Stories of faith | Hero of unanswered prayer

The outline of our When you pray message series was drawn from Pete Greig’s book, How to Pray, and since unanswered prayer can be so hard for many of us to grapple with, we thought to encourage you with a testimony around this topic from his book.

Joni Eareckson Tada: When the spotlight doesn’t shine on you 

Joni Eareckson Tada was a fun-loving, active seventeen-year-old, enamoured by the world around her and charmed by the opportunities life held for her. She went to the beach one day in the summer of 1967 with her sister. Diving into the bay, she misjudged the shallowness of the water and tragically broke her spine. For more than fifty years she has been paralysed from her shoulders down. 

Joni cried out to God with complete faith for healing. ‘I followed every scriptural injunction: I was anointed with oil, I went to the elders, I confessed sin. I would call my friends up on the telephone and insist, “Hey, the next time you’re going to see me, I’m going to be on my feet. Have faith with me, believe with me.”’ 

But the healing she longed for didn’t come, leading her into depression, battling suicidal thoughts and religious doubts. On one occasion, Joni attended a healing meeting. As she watched Katherine Kuhlman preach, and listened to people share testimonies of healing, she became aware of a spotlight centred on the corner of the ballroom where healings were taking place. Her heart began to race with hope-filled adrenaline. In her own haunting words, ‘the spotlight switched to another corner, and I was getting more excited, thinking that maybe the spotlight will come and hit the wheelchair section. But it never did.’ It never did! What to do when the spotlight doesn’t shine on you? When it feels as though certain prayers never get answered – at least not the way you want them to be? 

Joni’s disability is the consequence of a fractured spine between the fourth and fifth cervical level vertebrae, having dived into shallow water at Chesapeake Bay. It wasn’t a spiritual attack – it was not God’s war. Her injuries are tragically consistent with the laws and principles of God’s world. But why has he not healed her? Wouldn’t that be an incredible testimony? I think Joni would say that it has been God’s will to bring comfort, hope and advocacy to millions of people – many of them disabled – through her testimony of unhealing. She still believes that she’ll throw another rock into the swamp one day, pray another prayer and walk out of her wheelchair healed, but it may not be this side of heaven. And so, in the meantime, she continues to pray Christ’s painful prayer of relinquishment: ‘Abba Father, everything is possible for you … yet not what I will, but your will be done.’ After years of wrestling with God, Joni can somehow say, ‘this paralysis is my greatest mercy.’ 

God uses suffering to purge sin from our lives, strengthen our commitment to him, force us to depend on grace, bind us together with other believers, produce discernment, foster sensitivity, discipline our minds, spend our time wisely, stretch our hope, cause us to know Christ better, make us long for the truth, lead us to the repentance of sin, teach us to give thanks in times of sorrow, increase faith, and strengthen character. 

How to Pray 
A simple guide for normal people 
by Pete Greig 

Have you had a significant encounter with God because of prayer? We’d love to hear your story. Email us at, and let’s continue to spur each other on to keep growing in prayer!

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