RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP) — “No five-year plan that you embark on will be more important than the people put before you to serve,” Joni Eareckson Tada told students at California Baptist University. “If you have a passion for God, you will have a passion for people.”
Tada, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident in 1967, said in a chapel message at the Riverside, Calif., campus that she wakes up with no energy 95 percent of the time and no strength to live through another day with disabilities.
“I lay in my bed and tell God, ‘But I can do all things through You who strengthens me. Can I borrow your smile? Because I don’t have one for today.'”
Tada, recounting the story of her accident, said life seemed without purpose.
“I could not kill myself, since I was a quadriplegic, so I tried to be dead emotionally and spiritually. But hardships are what will press you against the heart of Jesus and eventually I knew that if I would grow closer to Christ, I would grow closer to His passion.”
Today Tada is involved with Joni & Friends, which encompasses the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, a weekday five-minute radio program and other ministries.
“At first, the last thing I wanted to do is hang out with other people in a wheelchair,” she said. “But suddenly my wheelchair took on a different purpose when I realized that Jesus hung out with people who had disabilities. The blind man, the man with twisted limbs — Jesus’ heart was toward those with disabilities.”
Tada challenged CBU students not to live their lives on automatic pilot, assuming they have the Christian life down pat so they can proceed with their day.
“If you live life on automatic pilot, God is against you,” she warned. “Too often, we consider ourselves the iPhone — with Jesus like our charger. We let Him charge us up, then we disconnect until we need the charge again.
“We are branches, part of the vine,” Tada reminded in her Nov. 5 message. “We don’t become disconnected.”
Tada said that many people are not attracted to the cross of Jesus because it asks so much.
“Yet that’s what gives us the passion of Christ,” she said. “Learn to look at hardship in life as intimacy with Jesus. By developing a passion for Him, you can serve the people He loves. And you don’t have to break your neck to do it.”
Katherine Chute is director of communications at California Baptist University.