Joni Eareckson Tada is a well-known advocate for the rights of the disabled and a well-loved writer on the spiritual life. Her latest book, 31 DAYS TOWARD INTIMACY WITH GOD, is a showcase for her ability to connect biblical truth with everyday life. She does so here in an easily accessible format that provides a short essay, a scripture passage, and a prayer for every day of the month. All of it is geared, as the title suggests, to promote a deeper connection with God.
In the introduction, Tada suggests that to be in a close relationship with Christ is to be familiar with suffering. That's not to say that one must go around pursuing pain and humiliation, but it is to say that the cross is a tangible focal point, even a rallying point, for our faith.
"Suffering has a way of taking life out of the abstract, out of the theoretical, making it painfully concrete…. When we suffer, we realize we are not handling theological ideas, we are rather being handled by a Person --- the warm and intimate Person of the Lord Jesus. At other times, when life is rosier, we may slide by with knowing about Him. With imitating Him and quoting Him and speaking of Him. But only in the fellowship of suffering will we know Jesus. We identify with Him at the point of His deepest humiliation. The cross, symbol of His greatest suffering, becomes our personal touch point with the Lord of the universe."
If anyone knows about suffering, it's Tada. She was headed to college when a diving accident left her paralyzed from the neck down in 1967. Over the years she has spoken candidly about the ongoing physical and emotional pain her injuries cause her. And it's precisely because of her affliction that she is in a unique place to speak with authority about the ability of suffering to draw one closer to the Lord.
In her daily essays Tada weaves together stories from her life and from Scripture to illustrate how God works through events --- sometimes good, more often bad given that we live in a fallen world --- to draw us closer to Him. She has a gentle, encouraging tone but her guidance isn't superficial. It's steeped in many years as a student of the Bible and the school of hard knocks.
Tada says God is painting a picture with our lives.
"There are aspects of your life and character --- good, quality things --- he wants others to notice. So without using blatant tricks or obvious gimmicks, God brings the cool, dark contrast of suffering into your life. That contrast, laid up against the golden character of Christ within you, will draw attention…to Him.
Light against darkness. Beauty against affliction. Joy against sorrow. A sweet, patient spirit against pain and disappointment --- major contrasts that have a way of attracting notice. Your life beings to snap with interest. People notice you out of the corner of their eye --- are drawn to you --- without really understanding why.
They are, in fact, seeing what the Master Artist wants them to observe: Christ in you, highlighted against an opposing force of dark suffering.
He draws you into intimacy with Himself, even in the most difficult, pressure-filled days of your life. Jesus allows you to know Him through the 'fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.'"
God is certainly painting just such a compelling picture with Joni Eareckson Tada's life, and in 31 DAYS TOWARD INTIMACY WITH GOD she provides the guidance to help you allow God to do the same in your life.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on March 3, 2005