At a Restoration Church gathering here in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, we are committed to having God's heart for the South Hills and beyond. Joni Eareckson Tadi challenged my understanding of what this means in her succinct devotional for June 5 (Diamonds in the Dust) on the "Heart of Jesus."
She reflects on the various healings Jesus did while He walked this earth. She ponders what He was thinking and feeling when He told the paralyzed man to "take up his bed and walk" or when He spit on blind eyes to bring sight and myriad other encounters with people who struggled with some disability. Joni rejects the notion that Jesus did all these wonderful miracles ONLY to prove His power and authority as the Messiah of God. These wondrous signs did indeed prove Jesus' power over death and life. But they also reveal God's heart.
Joni writes, "Christ did not use helpless people to advance His own agenda. He did not enlist hurting men and women only as audio-visual aids to teach an important lesson about Himself. "
People who struggle with "a different way of being" in whatever form: autistic, blind, deaf, epileptic, lame, missing a vital chromosome or even paralyzed (among many other issues) do so as part of the effects of sin not on necessarily on that particular individual but inbred into the human race because of sin. But there is another aspect to suffering. Suffering is a part of God's plan.
I was struck with this truth years ago when I read the wonderful little book Don't Waste Your Sorrows. The author points out that suffering in and of itself is not necessarily related to sin because suffering is a part of the nature of God Himself. God Himself anguishes over His children. God Himself sent His one and only Son to die on a cross all for His larger plan. And in all this suffering, God's plan is always to show His great mercy, grace and love at the point of our greatest need.
It is mind-boggling that God would want to have a relationship with His creature especially when we are such dolts and so unfaithful, but He does. And because He does, He reaches out to us at exactly that particular point of our greatest need to show His love and strength.
2 Chronicles 16:9 says it well, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. ... "
Joni ends her devotional with this prayer, "Lord, may I never doubt what's on Your mind and heart when I suffer. You are full of love and compassion. Thank You for only permitting in my life what I am able to endure with Your grace. Bless You for Your unfailing love." For a woman who has spent over 40 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, that's pretty powerful! The beauty of her faith and her appreciation for God's love for her even with the body she has that daily reminds her of her need for God's restoration now and in the world to come challenges my heart to model God's heart in my world - the South Hills of Pittsburgh!