For many, the Christian life looks like this: You call out to God. Your problems get worse. You suffer and wait. Nothing changes. Author John S. Dickerson knows the feeling. A rare health condition drove him to examine the Bible’s claim that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” As a journalist, Dickerson has seen severe human suffering. As a pastor, he has comforted others through unimaginable grief. He wrote I Am Strong to give understanding, hope and strength to the hurting.
In its chapters, I Am Strong equips you to:
-Unlock God’s strength for your difficulties.
-Understand how a loving God will resolve your pain.
-Know God’s plan to repurpose your pain, injustice and inadequacy.
-Understand why your suffering does not mean God is punishing you.
-Overcome life’s circumstances as Christ and Paul did.
-Discover the life-changing power of God’s strength in your weakness.
I Am Strong breathes hope and comfort. Much more, it offers daily practices and lifelong vision on which to build an unshakeable life of meaning and peace.
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About the Author
John S. Dickerson is a prize-winning research journalist, a seminary-trained pastor, and a frequent commentator in national news outlets like USA Today. He aggregates cultural trends, sociology, and historical understanding to give Biblical insight into world events and Christian living today. John’s first book, The Great Evangelical Recession, has equipped tens of thousands to understand the future of the church in the United States. John serves as the Lead Pastor of Connection Pointe Christian Church in the Indianapolis metro area.
Read an Excerpt
I Am Strong
By John S. Dickerson
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2016 John S. Dickerson
All rights reserved.
Living Proof of Heaven's Strength
* * *
The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. Psalm 145:14
When difficulties rock our world, it's normal to think, If life is bad, then God must be mad But that, we are going to see, simply is not true.
The truth is that God still loves you, even when your life is bad — especially when your life is bad. Like a loving parent, God hurts with you. When He sees you suffering or struggling, He generously offers His compassion to you. Scripture promises, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
In the last seventeen years, Joy Veron has learned to find God's strength in unthinkable tragedy. I first learned about Joy when I Google searched "Mother's Day video." I hoped to find a video about a mom who loved her kids as they endured hardship. Instead, I found the story of a mom who continued loving her kids and loving life as she herself endures unthinkable pain.
It was a homemade video, filmed in the cozy kitchen of a lived-in home. In it, two teenage girls hold up handwritten signs, explaining an unbelievable story about their mom's love.
By the end of the video, my eyes were stinging with tears. Chloe's and Annie's handwritten signs read as follows in their Mother's Day video:
"We want to tell you a story about our mom"
"Our mom and dad got married in 1991"
"In 1992, I was born"
"A few years later, in 1994, I was born"
"And finally, in 1996, our little brother was born"
"We lived in a happy home with lots of love and laughter"
"And a mom who loved us more than the world"
"But there was an accident in 1999 that changed everything"
"We were on vacation with my grandparents"
"And we were going to rent a log cabin"
"It was beautiful and overlooked a huge cliff"
"We were so excited!"
"At the time, I was 7"
"I was 5"
"And our brother was 3"
"When we pulled into the driveway of the house"
"My parents and grandparents got out of the car to sign paper-work in the doorway"
"My sister, brother, and I stayed in the car and watched from the window"
"Even though my mom had her keys with her, the car somehow knocked out of gear"
"And started rolling ..."
"Toward the cliff"
"As soon as my mom saw what was happening"
"She did the unthinkable"
"She ran in front of the SUV, determined to stop it"
"We remember the look on her face right before she went under"
"And we remember feeling the bump as we ran over her body"
"That bump saved our lives"
"It slowed the car down just enough for my grandpa to run up beside it"
"And pull the emergency brake"
"Right before we went [would have gone] over the cliff"
"The weight of the SUV on my mother's body should've killed her"
"But by some miracle of miracles"
"But it did break her back"
"She is paralyzed from the waist down"
"And she will never walk again"
"But she says she wouldn't change it for the world because her 3 kids are alive and with her"
"She hasn't let her wheelchair stop her from anything"
"She has been at every piano recital"
"Every tennis tournament"
"And is the voice at the end of the phone when I'm away at college"
"She is our rock"
"And our best friend"
"She is the most amazing mother in the world"
"She taught us from a young age that when people stare at us because of her wheelchair"
"We should hold our head up high"
"And just stare back"
"That is what she has done with life"
"Life gave her a tough hand of cards"
"But she arranged them into something beautiful"
"Yes, she saved our lives in the accident in 1999"
"But she saves them over and over again, each and every day"
"Happy Mother's Day, Mom" (You can watch this video at IamStrongBook.com.)
* * *
Joy Veron laid down her life to save the lives of her children. She has lived the last seventeen years in a wheelchair. From getting out of bed to bathing and simple daily duties, the monotony and helplessness of life in a wheelchair leads many into despair, bitterness, and depression. But that hasn't been the case for Joy Veron.
Everyone who knows Joy knows that hers is not a life of bitterness or cynicism. Instead, from her wheelchair, Joy Veron exudes a contagious love for life and for others. She exudes, as her name suggests, joy.
How is this possible? How can she have a better outlook — from a wheelchair — than many of us have from our armchairs? How can she have such strength in such weakness?
The answer is that Joy Veron has learned the secret we seek to learn in this book. The secret that God's strength best invades our lives through our weakness and pain. Joy Veron is living, breathing proof that God can bring good from the struggles and tragedies in our lives, if we will invite Him into our weakness and pain.
And that, Joy says, is the secret — inviting God into the pain. In early 2013, I wrote Joy to ask if I could use her Mother's Day video in a presentation.
Her reply captures the life skill we are pursuing for our own sufferings:
I would be honored for you to use the video.
About a year after my accident, I was still in rehab searching and waiting on something to make me "whole" again. I was in my bedroom early one morning listening to my young children get ready for school. I realized what a sad house we had. There was just a feeling of grief always in the air. It hit me so strongly.
I realized God was there and could bring good from this terrible event in our life, but I had to allow it and welcome the good.
While the kids were at school, I went out and bought them journals. I told them we would keep a list of the good and bad things from the accident. It wasn't long before we saw the "good" list far outweighed the "bad." In fact, it became more of a mental thing, and we eventually just made notes of it in our life. I saw my attitude change, and joy and laughter began to fill our house again.
It isn't to say that there aren't still days when we get aggravated, but I can truly say the blessings have far out-weighed the negative. It wasn't until I welcomed God to bless us through something that was so difficult for our family that we began to heal.
Few of us have tasted God's strength in our sufferings the way Joy Veron has. That's not because we are short on sufferings or weaknesses. We're missing God's strength because we haven't yet "welcomed God to bless us through" our difficulty as Joy has.
God invites us to parade our wounds and weaknesses before Him, welcoming Him to touch our inadequacies and work miracles through them. When we do, we will begin seeing His power as never before.
* * *
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Isaiah 40:29
Joy Veron joins a prominent list of souls who acknowledged God in their suffering and, as a result, unlocked a passageway through which supernatural power entered their lives. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Flannery O'Connor all describe finding God's supernatural strength in their lives through the passageway of personal weakness.
Paul the apostle wrote much of the New Testament. He so discovered God's supernatural strength through his suffering that he wrote, "When I am weak, then I am strong." To learn more about those famous sufferers and their words about God's strength through their difficulty, see appendix 1 ("The Strongest Sufferers").
Joy Veron joined the ranks of these powerful sufferers by bringing her unthinkable pain to the loving God who "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."
We can join their ranks too.
We all have weaknesses, hurts, fears, and sufferings. The old relationship wounds we try not to think about, the regrets or disappointments that knocked us down in life. The sickness or exhaustion we cannot understand.
We all walk or wheel through life with our own unique limps — a painful upbringing, trauma, or abuse; a challenging spouse; an unexpected death; a too-big nose. Miscarriage, destructive habits, broken relationships, financial strain. We shoulder these wounds every day as we move from shower to work to grocery store and back home. We are a world of limping people, each of us doing our best to hide our weaknesses, to cover them as we shuffle along.
Joy Veron offers living proof that this promise — God's strength in our weakness and suffering — is not a false hope. It is living, active, available power for your life today.
In the next chapter, I will explain how I have begun to experience God's strength in my own physical weakness. I am learning that:
God's Strength + My Weakness
Is Better Than
My Strength + No Weakness
Or for the math nuts:
God's Strength + My Weakness > My Strength + No Weakness
My natural tendency is to think I will be stronger if I can just be rid of my pain, struggle, or weakness. But I'm learning that my suffering, when combined with God's strength, is actually far more powerful than my own way of living in times free from suffering.
There is a quality and quantity of heaven's strength that fits into our lives only through the delivery door of our pain and weakness. Here, in Joy's words, are the moments that transformed her tragedy into victory.
"I realized God was there and could bring good from this terrible event in our life, but I had to allow it and welcome the good."
"I can truly say the blessings have far outweighed the negative. It wasn't until I welcomed God to bless us through something that was so difficult for our family that we began to heal."
Such a thought may seem impossible — pure fiction — to you today. But God has good plans to heal your deepest wounds and to show His goodness in your most paralyzing weakness. Hang in there with me in these pages. Together, let's watch in wonder as God works good where we never thought He could.
For every inadequacy and weakness in our lives today, God has a correlating strength and sufficiency. For every pain and evil, past or present, you can claim this promise: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Join me, and let's learn how.CHAPTER 2
Thorns in Our Flesh
* * *
What, after all, is more universal to human experience than suffering? And what is more important than the perspective we bring to it? Randy Alcorn
At the ripe old age of twenty-seven, I experienced the signs and symptoms of a stroke, one in a string of soul-shaking, frightening episodes.
I was about to walk onto the stage to preach on a Sunday morning. Not that I was much of a preacher. I was just a young journalist who had seen Jesus' power to change lives, including my own.
A small, declining church in Prescott, Arizona, was about to close its doors. The congregation of forty invested its final savings to hire me as their "senior pastor."
I showed up with no plan except to preach God's Good News and love His people. And then God started bringing people. After the first year, we had about 120 folks. It might as well have been 120 million to us. They seemed like a huge crowd, filling our little sanctuary.
I was about to speak to these folks on a December morning in 2009, when I gathered beforehand to pray with a few close friends. As we prayed, I felt numbness creeping its way from the fingertips on my right hand up toward my face and tongue.
Small, spinning pixels of rainbow color appeared like spots in my vision, floating around like dandelion fuzzies.
"Pray for me," I told the friends.
And pray we did.
Fearful thoughts about my health pulled at my mind. I opened the deepest parts of me before God. There, I grabbed on to all the faith that I had built up in the last ten years of watching God work miracles.
"Oh, Lord, I know you can move mountains and raise the dead. Please grant your servant strength to speak Your heart to Your people."
I spoke the prayer of faith.
Then, in faith, I stepped onto the stage. I began delivering my sermon introduction with confidence. I knew God wouldn't forsake me.
I stayed closer to my notes than usual, trying to filter out the signals of numbness from my face and arm. Trying to look past the spinning bits of light to see the faces of people.
Their faces, I noticed after a bit, looked confused.
Had I said something wrong?
Only then did I realize, I'm slurring my speech. My words blurred and bled into each other as a drunken man's might, only with less coherence. These were not English words, slurred by a lazy tongue. They were the words of a broken mind.
A man from our church stepped to the stage, and strong hands escorted me away.
Some friends rushed me to the emergency room, where I writhed in agony. What began with sporadic numbness on my right side blossomed and grew into an angry, irritated tingling of pain, burning the right half of me. As it grew, so too did the vice-tightening pain in my head.
At its worst, I could not remember my name. I could not form a single word with my tongue. More frightening, I could not think a single word.
Unable to articulate any actual words, my inner person suffocated under this fear:
What if I get trapped like this, unable to speak, in this pain?
What if I get stuck in here?
The next day, I emerged. Hazy. Slow. But able to speak again. I did not get stuck in there. And thankfully, I have not yet. But this is my weakness. Unpredictable stroke-like episodes that arrive without notice and incapacitate me in pain when they do.
These episodes are my "thorn in the flesh," to borrow a term from the apostle Paul. I get to deal with them a few times per year. In fact, I had one of my worst ones yet when I began writing this book. It left my mind hazy, cloudy, and confused for about three weeks afterward.
A neurologist diagnosed my episodes as hemiplegic migraines — a rare, paralyzing subset of brain spasm that, he explained, afflicts only a fraction of a percent of migraine sufferers. Hemiplegics are considered the most debilitating and dangerous of migraines. Mine may be the work of blood vessel damage, resulting from Kawasaki disease, a condition I had as a toddler.
"Could it ever progress into a complete stroke?" I asked my neurologist.
"A small percentage of them do," he said.
That's not encouraging, I thought. So far I'm having bad luck with these conditions that only afflict a small percentage
He continued. "The best thing we can do is try to prevent them and try to find the medications that minimize them for you."
Not the reassurance I had hoped for. I wanted the doctor to silence my fear of getting stuck in that place where I cannot speak, where I sense only void and pain. I hoped he would tell me it's irrational and foolish to worry.
Instead, the doctor told me I very well could get stuck there.
* * *
You likely have your own "thorn." Yours may be cancer. It may be wounds from abuse. An amputated limb. Or the amputation of the soul that is the death of a loved one.
Our thorns are not limited to physical sickness. Yours may be a recent failure or loss. Maybe your thorn is depression, exhaustion, or anxiety. The ligament-popping of a separating relationship, the emptiness of unemployment. On and on goes the list of thorns that we and our fellow humans carry around in the flesh of our souls.
The apostle Paul's thorn plagued him with constant suffering. He called it "torment." Paul is a hero of the Bible; in fact, he wrote a lot of it. God greatly loved Paul, and yet the apostle lived a life of chronic physical pain. Paul knew the pain was temporary. He knew heaven awaited him, but that knowledge didn't silence his body's screaming pain sensors.
Excerpted from I Am Strong by John S. Dickerson. Copyright © 2016 John S. Dickerson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Chip Ingram 11
Introduction: Hope for the Suffering 15
Part 1 Strength of Hope-The Gifts of Prison
1 Living Proof of Heaven's Strength: Strength of Weakness 23
2 Thorns in Our Flesh: Strength of Thorns 30
3 Prisons of Pain, Chambers of Strength: Strength of Prisons 40
Part 2 Feeding on Heaven's Strength-The Bread and the Friend of Comfort
4 Children in the Universe: Strength of Relationship 47
5 The Key and the Hammer: Strength of Unveiling 58
6 When You Hurt: Strength of Comfort 68
Part 3 Earth's Jagged Edges-The Book of Answers
7 A History of Earth's Weakness: Strength of Answers 79
8 Strength That Is Out of This World: Strength of Deliverance 85
9 Already/Not Yet Strength: Strength of Tension 93
Part 4 Hopeful Songs in a Glorious Ruin-The Window of Hope
10 Trading Limits for Limitless: Strength of Destination 103
11 Smiling through Tears: Strength of Redemption 110
12 Rescue from Above: Strength of Rescue 120
13 Traveling Songs: Strength of Refuge 136
Part 5 Carried-The Pen and Paper
14 In Your Gethsemane: Strength of Surrender 155
15 Secret Strength: Strength of Focus 170
16 Pain and Purpose Strength of Purpose 185
17 Finish Your Race Strength of Destiny 192
Afterword: Looking for Other Travelers 201
Appendix 1 The Strongest Sufferers Strength of Heroes 203
Appendix 2 Favored Sufferers Strength of Heroes 205
Appendix 3 Tools for the Road Strength of Companions 212
About the Author 224
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A journey to hope and healing....This book is not only a must read for everyone, but a book that can be given to a friend, family member, coworker, or classmate that might be in that season of their life asking questions, looking for answers, and looking for peace because of the hurt and suffering that they are enduring. Each chapter is filled with real life stories that encourage and Scripture that we can trust in. The reader of this book will embark on a journey that will bring hope and healing as the subject of pain and suffering is explored and many of life's toughest questions are answered. John Dickerson does not shy away from the truths of the Bible, but presents them in a way that seems to be a perfect blend of truth and grace. This will definitely be the book that I recommend to others when that age old question of "Why does God allow suffering?" is asked.
When my seemingly healthy, athletic and active 33 year old wife received a diagnosis out of the blue that would completely alter our life course, we didn't want to hear "God is in control", "He has a plan" or other trite statements. We also didn't want to hear that God would heal her if only her faith was strong enough. What we did want to do was trust that God's Word is still true today and learn how it applies in this difficult situation. Dickerson has the rare gift of teaching truths from the Bible with love while not glossing over the difficult parts or watering it down. The Church is hurting and looking for answers. Of course they are found in the Bible but some of us need help in properly interpreting and understanding it. "I Am Strong" is a wonderful tool for that purpose. This book was a true gift to us during one of our darkest hours. As a doctor, I am used to discussing life shattering diagnoses. However, nothing prepared me for the day my wife became the patient and I was the one to tell her we have a problem. Are there days where I still get frustrated and wonder "Why her?" Yep. Are there many more days where I get a glimpse at God's bigger plan for our lives....because "I Am Strong" helped me understand the appropriate Bible passages and how they relate? Absolutely. After reading, I asked my wife for a line item in our budget to purchase copies of this book to give to friends, family, patients and others I come across who I feel can benefit. My hope is they will then pass along those copies to others. Please join me in that chain.