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Suffering as God’s Hammer and Chisel

By Joni Eareckson Tada

If there’s one verse I know by heart sittin’ in this wheelchair, it’s 2 Corinthians 8-9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

In the early years of my paralysis when I was squirming to be healed, I pleaded with the Lord to take my wheelchair away. To make a long story short, I got the same response as Apostle Paul. My condition remained chronic.

Why would some hardships never go away? You pray and plead until your knees get sore; yet the pinched nerve doesn’t heal, multiple sclerosis doesn’t halt, the Alzheimer’s doesn’t regress, the marriage doesn’t get better, the job promotion never comes, and the engagement night never arrives. After 47 years in a wheelchair, this is the conclusion I’ve come to…

The core of God’s plan is to rescue us from self-centeredness. Suffering, especially the chronic kind, is God’s choice tool to accomplish this. It means the hurting and hammering process won’t end until we become completely holy (and there’s no chance of that happening this side of Eternity).

This is why I can accept my paralysis as a chronic condition. When I broke my neck, it wasn’t a jigsaw puzzle I had to solve fast nor was it a quick jolt to get me back on track. My spinal cord injury was the beginning of a long, arduous process of becoming more like Christ. There are times I wish it were easier, but I recognize I have a long way to go before I am like Christ, polished and complete in His image.

The good news is God is ready to give me more than enough help from His end. Abundantly more. If grace abounds where sin abounds (as the Bible puts it), then grace must also abound where suffering abounds. God’s power more than sustains us through hardships that hang around. God’s grace—the desire and the power to do His will—is sufficient. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but healed” (Hebrews 12.12). Health and wholeness, maturity and completeness, will be mine one day. Then, the hammer and chisel will be put away once and for all. The only thing that will be “chronic” is joy.

This article was written by Joni Eareckson Tada for a small book HumanLifeMatters published about 20 years ago under the title SURRENDER TO FREEDOM: Devotions For The Hurting Soul. It contained many devotional stories of Christians (and/or their loved ones) who have faced serious disability or illnesses. 

Learn more about Joni’s ministry at

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at