How can a terminal diagnosis lead to experiencing God’s intimate, comforting, tangible presence? At middle age, John Paine thought he knew what it meant to have a relationship with God. But his journey into true, mystical intimacy with God began when a neurologist diagnosed him with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Bible Gateway interviewed John Paine about his book, The Luckiest Man: How A Seventeen-Year Battle with ALS Led Me to Intimacy with God (Thomas Nelson, 2018).
Describe your life before your diagnosis.
John Paine: From the outside my life looked fantastic as a successful business man, family man, and church leader. I projected confidence to the world at large, but inwardly life’s trials were crumbling the perfect projected image. I was weary keeping up the mirage. Peace, joy, and contentment were occasionally present but never lasted. Christ’s promised abundant life seemed illusive and I felt exhausted searching for it. Secretly, I was ready to give up on the concept.
Explain what amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is and what your symptoms were when they began.
John Paine: ALS is a degenerative neuromuscular disease that kills the muscle’s motor neurons resulting in total body paralysis. Most patients die from suffocation as the diaphragm loses its communication with the smart cells telling it to breathe. My first symptoms appeared as involuntary muscle twitches (fasciculations) in my left forearm followed by a loss of strength.
How do you describe your reading of the Bible and your relationship with God differently before your diagnosis and after?
John Paine: Scripture has been a part of my life since conversion at age 14. I taught Sunday school and Bible studies from my daily quiet times but something shifted within me after the death sentence diagnosis. That shift moved God from my head to my heart. The God that I was so knowledgeable of became the God that breathed life and love into my heart. Scripture became alive. God allowed me to see myself as he saw me and my identity shifted to his reality. Our relationship transitioned into the most important part of my total being.
What do you mean you’ve “learned to identify the truth of living”?
John Paine: The real truth of living is walking in connection with God each day as Christ described in John chapter 15 that I’m to remain connected to him as the branch is to the vine. I erroneously used to believe that real living was the absence of difficulties and negative circumstances and the presence of life going the way I believed it should. True living yielded his fruit in me despite life’s circumstances. The truth of living is being internally overwhelmed with God’s love.
How did God “thaw your heart”? How have you become more intimate with him?
John Paine: To start with I was in absolute denial that my heart had a problem much less was hardened. I kept working harder and trying to figure life out. For me it required the convergence of many trials concurrently and my inability to control the desired outcome, which led to a willingness to think differently and brought me to the end of myself. At this point a new relationship birthed. I was immersed in God’s love as he met me in the darkest of times. Intimacy was the byproduct of this new relationship.
Why did you decide on this title for your book?
John Paine: Although I despise this disease of ALS I would not trade my relationship with God for anything. Living in connection with God as he transforms my heart produces intimacy with him. Many people look at my condition and feel somewhat sorry for my condition. What they do not realize is that this connection and relationship I have with God causes me to feel like The Luckiest Man. I would not trade what I have with God for anything.
What do you want your book to accomplish in the lives of its readers?
John Paine: My purpose for writing this book is to draw the reader’s heart into a deeper desire to experience God and grow their faith. This is an extremely personal narrative of my total “undoing” as God rewired me. The reader will experience my transformation of relationship and, hopefully, desire intimacy too.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
John Paine: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 — But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. I have discovered God’s unlimited power in the midst of my total paralysis. I feel stronger than ever before!
John Paine: I use Bible Gateway frequently as I study Scripture because it works easily with my computer assist aids. I love the seemingly unlimited translations and enjoy the audio feature as it is not always easy for me to sit before the screen.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
John Paine: I am grateful for this opportunity to share a portion of my journey with you. I pray that all who read The Luckiest Man will be blessed through it. Don’t be surprised to hear God whispering to you throughout its pages.
The Luckiest Man is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: John Paine is a successful businessman and lay leader living in Plano, Texas. He has lived more than seventeen years with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A once-active man, John now spends his days in a wheelchair, dependent on a ventilator for his next breath. His greatest passion is mentoring others and sharing the true treasure of his life with them—intimacy with Christ. In the twilight of his life, John most enjoys spending time with his wife, Margaret, and the families of his four adult children and seven grandchildren and considers himself to be the luckiest man alive.
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