The Cigarette Machine in the Cancer Ward

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Hebrews 12:1

I remember laughing the first time I heard the expression, “That’s as useless as a cigarette machine in a cancer ward.”


Hospital visits through the years however, have taught me that cigarette machines are not necessarily useless in cancer wards! I find this especially true every time I visit Wilford Hall Medical Center. The entrance to this large Air Force medical facility is usually crowded with patients who have gone outside to smoke a cigarette. On any given day you can see dozens of people in their hospital garb sitting on the benches smoking cigarettes.

On a recent trip to Wilford Hall, I noticed a woman slouched in a wheelchair outside of the hospital entrance. She was wearing a mink coat and had a cigarette in each hand!

She had lost all her hair and bore the visible signs of a losing battle with disease. Her countenance was painted with an empty and forlorn expression that betrayed the beauty of her expensive mink coat.

Her eyes were fixed in a stare as she alternately brought the cigarette in each hand to her lips. She appeared to be a woman whose relationship with joy and peace had long been severed.

Upon inquiry I learned that she was a cancer patient.

I thought it ironic that this woman was unwilling to release the very thing that was robbing her of health and life. Perhaps she felt that it was too late for reforms in her habits. The cigarette in each hand stood as mute testimony to their destructive power. The mink coat only served to accentuate her terrible condition.

It’s easy to be critical of the woman in the wheelchair until we stop to consider how much we share in common with her.

There are many people just like her on the rolls of the hospital for sinners we call the church. People who bear all the signs of spiritual disease and deterioration. People who are unwilling to let go of the very things that are ruining their spiritual health and life. People who stubbornly cling to destructive habits, attitudes, and courses that grieve God and alienate them from loved ones.

People who have grown accustomed to frustration and misery. People who insist on wearing the outward signs of wealth but who are inwardly impoverished. People who possess no peace and whose expressions radiate no joy. People who are the authors of their own agony.

God has a word for such people. His divine prescription can restore spiritual health. Through the writer to the Hebrews (12:1) God tells us to “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us.” Through the great Apostle Paul He tells us to “walk by the Spirit, and [we] will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

For the believer, there is no spiritual health or progress outside of obedience to the Word of God. We must be willing to hear and obey. We must be willing to lay aside every destructive habit and attitude. We must be willing to forsake courses that lead only to destruction and death. We must be willing to allow God’s Holy Spirit to govern our lives. We must do what the Doctor orders!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s