Joni Eareckson Tada’s devotional Beside Bethesda begins with this dedication: “For my pain-pal friends I’ve met by the pool of Bethesda. With each devotional in this book, I pray for them… These friends, like me, deal daily with pain. Together we are discovering that grace always heals deeper.”
Grace always heals deeper.
These words hit me hard. I understand the truth behind them.
For most of us, ‘grace always heals deeper’ is a sweet idea, but we’d prefer the physical healing. Or emotional healing. Or the return of our wayward child. Or reversal of a financial disaster.
Those things are tangible. Visible. A cause for celebration.
But grace. That’s an invisible healing. To an outsider, nothing looks different. Life still looks shattered and God may seem uninvolved.
But that’s just to the casual observer. In reality, we are profoundly changed.
Grace gives us the courage to face anything, healed from the inside out. For this healing is not just for this life but for the next. It is Spirit-breathed, not humanly understandable. It is permanent, not temporary.
Nonetheless, I still beg God for the temporary healing of this life. And I have done that for decades.
The first time I remember was in third grade. Everyone was playing dodgeball and I was sitting on the sidelines, watching. As I always did. I had heard in church that if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can ask for anything. So I asked, “God, please, please heal me now. Right now, in front of my class. If you do, I’ll do anything you want.”
Then I boldly got up and walked across the gym, fully expecting to walk without a limp. But after a few steps, I realized that my limp was unchanged and my small faith was squashed. And I gave up on God. I hadn’t prayed much before, but that day I concluded that God wasn’t real.
Decades later, I begged God not to take the life of my son. Hours after my prayer, I held his lifeless body in the emergency room. God had not brought the healing I had pleaded for.
Years after that, I begged God to bring my husband back. When he left our family, I was devastated. I felt certain that God would eventually restore our family. So I waited and prayed. But restoration never came.
God answered ‘no’ to each of these requests for healing. Each time, I couldn’t understand why. I had asked for good things. And had promised to glorify God when they were answered.
In the third grade I became angry and disillusioned. I questioned God’s love for me. And I walked away.
Later, as a Christ-follower, I had a different response. Though the ‘no’ was still excruciating, I kept talking to God. I couldn’t walk away.
At times my devotional life felt hollow. It seemed like those who got the happy ending were God’s favorites. And I was somehow a lesser child because I didn’t receive what I wanted.
Or so I thought.
I did not know that as God denied each request, He was doing something much deeper in my life.
Every day I had to cry out to God for mercy. Every day I had to ask the Spirit for strength. Every day I had to cling to Jesus. Because there was nowhere else to turn.
I read and I prayed and I journaled and I wept. Every day.
Day by day I learned to lean into Christ. And as I leaned, He poured grace into me. Grace to accept His plans for my life. Grace to receive His power in my weakness. Grace to see this greater healing.
For grace always heals deeper.
My grace-saturated healing is not superficial. It is deep and enduring. It cannot be stolen by adverse circumstances. It has led to an abiding joy in Him that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.
Joni goes on to say in Beside Bethesda, “Somehow, in the midst of your suffering, the Son of God beckons you into the inner sanctum of His own suffering – a place of mystery and privilege you will never forget. I have suffered, yes. But I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.”
I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.
From a woman who struggles daily with quadriplegia and chronic pain and has also survived breast cancer, that almost sounds crazy. But the more I have suffered, the more I understand her words.
Joni recounts the day she and her husband Ken were at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Many times she had pictured that pool and wondered why Jesus had passed her by for healing. Yet that day in Jerusalem, Joni suddenly saw things quite differently.
“Thank You”, I whispered. “Thank You for the healing You gave me. The deeper healing. Oh, God, You were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. Because that ‘no’ meant ‘yes’ to a stronger faith in You, a deeper prayer life, and a greater understanding of Your Word. It has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on Your grace, and increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has stretched my hope, given me a lively, buoyant trust in You, stirred an excitement about heaven, and pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow. It has increased my faith and helped me to love You more. Jesus, I love You more.”
He didn’t give me the physical healing I had wanted, but the deeper healing I needed so much more.
God invites us all to experience this deeper healing. This miracle of a changed heart rather than changed circumstances. This healing that strengthens our prayer life, increases our faith, and helps us love Jesus more. This healing that is not shallow or fleeting; it will last throughout eternity.
For grace always heals deeper.