Paralyzed and Blessed

Paralyzed and Blessed

If you long for divine fullness to flow into your soul without a check, embrace your afflictions, get actively engaged in your own sanctification, and let your delight in Christ mesh with your delight in his law. For God has given you the sun, stars, and the universe; he has given you flowers, friendship, goodness, and salvation. He’s given you everything — can you not give him your heart? If God does not have our heart, who or what shall have it?

When pain jerks me awake at night, I first glance up. If the digital display on the ceiling says only the second watch of the night, I push through the pain and try to breathe my way back to sleep. But if the clock says 4:00 a.m., I smile. Jesus has awakened me to enjoy communion with him, even though it’ll be hours before I sit up in my wheelchair.

Do I need more sleep? Of course. Will my pain subside? Unlikely. But at four in the morning, there is a more necessary thing, and it makes me happy to think that long before dawn, I am among the early ones who are blessing Jesus. Filling my chest with Jesus. Rehearsing his Scriptures, murmuring his names, and whisper-singing hymns that cascade one into another, all filled with adoration.

It’s hard to do that when you’re wearing an external ventilator. And so I wordlessly plead that he unearth my sin, fill all my cavernous, empty places, and show me more of his splendor. He always responds with tenderness. He sees me lying in bed paralyzed and propped with pillows, encumbered by a lymphatic sleeve, wheezing air-tubes, a urine bag, and hospital railings that “hold it all together.”

One of my helpers knows all about these nighttime rendezvous with Jesus, and so one night after she tucked me in, she stood over my paralyzed frame with an open Bible. “This is you,” she said, and then read Psalm 119:147–148: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.”

That pretty much describes it. In the morning when a different helper draws the drapes, unhooks my ventilator, drops the guard rails, removes the lymph-sleeve, and pulls out my many pillows, she’ll usually ask, “Sleep well?”

“Not the best, but I am so happy.”

Blessings that Bruise

Real happiness is hard to come by. Many Christians default to the lesser, more accessible joys of our culture. But the more we saturate ourselves with earthy pleasures, the more pickled our minds become, sitting and soaking in worldly wants to the point that we hardly know what our souls need. We then seize upon the loan approval, job promotion, the home-team victory, or rain clouds parting over our picnic as glorious blessings sent from on high. Yet if Jesus were counting our blessings, would these make his top ten?

I am the most blessed quadriplegic in the world. It has nothing to do with my job, a nice house, my relatively good health, or a car pulling out of a handicap space just as I pull up to the restaurant. It does not hinge on books I’ve written, how far I’ve traveled, or having known Billy Graham on a first-name basis.

Jesus goes much deeper than the physical-type blessings so reminiscent of the Old Testament. Back then, God blessed his people with bounteous harvests, annihilated enemies, opened wombs, abundant rains, and quivers full of children. Jesus takes a different approach. He locates blessings closer to pain and discomfort.

How Suffering Invites Blessing

In his most famous sermon, Jesus lists empty-handed spiritual poverty, hearts heavy with sorrow, a lowly forgiving spirit, eschewing sin, and struggling for unity in the church. Jesus tops off his list with, “And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad — for your reward in Heaven is magnificent” (Matthew 5:11–12, J.B. Phillips).

How does one accept these hard-edged things as blessings? First Peter 3:14 suggests that “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” It is affliction that sends us into the inner recesses of Christ’s heart and shuts the door. There, “a new nearness to God and communion with him is a far more conscious reality. . . . New arguments suggest themselves; new desires spring up; new wants disclose themselves.

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