Back in college days, in a previous life, we would “pull” many an “all-nighter”. Sometimes it was for a party or a “rap session” (remember those?), but more often we were cramming for exams. That was an awful long time ago, and I can’t remember the last time I stayed up all night for any reason.
Until last night. An extraordinary book, The Torn Veil, by Gulshan Esther, actually had the power to keep me awake. It’s an engrossing story of a Pakistani woman brought up in an very devout Shia Muslim family. Crippled by Typhoid before she even learned to walk, her father took her at the age of fourteen on the hajj to Mecca to seek her healing (the mother had died when Gulshan was but two). Despite the sadness of the hajj not bringing the hoped-for healing, the family continued in its deep devotion to Allah.
But still more woe was yet awaiting Gulshan, as her father was to be taken from her soon after their return. This was the crowning blow for the girl. She was alone in life, had no reason to live, wanted to die, and told Allah so. But here enters light – unexpectedly a voice speaks to the girl, indentifying itself as that of Jesus, “the healer”. The voice tells her to learn about Jesus, and where she can find Him in the Koran (in the sura Maryam, et al).
Excitedly Gulshan dives in and begins to learn about Jesus – which is not easy to do in the Pakistani culture. She comes to wonder that this mysterious secondary character in Islam is identified in the Koran as the healer, while Muhammad is credited with no healings at all. More and more her heartfelt prayers become directed to Jesus rather than Muhammad, and she begins to experience hope.
But after a few years of this, Gulshan hits bottom again. All her prayers to Jesus also seem to have accomplished nothing. She still believes Jesus can heal her, but for some reason He hasn’t, and one night when her frustration can no longer be contained she pours her heart out and asks why.
A changed life
At that moment Jesus visits her. He commands her to rise from her bed and walk to Him. Terrified, she protests that she has never walked. But Jesus reminds her that He indeed is the healer, and He repeats His command. Finally Gulshan responds, and as she does a power she had never experienced before enters her useless and atrophied limbs. She rises and walks to Jesus, and kneels before Him overwhelmed with peace and joy and love.
Jesus imparts knowledge to her, teaches her how to pray (the Lord’s Prayer), and tells her that she must be His witness.
As you can imagine, the road ahead is not going to be a superhighway for someone called to witness to the Lord in a coercive Islamic culture. But Gulshan has the new reality of her healed body to help and encourage her, and step by step she obediently moves forward. She becomes a Christian, overcomes one hardship and persecution after another, and in the process goes from triumph to triumph, even being instrumental in raising her dead sister.
Plain talk about consecration
Besides the glory of Christ’s appearances and miracles in the context of a hostile culture, the thing that most impressed me about Gulshan’s story was her total consecration to the Lord. She eagerly sought knowledge of Him, sincerely sought an explanation when her prayers weren’t being answered, and once her hand was to the plow she never looked back no matter the cost or risk. Even when a formerly loving brother in duty to his religion turned on her and raised a shotgun to her head, though she quivered inside she held onto the promise of eternal life that is only in Christ .
Probably because of the dramatic nature of Gulshan’s healing, she was totally devoted to Jesus. After she was healed by Christ her wary family told her, “your devotion to Jesus is nice. You can give extra alms to the poor as a sign of your gratefulness to Jesus. That will be enough.” That would have been easy – and safe – but Gulshan understood that the kind of witness Christ that had in mind, the only kind that was worthy of Him, consisted of much more than any thing she could give Him or do for Him. He wanted her very self. He wanted intimate relationship. He wanted obedience. He wanted total consecration.
What kind of courage does it take to really follow Christ when doing so could cost you your means, your relationships, your freedom, and your very life? You’ll get a compelling glimpse if you read this book, and I think it’s a very good idea to do so, because in truth the level of devotion shown in its pages is exactly what is demanded of us as well.
Till now it’s been pretty easy in our Christianized culture to smooth over some stark discipleship issues. We have the illusion that the default direction of the blessed West is aligned with Christ’s call. Surely God is pleased with us – just look at our GDP! Hardly. Indeed, any level of careful observation will show that this nation is spinning out of control and its culture is alien to the mind of Christ. And we increasingly have the rotten fruit to show for it.
That’s why I find stories of Christ “tearing the veil” of darkness for individuals in Islamic cultures so inspiring. It’s black and white. There is reality and movement. Decisions matter. There is danger and loss, yes, but there also is life and surpassing victory. Comparing those dynamics to the assimilation that we pass off as Christianity in the West is like comparing moving worship music to what you hear in an elevator.
Failure and restoration
When my first church dramatically imploded many years ago, as a very hurt young Christian what did I do? In my extreme pain I threw my Bible on the floor and told God I didn’t want anything to do with Him. Wrong thing to do. Understandable, yes, but in my immaturity I hurt myself deeply, because I lost my all-important consecration.
God forgives and restores, and let us never lose sight of that. But from deep within the bowels of our therapeutic culture let me be very clear: we shouldn’t expect to see forgiveness or restoration unless we’re serious about consecration to the cause of Christ. Christ always was about being Lord, and there are abundant scriptures about the steep cost of discipleship to prove it – let alone the example He himself set, of going to the cruel but blessed Cross.
It took a long time, but I learned an important lesson from that early church failure. No matter what anyone does – and that includes God’s own people, and even those in authority – never take your eyes off God. Always believe in and wait for His faithfulness, even when you’re thrust into extreme places. Cursed is the man who trusts in man, but blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.
If we want the kind of visitations and miracles that Gulshan experienced – and neither scripture nor reason even begin to argue against their ongoing Kingdom reality – then we must take Christ’s call to full consecration seriously. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves – far from it, as God allows we are free to enjoy life to the fullest with a good conscience. But it does mean that we need to prioritize Christ as first in everything, no matter the cost. And whatever the cost may be, the glory is far greater. We cannot outgive God.
When we make the decision for total consecration, we then can expect God’s power to enter our lives in extraordinary ways. Even amid opposition, we will see the kinds of miracles Gulshan witnessed and we will bear the kind of fruit she bore for Christ.
After all, to paraphrase the old Larry Norman song, why should the Muslims get all the good miracles?
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