When You Go Through Fire and Water -- Thoughts on Suffering

Joni Earekson Tada has been a quadriplegic in a wheelchair for more than 40 years. And if paralysis isn’t enough, she’s battled breast cancer. And is currently struggling with unrelenting, excruciating pain from a bone fracture. 

Yet she writes in her most recent book, A Place of Healing, “My affliction has stretched my hope, made me know Christ better, helped me long for the truth, led me to repentance of sin, goaded me to give thanks in times of sorrow, increased my faith, and strengthened my character. Being in this wheelchair has meant knowing Him better, feeling His pleasure every day.” 

In comparison, Joni’s fiery trials make mine look small. I don’t live in constant pain, where every breath is an effort. I get myself out of bed each morning, dress myself, and drive wherever I want to go. I seldom struggle to accomplish the basic tasks of existence. But I, too, have walked through the fire. 

Some days I still cry when I think about the days leading up to my younger sister’s death in 2010 at age 44. Or the fearful years of parenting a prodigal. Or the paralyzing times of praying for a loved one teetering on the brink of destruction. 

These trials have pressed me into the arms of Jesus because, as Peter so eloquently declared in John 6:68, there was nowhere else to go. In Jesus’ arms, like Joni, I found hope and strength. I discovered aspects of God’s nature that comforted me and bolstered my struggling faith. 

I’ll never forget walking into a worship service one Sunday morning so broken I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I was afraid if I did, someone would see my devastated soul, and I would burst into tears and never stop crying. 

In God’s sovereignty, the first song the worship team sang that day was Matt Redman’s "10,000 Reasons." It reminded me of the greatness of God’s name and the kindness of his heart. Almost imperceptibly, my upended world began to tilt back toward the center, and hope flickered in my soul. 

King David wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The author of Psalm 66 took it one step further: “We went through fire and through water, but you brought us out to rich fulfillment” (v. 12b). 

This is truth. Like Joni’s paralysis pointed her to what truly mattered, my temporary losses paved the way for God’s eternal gifts. Without the sting of fear, I’d never fully appreciate security. Without the ache of loss, I’d never understand the permanence of the life to come. Without the heartache of a prodigal, I would have taken for granted the joy of restored relationships. 

Without times in my life when all I had was God, I would have never discovered that God is all I need. 

It is appropriate to conclude with the Phillips translation of 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. May we take it to heart as both encouragement and our calling: 

“This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in common earthenware—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are hard-pressed on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but are never deserted; we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also show the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours.” 

If you’re going through “fire and through water” today, may God grant you spiritual eyes to see by faith the “rich fulfillment” that awaits you. 

For additional encouragement, please enjoy Matt Redman’s "10,000 Reasons." If you’re reading by email, click here to view "10,000 Reasons."

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  1. Lori, thank you for your honesty, for pointing us to Jesus, and for sharing about Joni, such an incredible woman of God!

    1. And thank you for your kind words, friend. Blessings to you.