little down.

It didn't look like a jail as much as a grim, decaying army post. Row after row of low, flat, red-brick dormitories. Clutches of men, most in sweatpants and sneakers, walking the grounds, heading for meals and prison jobs.

What a ghastly place to while away years and years of your life: in a crowded cage, behind barbed wire.

But there are brothers in the Lord in that cage, and I just spoke to eighty of them---in a cement-floored meeting room under the flicker of failing fluorescent lights. All of these guys have come to Christ since coming to prison, and they asked me to bring a word of encouragement to them.

As I looked into their eyes, I simply told my story and spoke about the sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus---how His power shows up best in our weakness. The men listened because they knew it was more than words with me, more than a nice speech or a canned sermon-for-the-prisoners. They could see my useless arms and legs. They could see my chair. They knew Id been in this condition for eleven long years. They could appreciate the fact that I was a young woman whose life had drastically changed, with no going back. Without my even saying it, they made the association between their condition and mine. The difference was, some of them would be released from their prison, and I never will ... until I die.

As I spoke, most of the men nodded and said their amens.

Apparently I broke all kinds of protocol---and made the guards very nervous---when I asked a couple of the men to come up on the platform with me and sing "Amazing Grace."

Grace ... how desperately we need it.

Afterward, a group of them gathered around me, under the watchful eyes of stone-faced guards armed with lethal weapons. I asked several of them how much time they had yet to serve. Some had only a few months, others many years. I identified more with the guys who had another twenty or thirty years of confinement stretching out before them, with no hope of release.

Then, to that smaller group, I confessed something personal. Now Im wondering if I should have said what I said.

I told them how weak-kneed I sometimes got when I thought about living twenty or even thirty more years in a wheelchair. A number of them nodded silently. I told them I had my own bolts and bars to live with---and how frightening it was to think of another twenty years this way.

So I identified with them---those guys thinking about decades behind bars and barbed wire in that run-down, overcrowded place. Even though they've come to terms with their circumstances, it's tough, sometimes even overwhelming, to face a future of confinement and limitations.

But I probably shouldn't have said all that.

I was supposed to be bringing a word of encouragement.

 

 

THIRTY YEARS LATER,

MY OFFICE IN AGOURA HILLS

 

I'll admit it, the long years haven't made paralysis any easier.

My disabilities have never become routine. Quadriplegia isn't something you "get used to" any more than blindness or severe chronic pain. You learn how to work with it and how to accomplish things in spite of it, but you can never wholly forget about it.

To this day I can only handle so much, and some days I feel like I'm right at my limit. Living in a wheelchair has a tendency to make even ordinary days seem overwhelming at times. My weak shoulder muscles ache from holding up my heavy head. My back gets tired from sitting in one position. My neck gets a crick in it from looking up at everybody standing around me. In 1978, there at Lorton Prison with Chuck Colson and his team, I wondered how I could ever manage twenty or thirty years like this.

And now it has been over forty.

How have I come this far? Has it been by my fortitude, my perseverance, or by my determination? No, it has been a work of God's grace from beginning to end.

Even so, who can help trying to glance down the road sometimes, wondering what's around the bend? Sometimes I look up on my wall calendar and gaze at the blank months of years to come and I Wonder, What will it be like five years from now? Ten Nears? Will I still be on this side of heaven? What if my husband suffers an injury and can't take care of me? Worse yet, I won't he able to take care of him!

When I think about my deteriorating physical condition and the more and more frequent bouts of intolerable pain, I can feel the vertigo as strongly as the twenty-eight-year-old woman who spoke to those prisoners back in Maryland yews ago.

What did I know of God's grace then? Maybe only a little, but it gave me what I needed to press on. I realized even then that God didn't expect me to accept what might or might not happen to me in twenty years.

... And as thy days, so shall thy strength be" (Deuteronomy 33:25 KJV).

God doesn't give me grace for the future, uncertain seasons that He may grant me on earth before He takes me home. He doesn't give me grace for next year's headaches---or even next month's heartaches. He won't even loan me enough grace to face the prospects of tomorrow! God only gives me grace for today. He expects me to live this day in His strength, leaning on His wisdom, drawing on His presence and power.

As I write these words, I have a mental picture of my dad. I can see his eyes looking into mine. I can hear his voice saying to me, "Don't grasp for the future, Joni. Pay attention to the present." That's the way Daddy lived; that's the way he worked.

Whenever my dad would build stone walls on the farm, he wouldn't rush. He would pick up a rock, brush off the dirt, turn it over in his hands, and line it up this way and that, trying to place it just right. He paid attention to what he was doing at the moment. His whole focus was on fitting each stone. As a result, forty years later, the walls haven't crumbled. Daddy's labors have endured.

My stone-laying father would say it's the only way to live. We make the mistake of thinking God is always preparing us for "future ministry." We rush through the present moment too quickly in our effort to reach the next one. As a result, we don't pay sufficient attention to the immediate. Oswald Chambers has said, "Grace is for `right now.' It is not the process toward some future goal, but an end in and of itself. If we would only realize this, then each moment would become rich with meaning and purpose."

In the book of Ephesians, as Paul was wrapping up a matchless document on the eternal purposes of God and His high goals for redeemed men and women, he wrote: "Be very careful, then, how you

live---not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15, emphasis mine).

Other translations say, "Walk circumspectly," "Redeem the time," or "Make the most of each moment" God is interested in the situation we find ourselves in this instant. It's incidental that He may use our circumstances to prepare us for the future.

It's easy to look at the month of November and start grasping for December. And before you know it, your thoughts are occupied with January and setting goals for the New Year. But that's no way to build a season, just as it's no way to build a wall.

Here is a ruby, hard-won through long years: We can't help glancing behind us at times to consider where we've been, and it's natural for us to wonder what awaits us around the bend. In fact, it's a wise and even biblical activity to plan ahead. But remember this: There is no more important moment in your life than this one.

Take it slowly. Look at today and, as my father would say, pay attention to what you do with it.

Who said it more clearly than Jesus Himself? "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).

 

Living in "the Now"

If we fail to grasp this most basic perspective, no wonder we feel overwhelmed by life! When Jesus speaks of Satan, the enemy of our souls, he names him as one who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). When you think about it, if our adversary can get us to focus on our past mistakes, wrong turns, and wasted opportunities, he has stolen the present moment from us. And if he can nudge us into worry and anxiety over tomorrow's bills, tomorrow's deadlines, tomorrow's health concerns, he has done it again!

If our enemy can keep us occupied with our past or with our future, we lose the grace, blessings, and opportunities in the Now. And when you lose the present moment, in a sense you lose everything.

Why? Because now is all we have.

Life on earth is simply a string of consecutive moments, beginning on the day of our birth and terminating at the moment when God takes us home. Think of those moments---those precious moments of life---as pearls on a string, each loaded with potential and opportunity. The thief wants to rob you of as many of those pearls as possible. And he does that by causing you to live life in the rearview mirror, or concerning yourself with future scenarios that most likely will never occur.

Just recently, I heard an older man say, "I've had many crises in my life through many years---and most of them never happened."

When will we poor time-bound creatures learn? Life is lived in the moment. Praise ascends to God's throne in a moment. Self-pity, lust, and idolatry are defeated in a moment. Courage seizes an opportunity in a moment. Love reaches out in a moment. Faith takes its stand on the moment. Wisdom draws an insight from the Scriptures in a moment. Ideas that can impact the world flash by in a moment.

And we appropriate the grace of our God in full and generous supply moment by moment by moment. One day at a time. Redeeming each hour. Drawing on His grace like a tulip opening to April sunlight, like oxygen in the bloodstream, like life itself. And leaving the future to Him.

I know a man named Chris whose life drives this point home to me. Chris is a middle-aged man with Down syndrome who lives with his folks. He enjoys volunteering with Awana and taking part in various socials at church. And he's blessed with an unusual gift. He has no concept of time. Every day for Chris is the same as the day before.

I know it's frustrating for Chris at times, but I call it a gift because every day is the day of salvation for Chris. A faithful churchgoer, Chris listens intently to the messages, whether they be light and whimsical or heavy with fire and brimstone. And on days when a speaker gives a stirring invitation to join the family of God, Chris is usually heard to remark to a nearby elder after the service, "I accepted Him today! I accepted Him!" His face shines and his eyes overflow with tears.

Skeptics and cynics would tell you that Chris hasn't got a clue what he's doing. If he knew, they would argue, he'd realize how unnecessary it is to be saved more than once. Chris doesn't see it that way. And God doesn't either. Both the Lord and Chris are able to enjoy that blessed gift of now-ness. Every past moment of conviction of sin, for Chris, gets poured into the now. Every hope he has of heaven and having a new body and mind gets poured into the now. And the feeling is overwhelming for him.

Some days I wish I could shed myself of time and live as Chris does---enjoying God's sense of now-ness. I know I've been called to build upon and move past the foundation of salvation, but to recall those broken and tender moments of joy for the first time---that would be blessed.

I knew that much at least in 1978, and God has been faithful. But there was---and is---so much more to learn about grace ... and how it intersects with our weakness and need.

 

Leaning on Grace

A friend of mine lives near the Columbia River, one of the mighty watercourses of the world, flowing at 122.7 million gallons per minute. (How in the world do they measure such things?) One day this past summer while he was walking along a river trail, he happened to notice a tiny sparrow alight on the very edge of that great river and dip its little beak in the water. Just once. Satisfied, it flew away.

He told me it made him think of God's grace. He felt as if the Lord was saying to him, "You are like that little bird, taking a tiny sip of a river more vast than you will ever understand. My grace is that much greater than your need."

I know that's true. But then again, it is our need that drives us to the river!

J. I. Packer wrote:

 

God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your "thorn" uncomplainingly---that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak---is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.1

 

The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow.

Extraordinary stamina, you say? A testimony to human courage, maybe? Remarkable grit and perseverance?

Not even close. Grit-your-teeth stamina and human courage have nothing to do with experiencing His grace. It isn't human strength that prompts God to pour out His grace, it is human weakness. Complete dependence.

Dr. Packer goes on to explain that the main aim of God in the work of grace is "an ever deeper knowledge of God, and ever closer fellowship with Him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself."2

In the long run, how does He do that? By shielding us? By deflecting, every assault from the world, the flesh, and the devil? By protecting us from difficult, even heartbreaking circumstances? Will growing grace in our lives look like sunnier days, increasing success, and a smoother ride?

No, in fact He may accomplish it in our lives by exposing us to difficulty and trouble, allowing us to be overwhelmed with a sense of our own inadequacy. As a result, we cling to the Lord more closely, more tenaciously---for simple survival!

As one paraphrase renders Paul's words to the Corinthians:

 

I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size---abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, THE MESSAGE)

 

This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God permits heartaches and perplexities of one sort and another into our lives: it is to ensure that we learn to hold Him fast. Dr. Packer says:

 

When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught on a rough country road in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall lean thankfully on him.3

 

You might have a tough time living with your weakness today. You find it nearly impossible to be "sweet and patient and free in heart to love and help others."

Please hear me on this, a woman who has lived with total paralysis for 14,965 days (give or take). It isn't difficult, it isn't daunting, it isn't a great challenge, it isn't nearly impossible.

It is impossible.

You simply can't manage sweet patience and true joy while you're trying to find within yourself the stamina or courage to do so. You will fail every time. The courage, the patience, and the will to get up and face each day come from another Source, outside yourself and yet within you. Felt weakness should deepen our dependence upon the grace and strength of Christ. Remember, the weaker you feel, the harder you must lean on Jesus. And leaning means trusting, obeying, spending concentrated time talking to Him, and sharing your deepest needs.

When you lean that hard, you'll find yourself growing stronger than you ever dreamed possible. And you will also begin to see how grace relates to that increasingly rare and elusive state of being we call contentment.

 

The Secret of Contentment

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

 

I saw a man in the supermarket yesterday using a new sporty wheelchair. When he zipped down the aisle, his chair didn't make a squeak. I glanced down at my big, clunky, decades-old model with dirt on the frame and threadbare padding. Little wonder I looked with envy at his high-tech wheels.

I'd like a trade-in on my wheelchair. Perhaps you would like a trade-in on your old car. Or maybe the grass seems greener down the street where they are building brand new homes. Yes, an automatic garage door opener and a trash compactor would be great to have. But sometimes when we compile our desires up against God's desires for us, I wonder how many match.

The apostle Paul described contentment as a secret. Something hidden from view, concealed from knowledge.

What secret was he talking about?

That's one of those questions people like to throw out at small groups or Bible studies to stimulate a little discussion. But it's more than a mildly engaging topic to talk about over bad coffee and day-old doughnuts.

If you happen to find yourself in a maximum security prison facing a third of your life behind bars ... if you wake up to the cold, unyielding fact of marriage to a spouse who truly only cares about himself ... if you discover that your long-awaited, much-prayed-for baby has Down syndrome ... if that stable company cuts you loose in your mid-fifties from your once-secure position, leaving you with few prospects ... it any of those things are true, or any of ten thousand other heartaches, then "what's the secret" is more than an intellectually stimulating question.

It is life itself.

And when you're without it---the secret of contentment there isn't much left except despair, or "lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau once put it. And sometimes the desperation isn't quiet at all. On a hot, humid night in July, eight years after I visited Lorton Prison, hundreds of inmates set fire to thirteen of those overcrowded dormitories, forcing the temporary evacuation of more than eight hundred prisoners to even more-crowded, higher-security cellblocks. Twenty-nine inmates, nine guards, and six firefighters were injured. One inmate later died.

What was Paul's secret of contentment? He gave it away in the next breath when he said that he was ready for anything through the strength of the One who lived inside him. Contentment is found not in circumstances. Contentment is found in a Person, the Lord Jesus. Just this morning I began a reading of the book of Philippians and only got as far as the second verse: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Yes, it was perhaps a common greeting among Christians in that day. But it is also an elemental, rock-solid fact of life. Grace and peace have a source, and that source is not my situation or some pleasurable arrangement of my circumstances. If I am to have grace and peace---or true contentment---in my life at all, it will only be because it has flowed into my soul from the God and Father who loves me and the Savior and Friend who stands beside me.

How we need this abundant, free-flowing stream! It requires a special act of grace to accommodate ourselves to every condition of life, to carry an equal temper of mind through every circumstance. On the one hand, only in Christ can we face poverty contentedly, that is, without losing our comfort in God. On the other hand, only in Christ can we face plenty and not be filled with pride.

The New Testament word translated contentment in our English Bibles means "sufficiency." I've been told that Paul uses the same Greek root here in Philippians that he does in 2 Corinthians 12:9, where he says God's grace is sufficient.

What a secret, this working of grace in our lives! Beyond our normal comprehension. Hidden from our view. Hard to explain. Impossible to pinpoint, Difficult to understand.

Even so, you know it when you see it.

A friend of mine named Susan recently experienced unbearable pain with the sudden, unexpected breakup of her marriage. Even after a year, she's still picking up the pieces, the few fragments her husband left her when he broke their marriage vows for another woman. I watched Susan go through months of agony, struggling against rejection and just plain nausea.

But God's grace sustained her in a startling way. In fact, she commented to me just the other day that she believed the hardest thing to explain was how grace was at work in her life. To her, and to those of us who watched the tragedy unfold, the sustaining, preserving, uplifting power of God's grace was truly a mystery---a wondrous secret none of us could understand. All we could say was that God's grace was working. It was sufficient. For Susan, Jesus was enough.

Paul learned the secret of contentment. Susan is still learning the secret. Have hope. Take hold. He is sufficient.

 

Pressing into Grace

So what are we talking about here? Name-it-and-claim-it contentment? Easy grace, turned on like a water tap whenever you feel like it' Is Christ some sort of magic wand you wave over your problems to make them disappear?

No. That's not what I see in Scripture.

The grace of God is abundant, boundless, inexhaustible, available, and free. But it didn't come cheap.

It's not like a tepid puddle of water lying on the surface of soggy ground. It's a mighty underground river, rushing clear and fresh. And if you look for it, you'll find it. It's not like the feeble stir of air created by an electric fan in a warm room. It's a strong wind, wild and free, cresting mountaintops and blowing across a thousand fields and forests. But you have to step outside to feel it.

In Genesis 15, God speaks to Abram in a vision while he lay in his tent. But to see the full intent of the Lord's heart, Abram had to push back the covers, leave the comfort of his tent, walk out into the night---and see his descendants in the stars, like dust.

In Colossians 2:3, Paul speaks about "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" being hidden in Christ. Hidden? That calls to mind searching for buried treasure. In other words, it takes some effort. To search for something concealed requires work. In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord said: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

Paul not only wrote "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13), but he had to master it as well. It meant making tough choices---deciding this, not that; going in this direction, not that one. Why does it involve such hard work? Because it's not our natural bent. Seeking the hidden treasure of contentment in Christ doesn't come automatically. Just look at a few of Paul's well chosen words: "press on ... strive ... stand firm."

Here is a ruby, hard-won. As we wrap our hands around a problem and in faith press on, strive, and stand firm, divine energy surges through us. We experience the fullness of His grace. We press into grace.

In other words, you make the hard choices; God gives you the grace.

He gives you the grace to hold your tongue when you feel you have cause for complaining---but you must choose to receive it. He imparts grace to lookout for another's interest before your own---but you must deliberately step into that enabling. He infuses the grace to choose a bright attitude when you wake up in the morning---but your first smile of the day may have to be in faith.

What will your choices be? That answer will be as varied as there are people in the world. 1 Peter 4:10 describes the manifold---literally, many-colored---grace of God. The grace God brings to your life today is hand tailored and custom designed for your individual needs.

God's grace is not one-size-fits-all. He relates to you as an individual---a unique person created in His image. Don't fall into the trap of comparing your situation to that of others. Tell your Father your specific needs and desires, and He will fulfill you as no one else ever could.

You have the secret: as you press in, as you press on, He will give you grace.

 

Learning Grace

We seek the grace of God, we press into it, but we also learn it.

To learn something means more than mouthing the words "His grace is sufficient for me." To learn means to make choices, to practice over and over. If you are to know contentment---that quietness of heart growing out of supernatural grace that gladly submits to God in all circumstances---you must undergo the learning process.

I think back to the time years ago when I was newly injured and learning to feed myself for the first time. I can't tell you how many times I felt like giving up. Wearing a bib, smearing applesauce all over my clothes, and having it land more times on my lap than in my mouth was humiliating.

Who would have blamed me if I had thrown in the towel, claimed my injury was too profound, and said feeding myself would be out of the question? "Poor thing, she's really helpless. Isn't that sad?" And if I had made that decision then, would I have been feeding myself now? Would I even be alive?

God's grace was certainly there for me, but He wasn't going to force-feed me. It was up to me to make a series of tough choices. Was I going to let embarrassment over my food-smeared face dissuade me? Would I let disappointing failures overwhelm me? I'm convinced God gave me the strength to lift that spoon to my mouth. As a result, I did learn to feed myself, and today I manage a spoon quite well.

Did that mean I got back the use of my arms or hands?

No.

But drawing on His grace, I did learn to be content.

When Christ gives us strength to tackle a painful situation, gaining contentment doesn't mean losing sorrow or saying good-bye to discomfort. You can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. You can have nothing and yet possess everything. First Timothy 6:6 says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain," Yet the gain always comes through loss. The grace always comes through need.

Don't let anyone tell you that contentment comes easily. It is not passive. In fact, it is gritty determination. It has to be learned. And it requires grace from beyond this world.

 

Grow in Grace

Peter wrote, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

How do you know if you've grown in grace through the years? How does anyone know that he or she is growing in grace? Is it something that can he measured? Bishop J. C. Ryle puts it this way:

 

When I speak of growth in grace, I mean an increase in the degree, size, strength, vigor and power of the graces which the Spirit plants in our hearts. When I speak of a person growing in grace, I mean simply this---that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive and his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He goes on from strength to strength, faith to faith, and from grace to grace.

 

I believe that means we can---and we should---see a change in our lives. Yes, I would say that my sense of sin is deeper than it was this time last year. My hope is brighter. And yes, I do seem to see things more through spiritual eyes. I would say that I truly do feel more of the power of godliness in my heart, and I pray that it shows up in my life in a way that others can see.

As we behold Him through prayer and study of His Word, we are transformed from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. As it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory."

Another way to grow in God's grace is by simply allowing it to control my responses to a million everyday situations.

I think of a recent Saturday when a number of us gathered to help a new family who had moved into our church community. Friends from the congregation set aside a Saturday, donned their grubbies, and brought brushes, ladders, and paint to spiff up the place.

Ken and I arrived early, he with his white painting pants on and me with a bucket of paint in my lap. But as I wheeled through the front door, I realized my wheelchair presented an obstacle to people on ladders and stools.

I had a choice. Was I going to feel sorry for myself because I couldn't take part? Or was I going to listen to Hebrews 12:15? "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

I felt disappointed---really disappointed. But was I going to let bitterness take rout?

Sighing, I grabbed hold of God's grace and tried to figure out a way I could participate. I glanced out the living room window and noticed a planter with nothing in it. It looks pretty drab, I thought. I'll bet my friends would appreciate a couple of geraniums. I drove to a nursery, got one of the clerks to help, and then came back with a bag of soil and a few plants. It wasn't hard to find someone looking for an excuse to escape the paint fumes inside and eager to do some planting. Soon the red geraniums were potted to welcome the new tenants.

We make little choices for grace every day. Because every day, stuff happens. Your friend shows up late for the car pool. The bag boy drops your eggs. A friend forgets to say thank-you for the gift you gave him. Your neighbor's dog leaves his calling card on your front lawn. How do you respond?

Perhaps today you are pressed up against one of those choices. Take hold of Hebrews 12:15. Choose grace. It's always the better way. Help me, Father God, to release bitterness. Then enable me to grab on to grace---for my sake and for those around me.

It's difficult to describe how God can transform a moment---or a life---by the power of His grace. Sometimes, it's almost breathtaking.

 

A Picture of Grace

When the world sees us operating in the realm of grace, they must pause to wonder how and why. But the real answer, as I've said, is neither how nor why. It is Who.

It was talent night at one of our Joni and Friends family retreats, and Cindy, a young woman with severe cerebral palsy, was the last one scheduled to perform. Cindy's mother pushed her daughter in her wheelchair out onto the platform. Cindy, she told us, had been working hard all week on her song, "Amazing Grace."

Several of us looked at each other. We all loved Cindy, but how was this going to work? Because of her disability, Cindy couldn't speak.

Then her mother walked offstage and left Cindy alone. The young woman laboriously stretched out her twisted fingers and pushed a button on her communication device attached to her chair. And out came the monotone computerized voice, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me....

As the robotic voice continued the hymn, Cindy turned her head to face us, the audience, and with enormous effort, began to month all the words as best she could. What's more, her smile lit up the entire place.

It was a performance that any opera star or recording artist would envy. To be honest, I have never seen anything to equal it. "Amazing Grace" is not a new song, but that night, it was sung in an entirely new way. Although Cindy was unable to sing the words with her vocal chords, something happened as she leaned hard on Jesus and mouthed those words.

I can't explain how, but somehow it rose up in that auditorium as a ringing hymn of praise to God. It was as though Cindy's song was backed by an eighty-piece orchestra. I can imagine the angels leaning over the edge of heaven, filled with wonder, to catch every word. [69-86]

 

 

Notes

1. J. I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1987), 192-93.

2. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, I1L: InterVarsity, 1973), 227.

3. Ibid.

 

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