Cross or Crown?
By Steve Hearts
Who isn’t familiar with Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow Him?1 I always believed the cross to be a symbol of our service for Him. But more recently I’ve come to see this passage in yet another light, which, I must say, greatly “opened my eyes.”
There are many different kinds of crosses. God’s service is definitely one of them. But there are folks, like me, who have been created with what is outwardly seen as a handicap or a disability. There are also those who suffer from chronic afflictions or health issues and who see no tangible sign of healing, despite their own prayers and the prayers of others. Those of us who find ourselves in such situations can either question why and fall under condemnation when no healing miracle is seen on the horizon, or choose to praise God that we are as we are and accept His will, meanwhile doing what we can to advance His kingdom on earth.
The latter option certainly requires surrender and submission—two valuable, yet challenging qualities, that with the Lord’s help, I chose for myself. I have never regretted doing so. I gradually came to see my blindness as a true blessing in disguise, a valuable and costly treasure wrapped in something less than appealing to the human eye. Once I chose to look past the disguise of seeming difficulty and inconvenience, and instead see the good fruit borne in my own life and in the lives of those to whom I ministered, I found myself looking only at an invaluable treasure that God was using. Did the disguise dissolve? Or did my perspective undergo a drastic makeover? Whichever the case, I no longer see myself as “suffering.”
Do I believe in God’s power and ability to give me sight? Of course! He not only healed blind people in Bible times but He does so today as well. Yet He has made it clear, confirming it in the mouths of several witnesses, that my blindness was meant to be part of the mission for which I came into the world in the first place. A while ago, as I was reflecting upon Jesus’ call for us to take up our cross and follow Him, He clearly spoke to my heart: “Everyone bears different crosses for Me. Yours is the gift of blindness.”
In numerous ways my blindness has turned out to be a gift. Its main attribute is the way it motivates, convicts, and encourages people. I am unable to count the number of times people have told me, “I complain a lot about the difficulties and inconveniences in my life. But when I look at you, I’m always ashamed of myself.” As many times as I’ve been told this, it doesn’t mean I’m never heard to complain. But when I do, the conviction of the Holy Spirit pricks my conscience as I recall the times I’ve encouraged folks to praise God for all things.
The incidents in which God, through me, has manifested His love and encouragement to others for His name’s sake have been innumerable. Why then should I preoccupy myself with whether I am meant to receive sight in this life? After all, what is more important: the fulfillment of my own wishes and desires or the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life?
As a boy, I did my share of praying to receive sight. Since then, I’ve also been prayed for by many. I’ve had hands laid on me, I’ve received prayer in tongues, I’ve even been prayed over to be delivered from demons. I don’t at all mininize or shun the prayers of others for me to be able to see. Nevertheless, I hold firmly to the statement made by Joni Eareckson Tada in her book A Place of Healing: “God reserves the right to heal or not as He sees fit.” (As further follow-up to this article, I certainly recommend this book.)
In 1 Peter 4:19, we read: “Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”2
My stance toward the “gift” of blindness I have been given is firmly supported in Paul’s words of 2 Corinthians 12:7–10: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”3
I once gave a brief talk about this at a youth revival, telling the testimony of God’s faithfulness to preserve me at birth and of my life as a missionary in several countries. Present at the meeting was a youth pastor who had previously introduced himself with a fervent prayer for me to be able to see. When I was through with my talk, he immediately came up to me and told me of having been moved to tears by my testimony. “Never before have I seen anyone with such a positive attitude toward a disability.” Others at the meeting told of having been motivated to do more for the Lord than they were currently doing. I could only praise the Lord in response.
Another reason why I deem it unnecessary to fret over whether or not I’ll be able to see in this life is the knowledge that I will most certainly see in the life to come. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” This earth life is only temporal. If God sees fit that I remain as I am in order to be of better use to Him on earth, and if He guarantees my being able to see in the next life, then why on earth should I gripe?
A story tells of a soldier who suffered from a fatal illness. Knowing he would not live long, he gave it all he had on the battlefield. Eventually he was cured of the disease, thanks to the attention of skilled physicians. But from then on, he distanced himself from the battle-field, seeking to protect his life instead of risking it. After hearing this story for the first time, I told the Lord, “If You see fit to keep me blind in order to preserve my usefulness as a soldier in Your army, then so be it.”
Having come to see my blindness as the gift that it truly is, I no longer consider it a cross. When I see the fruit that is borne for God’s glory as I spread His message as best I can, it changes my perspective to where my blindness is seen as a glorious crown that I feel privileged to wear. Though I know there is a crown to be worn in the next life, I will certainly cherish this crown of blindness while I have it. As the saying goes, “They that bear the cross shall wear the crown.”