God's Sustaining Grace
October 20, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
God Centered Life Ministries is pleased to welcome Dr. Duane Litfin. He is president emeritus of Wheaton College and is the author of several books, including most recently Paul’s Theology of Preaching (IVP Academic, May 2015) and Word vs. Deed (Crossway, 2012). This past summer we celebrated the life of Elisabeth Elliot during a memorial service at Wheaton College, Elisabeth’s alma mater. The service was a moving remembrance of a costly life, and a resounding testimony to the power of God’s sustaining grace. Among those who addressed the gathered crowd was another woman who has also known a costly life. Joni Eareckson Tada held us all in thrall as she spoke of how Elisabeth had befriended and mentored her through some of her own difficult times. Joni’s focus too was the marvelous sustenance of God’s grace. As a part of that memorial service we relived the famous, and quite extraordinary, events of Elisabeth’s life. But I also found myself thinking about the extraordinary events of Joni’s life, and was reminded of a piece I wrote about her back in 2005. The Academy Award for best film that year went to the movie, Million Dollar Baby. It’s the story of a young woman named Maggie Fitzgerald who turns to boxing as a way out of a dead-end life. Under the tutelage of her father-figure trainer, she rides her boxing train to success, only to see her dreams vanish in a tragic accident that leaves her paralyzed from the neck down. In the end, her trainer, in an act the film portrays as both tragic and heroic, takes her life as an act of mercy. After all, the film seems to be telling us, without her strength and her success to provide meaning for her life, Maggie might as well be dead. For in circumstances such as hers, what else could there be to live for? The life and ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada is the answer to that question. Injured in a diving accident in 1967, Joni was also a vigorous athlete who became a quadriplegic. But there the comparison with Maggie Fitzgerald ends. Million Dollar Baby is an honest portrayal of the dreadful emptiness of a life lived, as the Book of Ecclesiastes puts it, merely “under the sun,” a life devoid of any semblance of an eternal perspective. What Maggie Fitzgerald needed most, lying there in that hospital bed, was not someone to end her life. What she needed was hope, the very hope that transformed Joni’s quadriplegia into a world-wide ministry that has touched millions of lives. It’s an eternal hope, a hope of heaven that transcends this life. But it’s also hope for today, the hope that came when Joni realized that God wanted to use her for his glory even in her paralyzed condition – no, let’s correct that – especially in her paralyzed condition. For it was precisely her paralysis that opened for Joni such astonishing opportunities for ministry. What Maggie Fitzgerald needed was the life-transforming, hope-inducing good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very same Gospel that since that fateful day in 1967 has given meaning to every joy and struggle of Joni’s life. For most of us, we can only talk about these things from the outside. But not Elisabeth Elliot and Joni Eareckson Tada. They have lived them, modeling for the rest of us what it means to “count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” We are the beneficiaries of their model—but are we grateful beneficiaries? How seldom do we calculate the fearful price such a model exacts from those who are called to provide it! In discussing trials in the Christian life and how God uses them to accomplish his purposes, John Newton once wrote:
Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: “Why is the bush not burned?” The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God—with the same grace—who sustains me in my smaller sufferings.Neither Elisabeth nor Joni ever viewed themselves as heroic. They were and are too well aware of their own struggles and dark times for that. Yet they are heroic in our eyes, in the same sense that the figures of Hebrews 11 are heroic. I wouldn’t begin to venture an explanation for their suffering, but at least this glimmer is clear to me. As with the saints of old, their costly lives have had the effect of causing many of us who have witnessed them to marvel, “Why is this bush not burned?” And then to answer our own question: The sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus!]]>
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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