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Joni's Godly Priorities

In a recent article, Joni Eareckson Tada advises her younger self to pay attention to cultivating godliness. 

What advice would Joni Eareckson Tada offer to her younger self? She writes:

"Oh, that I had been more actively engaged in my own sanctification — that I had partnered more with the Holy Spirit to not only sniff out sin in my life, but to say “no” to “ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12)."

Joni Eareckson Tada is simultaneously Christian leader, author, teacher, and a quadraplegic. More than anyone else, Joni has been the face of disability advocacy in the evangelical world, and a champion for God's love for those with disabilities. After losing control of her limbs from the shoulders during a tragic accident in 1967, Joni succumbed to depression and bitterness, feeling like her life was over. It was also at this time that her faith became stronger and she learnt many lessons about Christ, contentment, joy and character. She overcame many personal challenges, mastering the art of painting, public speaking, and even singing. Her book "Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman's struggle against quadriplegia & depression", released in 1976, would go on to become an international best-seller, and a movie in 1979. Since then, she has written more than forty books, recorded numerous albums, and founded an advocacy organisation called Joni and Friends. Joni and Friends is an "accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community".

In a recent article on Desiring God entitled "Beware of Running Too Hard: A Letter to My 30 Year Old Self", Joni reflects on her unconventional, but meteoric rise to prominence and fame, and gives herself advice on what she should have prioritised. Whether we are 30 or not, there is much that Joni has to say to us, especially in the light of our sermon series on 1 Timothy that urges us towards godliness. 

Joni writes about the busyness of her ministry in the early days: "I immersed myself in Christian special-needs programs, learning about new models of disability ministry. Soon, several specialists and I were touring the country, holding summits for churches that wanted to minister Christ to special-needs families. I was off and running."

Perhaps many of us are running at a similar breakneck speed, eager to make the next appointment in a never ending flow of committments. What would Joni say to herself when she was so motivated and busy to help people through important ministry? She writes, "So, I would say to 30-year-old Joni,

'God is far more interested in reaching people with disabilities than you’ll ever be, and he can manage quite well with or without Joni and Friends. So slow down and love Jesus more. And prove that love by pursuing holiness.'"

Looking back on her life in a section called "Live from Godliness, Not Giftedness", Joni explains how she came to this conclusion:

"Thankfully, in the mid-80s, I began to feel a rumbling in my spirit. I looked inward and could tell I lacked the power of godliness in my heart. My hopes weren’t as bright, and my sensitivity to sin was dulled. Then I read a book called Holiness by J.C. Ryle.

We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself in its true colors. Never when we are tempted will we hear sin say to us, “I am your deadly enemy. . . . I want to ruin your life.” That’s not how it works. Sin, instead, comes to us like Judas with a kiss. . . . Sin, in its beginnings, seems harmless enough — like David walking idly on his palace roof which happened to overlook the bedroom of a woman. You and I may give wickedness smooth-sounding names, but we cannot alter its offensive nature and character in the sight of God.

That was the year I invited the Spirit to convict me about any itchiness to get my own way — I invited my new husband to call me out on it, too. When it came to offenses of any size, I wanted to be able to say to the Lord, “Cleanse me from all unrighteousness” (see 1 John 1:9). And I never looked back.

Recently while housecleaning, a friend found a dusty pile of old albums in the back of my living room closet. “Hey, these are really worth something,” she marveled. I almost told her to give them to the Goodwill, but then decided to dump them. Better that than they wear a rut in some unsuspecting 30-year-old soul.

There are far better anthems for our lives. Courageous, celestial anthems that carry us from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. Anthems that remind us that Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare, and that it is worth anything to be his friend, whether we are thirty or seventy."

As we consider the wise words of Joni, let us pay attention to godliness and make repentance a deep personal habit that gives life and restores joy when we are weary, burdened and broken from neglecting our own sin.