As we make plans for the future, how do we react to unexpected developments, danger and anything that threatens us?
Accomplished high school athlete, Joni Eareckson Tada knew what her future held. At least, she thought she did until she dove into the Chesapeake Bay, hit her head on the sandy bottom and suddenly couldn’t move her hands or legs.
Joni had just become a quadriplegic.
Years of tough rehabilitation as well as anger and depression would follow. “The despair was claustrophobic,” she explained, “and I finally whimpered, ‘I can’t live this way. I’m so lost. God, show me how to live.’”
Whatever she’d thought her future held was now in shambles. Many of the activities and abilities that had defined her life and self-image had been taken away.
“…my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: ‘God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves’,” Joni wrote on the 50th anniversary of her life-altering accident.
“Steve explained it this way: ‘Joni, God allows all sorts of things he doesn’t approve of. God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet he permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation. In the same way, God hates spinal cord injury, yet he permitted it for the sake of Christ in you—as well as in others.’”
Joni decided that since God could heal her but had chosen not to, there had to be a reason.
Seeking the Best Path Forward
We can feel blind at times to the future. How do we handle this new situation? Where do we turn at this crossroad? Our plans just imploded, so now what?
In these moments, we need a vision.
Perhaps in less trying circumstances, any old dream or ambition for the future would be enough. When we run up against serious obstacles or crushing setbacks, however, only a divinely inspired vision will endure.
We may question the vision we were pursuing, suddenly wondering if it actually was from God. Did we chase something that wasn’t his plan simply because we wanted it so badly? We may realize that the objective we thought had God’s seal of approval didn’t and we’d ignored the warning signs. Alternatively, we may recognize that we never stopped long enough to even see if this was God’s vision for our lives or not.
What do we do then? The question becomes how we find God’s voice in the matter of our futures.
The first step is usually to pray and ask God for his vision of our lives. In doing this, we must wrestle with the hard truths in James 4:2-3, “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
Pastor Steve Mathewson wrote about an integral part of this process in his musings on one particular Old Testament prophet. “Nehemiah's prayer in 1:5-11 shows him beginning with a confession of Israel's sin. He recognized the need to deal with the past before moving on. Nehemiah also reflected seriously on God's promises, which gave guidance to his vision.”
The hardest aspect of God’s vision for our lives is that it probably will not be the most pleasurable path. That said, it will be the most fulfilling because God will have shaped and prepared us for this way.
Hearing God’s Voice Above All Else
What about in the opposite case? When a perfect opportunity arises and success beckons, how do we know if the choice is right?
The answer is both remarkable simple and challenging, as Pastor Claude Houde, a World Challenge board member, pointed out. He shared how, while he was the pastor of a church with 30 attendees, he was contacted by an American evangelistic organization that wanted him as a translator. They offered him a monthly salary that was more than he was making in a year. He told them he needed to pray about it, but he drove home that evening thrilled. The next day, however, he felt a strong conviction by the Holy Spirit that he was meant to turn down this offer.
Uneasily, he called the organization to tell them, “Thank you for the offer, but it will be no.” The offended director on the other end of the line warned him that he was ruining his life, especially not taking counsel from others who would surely encourage him to accept this great opportunity.
Claude shrugged and went back to serving his small congregation.
Sometime later, he heard that the organization’s lead evangelist had been caught visiting prostitutes and the whole association was on the rocks as a result.
Not only had he escaped being associated with a scandal, but the blessings and peace he and his family knew as leaders of this small church were deep and enduring. “Be attentive to counsel, yes. Be attentive to wisdom, yes; but you must listen to God. You must hear God.”
“The communion of the Holy Spirit—this is a supreme calling. This is a supreme calling you are to pursue. This is the source of all supernatural service. This is what the satanic will most attack in your life…your communion with the Holy Spirit.”
He then emphasized this key point: “…your future will depend on you cultivating, protecting, and you fighting for your communion of the Holy Spirit.”
At the time, the Spirit’s vision for his life, his family’s future and the place where he was didn’t make any sense. In retrospect, though, everything came together and was far better than anything they could have planned.
The Power of an Enduring Vision
Over 50 years after her terrible accident, Joni is an international advocate for people with disabilities. She and her husband run a ministry called Joni and Friends that works with churches and special-needs families. She has written 45 books and is a phenomenal artist, sketching and coloring with pencils delicately held between her teeth.
The journey has rarely been easy, but looking back, Joni stated, “Grace softens the edges of past pains, helping to highlight the eternal. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, faith that’s ironclad.”
Though this vision for her life is certainly not one that she would have chosen for herself as a 17 years old, it has impacted hundreds of thousands of others.
Her life offers others a portrait of God’s strength in our weaknesses, supernatural patience, grace and enduring love. The power of an enduring vision for our lives is far beyond what we would ever imagine or dream.