By Bill MacLeod
The theme for Mission ConneXion Northwest 2017 is “Who Is Able?” and our guest plenary speakers understand what it means to feel inadequate as they considered the ministry God laid before them. One of our guest speakers is Joni Eareckson Tada, whose life almost came to an abrupt end as a result of a diving accident when she was a teenager. Her “disability” left her paralyzed from the neck down and changed the course of her life – but did not define who she was. As we look toward January and MCNW17, we asked Joni to share what this theme means to her.
1) Before becoming a follower of Jesus, what did you believe you were or would be “able” to do with your life? (Did you ever feel you were NOT “able”, or “suit”-able for ministry?) Before the diving accident in which I became paralyzed, I leaned heavily on my natural abilities – whether on the athletic field, or in the classroom. Because I was somewhat gifted with grades and in sports, I lived life on ‘automatic,’ bumping into circumstances and responding without giving it much thought. I thought I’d probably become a physical therapist or a Phys Ed teacher – I really didn’t see my abilities as gifts given by God to invest in His kingdom. To be honest, my natural gifts were ‘blinding’ me to the need to rely on God My diving accident changed all that. Suddenly, my natural gifts were scaled back dramatically, and I was forced to run to God for help and guidance about my future. I learned from that experience never to rely on my natural giftedness when it came to ministry. Every decision, every kingdom initiative requires that I lean heavily on the Lord for his help!
2) How did following Christ change how you viewed yourself and this question? Because of my quadriplegia, I am naturally not very “able” at all. The limitations of my disability are so confining, so cut-and-dry that I am required to daily go to God for his help and guidance. Galatians 2:20 describes it very aptly, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who gave himself for me.” So I hope you can see how my disability is a huge blessing in terms of my ministry.
3) As the Lord directed you toward your current ministry, how “able” or prepared did you feel you were, given your experience, expertise, and calling? My calling is to make Christ known among those who suffer, most especially people with disabilities around the world. For the 17 years I was healthy and active, disability was completely unknown to me. I could not have cared less about people in wheelchairs, the blind, or those with mental disabilities. But my diving accident, again, changed everything. God was calling me to become an international advocate for persons with disabilities – all I knew was, it wouldn’t be by my strength, but by God’s. And now, I absolutely love serving among special-needs families. But it’s all by God’s design and enablement.
4) What counsel would you give new, especially young, Christians starting out about how they should view their “ability” to fulfill God’s will and call on their lives? It’s important to have a good assessment of your natural gifts; and it’s important to ask God how he might use your natural abilities to further his kingdom through your calling. But remember, natural giftedness CAN be a detriment to spiritual service – for when we rely on our own abilities for success, there is no grace available for our efforts. God only lavishes his grace on those who need him.