I am so deeply grateful for the privilege and to Desiring God for entrusting this time to me, and to you for entrusting this time to me. So thank you so very much. I’m honored and I’m humbled to stand before you.
Changing Our Thinking on Disability
I wonder, what did you used to think about disability? What did you think about disability before it invaded your life? Perhaps you observed other people dealing with disability, and you thought, “I could never do that.” And now you find yourself doing lots of things that you thought you could never do. Perhaps you looked at caregivers, and you thought, “I’m not a nurse. I couldn’t do that.” And now you’re pretty sure that you could teach those nurses a thing or two, right?
Perhaps you thought since you took to heart the words that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, that he would never allow disability into your life. And then it came, and you began to think, “Is this really the wonderful plan that God has had for my life? Because it is not exactly the wonderful plan that I had in mind.”
Or perhaps you didn’t think about disability at all. You didn’t anticipate it; you didn’t expect it. People with disabilities were invisible to you. And so perhaps today when you experience people avoiding you or failing you, failing to include you, simply looking past you. If you are honest, you would have to admit that that’s what you used to do. And so what do you think about disability now? Now that it has broken your heart and thrown a wrench into your plans? Who or what is shaping how you think about disability?
Suffering Is the Pathway to Glory
The apostle Peter thought about suffering in one way at one point in his life, and we discover later in his writings that his way of thinking has radically changed. We see in Peter that God intends and is able to radically change how we think about suffering. And in fact, our greatest need is that God will indeed change how we naturally think about these things. In Matthew 16, we read something about how Peter once thought about suffering. We read:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21–23)
Peter loved Jesus and he couldn’t bear the thought that Jesus was going to suffer many things and be killed, and likely he saw himself getting swept up into that suffering. So, he rebuked Jesus. I mean, can you imagine having the guts or the gall to rebuke Jesus? Well, Peter did because he was thoroughly convinced that life with Jesus is about glory, not suffering. That it was about victory, not defeat. That it was about a crown and not a cross.
What he did not yet understand is that suffering is the pathway to glory. That glory he’s so longed for, that the cross comes before the crown for Jesus and for all who follow after him. Jesus’s response to Peter’s rebuke was to tell Peter that he was thinking about suffering from a merely human perspective and that God’s perspectives, God’s purposes seemingly had no place in his thinking.
Thinking Like Jesus
Well, interestingly, many years later, this suffering adverse apostle writes these words to the followers of Christ whose faith is being put to the test of suffering. This is what he writes in 1 Peter 4:1–2. He says,
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
So as we read these words, we can’t help but see that Peter is no longer bound by human ways of thinking. There’s something he wants more than his own comfort and success, something he wants more than getting his own way, and that is for God to have his way. And he’s challenging you and me to refuse to think about the suffering in our lives from a merely human point of view like he once did.
He’s saying we need to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking about suffering that Jesus had. He’s saying we need to arm ourselves in the same way that a soldier arms himself for battle because he realizes we’re going to be in a battle. A battle against self-absorption and self-pity and a battle against resentment and bitterness. A battle against blaming God for allowing such difficulty into our lives. A battle against the temptation to just give up and we are going to need to be armed for this battle.
We are going to arm ourselves by learning to think like Jesus. So as you’ve had to come to terms with disability in your life, I assume that you have armed yourself with all kinds of necessary equipment, and you have armed yourself with research about medical treatments and educational options, but have you armed yourself in regard to how you’re going to think about disability?
Well, if we’re going to arm ourselves with thinking about suffering like Jesus thought about suffering, we’ve got to know what he thought and how he thought about disability. So let’s go to the gospels and see what insight they have to offer us about how Jesus thinks about disability, how he feels toward those who live with disability, how he responds to people living day by day in bodies that don’t work and significantly what he intends to do about disability.
1. Understand Jesus’s Compassion
Matthew 9 tells us that,
Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35–36)
So the first thing we see about the way Jesus thinks about disability is really more about how he feels about it. Which is that he, Jesus, feels compassion for those who are hurting and helpless.
Compassion, Not Condescension
When we read that Jesus had compassion on them, this isn’t some shallow or detached sense of pity. He felt their pain deeply inside himself. The word actually means “he felt it in his bowels.”
When Jesus kneeled down to speak with those who could not walk, he felt deep inside himself the condescension they felt every day as they were patted on the head or simply overlooked. When he put his steady hand on those who had uncontrolled seizures, he felt deep inside himself the desperation that they felt.
The helplessness that those around them felt that they couldn’t make the seizure stop. And when he interacted with those whose brains were fully functioning but could not express that intelligence in words he felt inside himself, the frustration they felt day after a difficult day. If we want to understand how Jesus thinks about disability, we have to first see that he doesn’t approach it only intellectually or even exclusively theologically. Jesus feels. Jesus hurts.
That kick in the gut that you felt when you first got the diagnosis. Those kicks in the gut that you continue to feel when you see someone else’s kid is seemingly skating through school or achieving in athletics or walking down the aisle to get married. That disappointment you feel as you witness other couples and families traveling here and there in various ways that you can’t. Jesus feels it with you.
To think like Jesus about disability is not to minimize the pain of it or the disappointment in it. If Jesus who is Lord over it, agonizes with it, it’s okay for you and me to be honest about how much it hurts. But even as Jesus feels the painful reality with us, he sees something in the suffering of disability that is perhaps harder for us to see. He sees meaning and purpose in it.
He thinks that the suffering of disability is purposeful, that God has a good purpose in things that in themselves are not good.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1–3)
You see, the disciples think like we think: It must be somebody’s fault. They thought this man was being punished for sin and they just didn’t know whose sin it was. In fact, this assumption must be deeply ingrained in us as humans because it’s exactly what Job’s friends thought. That Job’s suffering was Job’s fault, that he was being punished and we get it too, don’t we? Has that inclination come naturally to you too?
Disability and the Goodness of the Gospel
I remember the day that Hope was born and they didn’t bring her to us. We knew that she was born with club feet and she wasn’t holding her temperature, but really nothing more than that. And I remember rolling myself to the nursery to get a look at her in a wheelchair and looking deeply into her eyes and having it hit me for the first time as I looked deep into the vacuousness of her eyes that something was really wrong.
It was too scary and too hurtful to even say out loud to David at that point. The geneticists the next day told us that Hope had this metabolic disorder that had already done a great deal of damage to all of her major organs, especially her liver and her kidneys and her brain.
And in the days that followed, tests confirmed that she couldn’t see and she couldn’t hear. And I remember waking up and thinking, “This is my fault. I didn’t pray enough for a healthy baby. I haven’t walked closely with God and now he’s making me pay.”
And I wonder if some of you have had those same thoughts. Have you thought that your child’s disability is God punishing you for some sin in your past for ignoring God or rebelling against God? Have you thought that perhaps God is allowing your spouse to slip into the darkness of dementia to make you pay for loving him or her too much or not enough? Is this how things work with God? Does he punish us for our sin with suffering in this life?
My friend, if you are united to Christ by faith, you should never think that the disability in your life or your loved one’s life is God’s punishing you for sin. Now, how do I know that? Because someone has already been punished for your sin so that you don’t have to be.
All of the punishment that you rightly deserve for your utter apathy toward God, for your outright rebellion toward God, for the ugliest, most shameful things that you have said or done. Your choice to worship yourself and your own desires, your bent toward looking for satisfaction in so many other things other than God, which is the essence of sin — it’s all been laid on Jesus. He was punished for your sin so that you don’t have to be. That’s the too-good-to-be trueness of the gospel.
Focus on the Bigger Miracle
Now, the disciples asked Jesus who sinned because they wanted to know who to blame for the disability. They wanted to focus on the cause, but Jesus wanted to focus on the purpose which was to put the works of God on display. And at this point in the blind man’s story, we might find ourselves struggling a bit to find the good news for us in it because we see that God put his power on display in this man’s life by giving him sight.
And we are people who didn’t get the miracle of eyes made to see or ears that hear or legs that walk or spinal cords that were fused or minds that fully function. The work of God seems so obvious in this story and in so many other stories in the gospel in which the paralyzed walk and the seizure stop and the one who was cutting himself is now clothed and in his right mind.
And it seems obvious in the lives of some people around us whose bodies are healed, whose children do overcome obstacles and progress. And it seems less obvious in the lives of those who don’t get the miracle or is it?
I want to suggest to you today that it’s not just miraculous physical healing that put the works of God on display in this man’s life or in your life. The miracle that was even bigger than the miracle of giving this man physical sight was that his spiritual eyes were open to see who Jesus is and that he was given the faith to believe.
The bigger miracle was that this man went from wanting to get something from Jesus — which he saw as his greatest need — to worshiping Jesus because he recognized that Jesus was everything he really needs. And can you see that this is the miracle Jesus wants to accomplish in your family and in your heart? God does want to do something miraculous in your home and in your heart.
And let me tell you for the dominant note in your home to be that of joy. That’s something supernatural happening: The fruit of the Spirit being generated in your lives. For you to walk in gratitude for what God has given you. When you have lost something like the ability to communicate or care for yourself, that’s the work of God on the interior of your life being put on display for the world to see.
And you can be sure that the world is watching, for you to cherish the way the Spirit of Christ is making you new on the interior of your life when you are wasting away on the outside. How that puts the glory of God on display in the world.
2. Understand Jesus’s Purpose and Our Ultimate Need
But we still struggle with what to do with the fact that so many people we read about in the Gospels did get the miracle of physical healing. People came to Jesus with a withered hand, a raging fever, unable to speak, and instantly they were healed. No prolonged treatments, nothing gradual or partial, no “two steps forward, three steps back.”
And we have plenty of people today who are so happy to tell us that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And so all we need is faith to really believe that he will do for us today what he did there during his earthly ministry and they tell us that healing power is available to us if we have the right amount of faith or the right person laying their hands on us or if we speak the right words claiming that healing for ourselves.
So if we’re really going to think like Jesus about disability, we’re going to have to understand what his healing ministry was all about because it’s on nearly every page of the Gospels. Surely the healing ministry of Jesus has something significant to tell us about what Jesus thinks about disability. But what is it?
One thing that the healing ministry of Jesus shows us is that Jesus thinks we have a much deeper issue to deal with than disability. In Mark 2, we read about this paralyzed man who was lowered down before Jesus by four friends from a hole they made in the roof. We read, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).
Now, we have to wonder when those four friends heard Jesus say this, did they look at each other quizzically and think, “Well, gee, Jesus, that’s really nice of you, but we didn’t really bring him here to get his sins forgiven. We brought him here to get healed.” And did that paralyzed man hanging from the ceiling, was he laying there thinking to himself, “Great, I’ve gone through all of this. I got my hopes all up about walking again, and the best you can do is tell me that my sins are forgiven.”
Of course, the religious leaders in the crowd were more annoyed than disappointed because they were experts on how people find forgiveness. Knowing that it comes from God alone and that forgiveness is costly and it’s complicated. I mean, you’ve got to go buy an animal and go to the temple and stand in line waiting for a priest to offer your sacrifice so he can make you ceremonially clean. The religious leaders must have been thinking, “You can’t just announce that somebody’s sins are forgiven.”
And of course, Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and so he said to them,
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark 2:9–11)
You see, these friends had brought this man to Jesus because they saw his paralysis as his most pressing problem. But Jesus knew that being healed of paralysis was not in fact his primary need. What this man and his friends wanted most was not what he needed most. And until we begin to think like Jesus about disability, we will not be able to see what we need most.
We will not see our most pressing problem: the problem of our sin toward a holy God. We won’t see it as any problem at all. What we need is for disability to drive us towards seeking what we need the most, which is for the sin that threatens not only our mortal body but our eternal soul to be forgiven and dealt with and cleansed. We read this story in the Gospels and we’re amazed that this man picks up his bed and walks home. And the truth is we kind of yawn at the declaration that his sins were forgiven.
Forgiveness of sin just doesn’t amaze us that much. It’s kind of God’s job, right? Only as God gives us eyes to see the enormity of our sin and the certain death it delivers, and our hopelessness apart from his healing touch, will we be able to truly value the healing ministry that Jesus brings to us.
That he has the authority and the ability to heal our souls that have been paralyzed and therefore unresponsive to him. That he opens our blind eyes to see his beauty. He unstops our ears so we can hear his voice calling us to himself. He stops the hemorrhaging that is robbing us of life itself and instead fills us with his life and power. He brings healing to our damaged emotions so we can desire him, and he renews our sin-sick minds so that we can think like Jesus, that we can actually have the mind of Christ.
So thinking like Jesus about disability is to allow what we see as our urgent need to appoint us toward our ultimate need.
The Root Cause of Disability
But what about these bodies and minds? Is the healing ministry of Jesus only about the physical? No, it isn’t. Because we are body and soul, and the salvation that comes to us through Christ is body and soul.
Jesus didn’t only heal the souls of those who repented and believed; he healed bodies and drove out demonic powers. Jesus came not only to deal with the guilt of sin and the estrangement from God brought about by sin. Jesus came to deal with the effects of sin. Jesus came to deal with the root cause of all of our misery, the root cause of all disease and disability and death.
The Bible begins by telling us that God created the heavens and the earth, and he formed Adam and Eve and put them in this beautiful garden where everything was good, perfectly good. And then something evil slithered into the perfection of the garden and brought ruin.
The book of Romans explains that when Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. This curse that came into the world because of sin cut deeper than just humanity. It impacted all of creation. Once again, Paul explains in Romans, against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse.
You see, you and I live in a world that is broken to the core because of the effects of sin, and we regularly experience the brokenness of this world in the form of disease and deformity and disability. These are all the result of living in a world where sin has taken root and corrupted everything, including our very genetic code, so that children are born with learning disabilities and metabolic disorders and extra chromosomes. But God refuses to give over his world to this brokenness forever.
He will not surrender creation to the powers of death forever. And right there, in the garden, in announcing this curse, he made a promise that one day, a descendant of the woman would come and put an end to the misery brought about by the effects of the curse in this world. Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden because sin and its effects cannot dwell in the holy presence of God.
But God wasn’t content for this alienation to be the way it will always be, and so he determined to call a people to himself. He called Abraham to be the father of his people, promising, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And he brought them into a new land where he intended to dwell with them in the holy of holies in the temple. This was a place, the holy of holies, that would remind them both of the perfection of Eden as well as point them toward the beauty and perfection of the new heavens and the new earth.
And he set out for them a way of daily life that would impress upon them the good news that all disease, decay, and disability, and death is unacceptable to the one who created heaven and earth and pronounced it good. That’s what the laws of clean and unclean are all about.
Clean and Whole by Jesus’s Blood
If you look in Leviticus, you will see that everything designated as unclean points out the effects of the curse of sin in this world. And the sacrifice prescribed, their point to how the world will be made clean.
And it’s in the midst of these purity laws in the book of Leviticus that we read something that, as people dealing with disability and seeking to bring dignity to those with disability, we don’t know quite what to do with, and honestly, it hurts. We read Leviticus 21. These are these very stringent guidelines for who will serve as priests in the holy sanctuary, and here’s what we read:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings. (Leviticus 21:16–21)
And when we read this, it can appear on the surface that those who have physical defects are somehow not good enough for God, that he has no desire to have them in his presence.
So we have to set these instinctual feelings of offense aside, so that we can hear and understand what God is really saying and doing here, which rather than being offensive, provides the answer. We have looked for our whole lives to the pain of physical disfigurement and defect. We need eyes to see the hope in what, at first blush, seems very harsh.
When we read that God will not allow a priest into the holy place with any defect or deformity, God is saying that he is not willing to make peace with the effects of sin in this world. He will not forever tolerate the pain of disease and deformity and death. He intends to put an end to it. God was sending the message that he will not forever abandon his world to its brokenness and uncleanness. He will make it clean and new. And how will he make it clean? By taking its uncleanness upon himself. Jesus was the ultimate clean thing, and yet he was continually touching unclean things.
A man with an unclean spirit who lived among the dead, near a herd of pigs, who cut himself. Unclean. A woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, the dead body of the synagogue ruler’s daughter, and what does he do? He reaches out to touch them, taking upon himself their sin, sickness and uncleanness and imparting to them his perfect health and wholeness and acceptance.
We are cleansed because the holy one of God became unclean for us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Our broken bodies will be made whole because he gave his body to be broken for us. By his wounds, we are healed. The way the world is going to become clean and whole and new will be by the blood of a sacrifice that is sufficient enough to atone for the world’s sin, as well as eradicate the world of the effects of sin.
And that all-sufficient sacrifice is what John saw that day when he looked up and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And as Jesus went from town to town healing the sick who came to him, it’s as if Jesus was continually pulling back the curtain to give us a glimpse into the way the world will one day be when his kingdom comes in all of its fullness, on that day when his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. When healing and wholeness become the reality that we will live in forever.
Every healing miracle was a living preview of the pervasive healing to come when Jesus comes again to purge the world of its evil and brokenness for good. When he came the first time, he healed Mandy, but he didn’t heal everyone.
3. Understand Full Healing Is Coming
And if we think it through, we realize this: That those he healed, they still died when some other sickness or old age eventually overtook them. When he came the first time, his healing was good, and it was real, but it was really just a preview. It wasn’t pervasive, it wasn’t permanent. And the healing that we experience now, and we do experience a measure of healing, don’t we? But still, it’s not pervasive or permanent, it’s still just a taste of the fuller healing that is to come when Jesus returns.
In the age to come, in the new heaven and the new earth, the healing ministry of Jesus will come to full fruition, and his healing will be pervasive and plentiful and permanent, and it will be more than we ever knew how to ask for.
And when we insist that his promises of complete healing must be applied in our lives now, as well as in the age to come, we are mistakenly inspecting in this age what God has reserved for the next. God’s primary purpose in the here and now is not to rid us of all disability and pain, but to purify us and empower us to place all of our hopes in his promises, trusting that one day they will become the reality we will know and fully enjoy forever.
You see, Jesus anticipates the day when disability is no more. And as you begin to think more and more like Jesus about disability, your anticipation of that day will grow. That day when we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying,
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)
Former things like getting fitted for a wheelchair and inserting a feeding tube or a catheter; they will have passed away. Revelation 22:3 says, “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Disability is a consequence of the curse. And when there is no more curse, there’s no more disability.
We’re getting ready to go into the Christmas season, and it’s the season when we sing one of my favorite songs, the Christmas carol, “Joy to the World.” I don’t know about you, but after what we’ve been through, and I imagine you, it’s been like this for you, don’t you? Everything you read in the Bible, you see through a different lens, and every song you sing, you sing differently. Been that way for me for lots of songs. One of those is “Joy to the World,” just was a great happy song before and now it’s everything. You see, we sing:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come Let Earth receive her King
Then we get to that verse:
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found
Now, if we think about this, we sing this at Christmas when we’re mostly thinking about when Jesus came the first time. But did the earth receive her king the first time? No, we crucified him. Right? Do thorns still infest the ground? Yes. Do his blessings flow as far as the curse is found quite yet? No. But that day is coming. You see, when we sing “Joy to the World,” it’s more about his second coming than his first coming because the day is coming when his blessings will flow as far as the curse is found.
This is our sure and solid hope. It’s not just sentimental; it’s not escapist. It’s not a religious-sized method for saving God’s reputation or for dialing back our disappointment in the bitter realities of today. It is not a second-rate plan for dealing with a series of events that somehow veered out of his control. All of history since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden has been pointing toward this day of relief and renewal.
Long for a Redeemed, Resurrected Body
Having our daughter, Hope, introduced us to many new aspects of life, many new people. Many new people in the medical community, especially including the geneticist. And to have a child with this syndrome meant that David and I are carriers of the recessive gene trait for the syndrome. And so, that means whenever we have a child, that child would have a 25 percent chance of having the fatal syndrome. And our geneticists told us, “Now, don’t take any permanent birth control steps because we can test very early.” And, of course, you know what he’s saying, but we did have a difficult decision to make about whether or not we would take that risk.
And the truth is, we loved Hope, and we enjoyed her, and she brought so much richness to our lives. We experienced what Pastor Piper talked about in terms of joy, great joy in the midst of great sorrow. Life in the image of God is so precious, so valuable. It doesn’t matter how long it is or how much that person can achieve or contribute, but we decided the wisest thing to do was to take surgical steps to prevent another pregnancy.
And evidently, it didn’t work. And a year after Hope died, I discovered that I was pregnant. And then we did go through that early testing and discovered that our son also had the fatal syndrome. Our daughter, Hope, had been with us for 199 days, and she slipped away from us in the middle of the night, sleeping in the bassinet by our bed. And that had always been very hard for me after her death. That she faced death alone when I was so close, and yet in my heart, so far.
So I asked God for one thing: “Lord, would you give me and David the ability to know when Gabe is slipping away, so that we might share that time with him?” And God was so good to give that to us. And that night when we sensed he was failing, we put Gabe in our bed with us in the middle, and we thanked God for his life and for all that he had taught us. And we said, “Gabe, do you want to hear about the resurrection?”
We turned to 1 Corinthians 15 which says,
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:19–23)
To think like Jesus about disability is to be convinced that one day he will do away with it. It is to groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for that day. It is to long for more than simply a body like everybody else has that works in this world. It is to long for a redeemed, resurrected body that will be like Christ’s resurrected, glorified human body, fit for living with him and serving him in the new heaven and the new earth.
4. Understand Jesus’s Sufficient Grace
So we’ve seen that Jesus feels compassion for those who hurt. He sees purpose in it. He has done what is necessary to get to the root cause of it, and one day heal it for good.
But perhaps that all just sounds like religious talk, removed from the day-to-day reality of living with disability. So how can thinking like Jesus give us what we need to get through the difficult realities we face day by day?
Well, he tells us in his words to Paul, when Paul begged him again and again for relief from the handicap of a thorn in his flesh, and in 2 Corinthians 12:8, Paul invites us into the interior of his agony and he writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” And we get to read Jesus’ personal response to Paul. He responds to him, not by giving him the healing he asked for, but by promising him more of himself.
Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (1 Corinthians 12:9). You see, Jesus spoke into Paul’s agony, saying, in essence, “I will be enough for you to endure the pain that I’m not going to take away.” Jesus was telling Paul, and he’s telling you and me, that when we repeatedly pray for relief from the pain in our lives that does not come, he will be enough for us in it. And whatever we’re laboring under, he will strengthen us for it.
We can be confident that his grace will be delivered to us in the form, timing, and quantity in which we need it. So to think like Jesus about disability is to expect that his grace will be given to us to endure the handicaps that he does not heal. Jesus also told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Jesus is saying that he wants to display His power in Paul’s life, not by removing the thorn, but by sustaining and satisfying Paul as he learns to live with a thorn.
And evidently, what Jesus said to Paul caused a dramatic about-face in the way Paul thought about suffering, and the way he talked about it, and the way he prayed about it. He tells us,
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
You see, Paul went from begging for relief to boasting in the power of Christ that rested on him. Power to endure, power to persevere. Paul went from discontent in his disability to contentment. Paul continued to pray about the thorn in his flesh, but his prayers were no longer that the thorn would be removed.
He began to pray that the pain would be redeemed, recognizing that the thorn was going to be a permanent factor in his day-to-day life. He prayed that he could achieve all that God wanted him to achieve, not in spite of the thorn but uniquely because of the thorn. And I wonder if you begin to truly think like Jesus about the disability in your life, what difference would it make in the way you pray about it?
And if you stopped praying about it a long time ago because you thought, “What good is it anyway?” because God doesn’t seem to answer the way we want him to, would you ask him to give you the mind of Christ just like he gave to Paul, so that like Paul, you might move from resenting the weakness in your life to resting, to move from complaining to contentedness, to move from thinking what you need most is relief from the difficulty to recognizing that what you need most is his sufficient, sustaining, satisfying grace supplied to you in the midst of disabilities, weakness, hardship, and calamity.
Jesus Invites Weary People
Our son, Matt, was eight when we had Hope, and of course, life didn’t stop for Matt, and we didn’t want it to. And so when you’re an 8-year-old boy, you know what that means? Cub Scout campouts. So we packed up Hope, and we went on a Cub Scout campout, and when I got there, there was a friend of ours who was there with her eight or nine-year-old daughter who had Rett syndrome, and she had her pulled up to one of the picnic tables and was feeding her. And I’d seen her from afar, but I’d never really talked to her.
And at that point, I was beginning to wonder how long Hope would be with us. And honestly, I was beginning to fear her becoming larger and more difficult to manage since she was unresponsive and floppy. And so I went up, and I sat down with this friend, and I said, “So how do you do it?” She told me that the truth was that her daughter could perhaps live another thirty years.
And she said, “If I think today, if I have to decide if I can do this for another thirty years, I say, I can’t do it. But I get up every day, and I say, I can do today what Jillian needs.” You see, she has come to believe that the grace of God is sufficient and that it will be delivered to her in the form and the timing and quantity in which she needs. But let’s face it, sometimes life just seems long.
Days and years of wheelchair transfers, hygiene regimens, doctor appointments, and fits of frustration, and things getting better instead of worse, stretch out in front of us. And when you have a minute to think about it, you fight with the fear that life could end very soon, as well as the fear that the burdens of dealing with disability might never end for you.
So to think like Jesus about disability is to know where to go when you are at the end of yourself, and Jesus invites weary people burdened with the weight of disability to come to him.
He throws open his arms and he says,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
You see when he says, take my yoke upon you, he’s not putting you to work. He’s inviting you to share the yoke that is also around his neck. He’s offering to shoulder the load, the heavy burden as you connect yourself to him. He will do the heavy lifting. And when he says, learn from me, hear his heart, which is humble and gentle.
As we are connected meaningfully to him, he will generate in us his own humility to deal with the assaults on our pride that come from disability. His own gentleness will overflow into our lives so that we will be able to respond to harsh treatment and demeaning questions and thoughtless comments with Christlike gentleness.
As we come to him and we learn from him, learning to think like him, we will find our frustration melts into peace. Our fears subside into trust, and our anxiety gives way to real rest. Are you weighed down by disappointment over how disability has changed the course of what you dreamed for your family, your career, your marriage, the future? Jesus invites you to bring that disappointment to him, and he will cover it with his grace and fill you with his joy.
Are you burdened by fear? Fear about how the bills are going to get paid, fear about how the symptoms may get worse. Wondering if you will have the stamina to get up tomorrow and do what needs to be done or the resources of patience that the years ahead are going to require. Well, Jesus invites you to turn to him in your fear and let him soothe your fear with the promises of his sufficient grace. Are you tired?
Tired of being stared at, tired of being ignored, tired of not being invited, tired of trips to the ER, tired of cleaning up messes, tired of the struggle, tired of the tears? Won’t you fall into the arms of the one who gives strength to the weary? In the midst of the heartache of disability, Jesus offers himself to you as a refuge.
So come to him and pour out your heart to him in prayer, and sit quietly listening to him as you open up his word, expecting him to speak personally and powerfully to you as you chew on his word, as you seek to live it out, it will build underneath you a solid foundation so that you will not be so easily knocked down by the storms that come and keep coming. Hear his promise to be there in the days ahead to help you shoulder the load.
This verse we’ve been thinking about, thinking like Jesus about suffering. I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it. He says it this way. Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. And then you’ll be free to live out your days, to pursue what God wants, instead of being tyrannized by what you want. Learn to think like him.
Find comfort in his compassion, fellowship with him because he feels the hurt that you feel deep inside himself. Be confident that God intends to put his work on display in your life for the world to see as you rest in his good purposes and disability. Call out to him for healing, the healing that only comes from him. Thanking him for the tastes and the glimpses he gives us now of his all-encompassing, pervasive, plentiful, permanent healing to come at the resurrection. Set your sights so solidly on this future of healing and wholeness, so that these days of difficulty will be infused with anticipatory joy.
Take hold of his all-sufficient grace. Come to him and find rest for your soul.