During the summer I read an article that contained an amazing sequence of events that made it an unforgettable testimony.
In fact, the particulars of this testimony consistently draw me into contemplating just how out-of-the-box, non-judgmental, and meeting-people-where-they-are Jesus really is. We — and by “we” I really do mean a generalized all of us who call Him Lord and walk in His counsel — so often form our concept of Jesus based on limitation. Limitation as to what is appropriate in a situation….limitation as to “what we would do”….limitation as to whether or not there is already an example set in Scripture so we know it’s really Jesus at work.
In the article, author Mark Ellis describes “Nelly” as “an African woman living in southern Europe.” She is severely afflicted by a brain tumor and has been diagnosed as terminally ill. Nelly approaches Christian neighbors and asks them to assist her husband and young son after her passing. While they wholeheartedly agree to do so, both Christians encourage Nelly to pray to Jesus and seek Him for both help and healing — which she is reluctant to do, given her Muslim background and lifestyle. However, since the tumor had already debilitated her from engaging in usual Muslim prayer rituals she actually does follow her neighbors’ encouragement and prays to Jesus for the first time in her life. Unexpectedly, He personally appears to her on the balcony and asks her a direct question in her native dialect: what is it that she wants?
AN UNCONVENTIONAL REQUEST
Hold that image in your mind — Jesus standing on the balcony, presumably quite recognizable to those familiar with His features, asking the woman what it is she seeks. Does Nelly recognize that He — the One before her — is Jesus, to Whom she just prayed? The documentation is silent on this issue. However, despite her preparations to face the result of her terminally ill diagnosis, Nelly does not request healing.
She responds that the household has run out of cigarettes, and smoking tobacco helps dull the pain in her head. Her logical request to Jesus, then, was to ask Him if He would provide cigarettes for her to smoke.
According to Ellis’ retelling, Jesus disappears from the balcony just as He appeared, and as Nelly goes into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, she opens the cupboard and makes an amazing discovery: there on the edge of the shelf is a fresh, unopened pack of cigarettes.
JESUS RESPONDS IN A SURPRISING WAY
There’s much more to this testimony/article (click on Mark Ellis) and it’s well worth reading. But that isn’t my focus, here.
A terminally ill woman asked Jesus for a pack of cigarettes to dull the pain from the invasive tumor….and they appear in her cupboard. Clearly, there was no indication she was the “wrong religion” or made the “wrong request.” Jesus simply responded to Nelly’s heartfelt and desperate request — and the physical substance of this world, that which came into being through Him — obediently responded.
This cigarettes-in-the-cupboard testimony reminds me of Jesus instructing Peter to go to the ocean, hook a fish, and take out the coin from the first fish Peter caught to satisfy the two-drachma tribute tax owed the Romans (Matt. 17:27).
How recently have you gone fishing around April 1? Unfortunately — me, either.
HOW DO WE EXPECT JESUS TO RESPOND TO US?
How often do we proclaim and worship our profoundly and intrinsically supernatural God, but never expect to see or experience any supernatural manifestation of His glory, a flexing of spiritual muscle in our cupboards or in our lives? I strongly suspect that the testimony we would have expected from Nelly would more likely involve a provision of money so that the cigarettes could be purchased…and God would receive the credit for orchestrating the background events.
This is a serious question. From what you believe you know about God…was Jesus’ response the one you would have expected? She was, after all, a Muslim woman…and they were, after all, cigarettes. And she did, after all, have a more serious concern to discuss with Him.
My answer was no. This testimony of Jesus’ interaction surprised me. Greatly.
MANIFESTATION THAT BRINGS TRANSFORMATION
Nelly does receive full restoration at Jesus’ hand. But not at first. Not with one prayer and one encounter. Not with two prayers and two encounters. Jesus took her on a journey covering months of time, the building of faith, and — I would suspect — other goals that were dear to His Heart. One of those included the redemption of many of her family members. And during this journey, the author reports that Jesus “continued to visit Nelly.” He gave her both encouragement and consolation.
As I ponder this divine interaction, I think I am drawn to two conclusions that are relevant to my outlook, challenge my perspective and encourage my praying for others, releasing those prayers that His glory would be manifest into someone’s life and bring about transformation:
First, the limitations of our American fast-food, get-it-done-in-5-minutes-and-leave mindset.
When Jesus confronted death at Lazarus’ tomb, the result was an immediate reversal of the enemy’s work. In other instances, there was at least a short process, as well as other interaction. In Luke 17, the ten lepers were cleansed “as they were going.” (Luke 17:14) How far did they go? I don’t know, but it was likely a lengthy stretch of land between the lepers’ isolation and the Jewish synagogue.
I am greatly touched, encouraged, and motivated by the tenderness and compassion Jesus demonstrated to Nelly during multiple encounters. Yet it is with a sense of mystification that I ponder the fact that first He produced cigarettes, then deliberately delayed releasing His healing touch, all the while continuing to visit her regularly and develop a relationship and fellowship between them.
That doesn’t fully make sense to me.
And that ties in to my second observation: I do not always perceive or appreciate the significance of relationship over result.
It’s more than a fast-food mentality; it’s a fix-’em-up-and-drop-’em mentality. That, in the end, is profoundly self-serving, perhaps even self-promoting, self-ish — for it focuses on getting the job done as if I were changing a tire, rather than standing as an ambassador who demonstrates and explains the ongoing love and kindness of the Father to someone He very much wants to encourage and embrace.
It’s far more difficult to be an ambassador, than a mechanic. The job at hand isn’t always quick; and the parts needing repair must be transformed, not taken out and simply replaced. But during that process, those we encounter will come to glimpse and be invited into the Kingdom we are sent to represent.