Words Joni Eareckson Tada writes about wheelchairs and attitudes are ones I’m still trying to fully grasp and genuinely apply to my own life. I keep thinking through her explanation of the unexpected (and often wrongly interpreted) twist of Jesus’ words to us when He said:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
As I think through Jesus’ words, and Joni’s application, I know that since Christ suffered, and we follow Him, we should not expect any less than that we also would suffer. In fact, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.
I knew that.
But here’s where I’ve often gone wrong. I’ve thought that living through an irritating situation, or bearing with someone who rubs me the wrong way, was the cross I had to currently bear. I’ve thought that God wanted me to bear up under the angst caused by the situation, and that in the bearing up, or in the bearing with that person (and trusting Him in the midst) I’d be made more like Jesus.
I’ve thought that the cross I’d bear in that situation was:
- the irritating nature of the situation, or
- the sin of the other person.
So I’d have thought that Joni, who’s a quadriplegic and daily bound to her wheelchair, would say that the cross God gave her to daily take up would be her wheelchair/paralysis. “Oh,” she might say, “I have to bear up under the cross of this wheelchair, and God will daily use it in my life to sanctify me.” But listen as Joni declares something slightly (but, oh, so importantly) different:
“Please know that when I take up my cross every day I am not talking about my wheelchair. My wheelchair is not my cross to bear. Neither is your cane or walker your cross. Neither is your dead-end job or your irksome in-laws. Your cross to bear is not your migraine headaches, not your sinus infection, not your stiff joints. This is not your cross to bear.
My cross is not my wheelchair; it is my attitude.
Your cross is your attitude about your dead-end job and your in-laws. It is your attitude about your aches and pains. Any complaints, any grumblings, any disputings or murmurings, any anxieties, any worries — these are the things God calls me to die to daily. For when I do, I not only become like him in his death (that is, taking up my cross and dying to the sin that he died for on his cross), but the power of the resurrection puts to death any doubts, fears, grumblings, and disputings. And I get to become like him in his life. I get to experience the intimate fellowship of sharing his sufferings, the sweetness and the preciousness of the Savior.” (Joni Eareckson Tada, excerpt from Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, p.194-196, bold emphasis mine)
The cross (a Roman execution instrument) put to death physical bodies, and Jesus died willingly on a Roman cross. As He laid down His physical life He also took upon Himself, and paid the penalty for, each and every specific sin of each and every specific person who would believe in Him for salvation. As I think through these truths I begin to grasp Joni’s meaning.
Grasping and applying
From my own example above, here’s how I’d now apply her words:
The cross I am to take up daily is the cross of death to my bad attitude about the person who irritates me. Do you hear the nuance of difference?
I am to put to death — by the power of Jesus’ triumph over death, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling work — my irritation and arrogance and lack of faith, all of which is brought to light as I see my rotten heart-attitude in the situation. That specific sin He died for (my dislike of and complaint about that person who rattles my pleasant kingdom) I am to now die to.
I am to crucify my heart’s complainings and grumblings, murmuring and faith-less-ness. And as I do:
- I realize how difficult it is to crucify my rotten attitude.
- I love Jesus more, because He died for messed-up me and my stinky attitude.
And as I fight to daily crucify the sin He died for, I experience sweet fellowship with my precious Savior. And because of that I want to die daily, not to my “wheelchair,” but to my bad attitude.
Photo: from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. A nurse with a patient at a country house at Sandleford in Berkshire, one of many taken over by the Joint War Organisation (British Red Cross and Order of St John) to provide convalescent care and rehab for WWII servicemen, 12 June 1941.