God’s Plan is Bigger Than Prison
“I just turned my life over to Jesus Christ a couple of weeks ago, and this is causing me to look at everything differently,” Dan said.
“I was raised in the culture of the Native Americans and have followed their religion for most of my life. I thought I could continue participating in both the Native American services and the Christian services, and there would be nothing wrong with that. Today I went to my old group, and my eyes were opened, and I realized it was very empty. All this time I had been participating in rituals that had no real meaning, and I realized I was wasting my time. God is transforming me into a new person, and I need to embrace that completely without holding onto my old ways.”
We’ve had some great responses from the men and women taking the Lessons for Life Correspondence Course over the past two years. Because of the ability of this program to reach inmates in locations we may never get to personally, it has considerable value. However, I am seeing an even greater impact in the use of this material in live settings. For example, getting the opportunity to hear stories like Dan’s.
The correspondence version provides us with a written response to our questions based on that particular lesson. The live version is often a launching point for other topics, deeper discussions, and the opportunity to address questions rather than the students just responding to ours. Recently, one of the men asked me a personal question which then led to a discussion different than the topic of the day.
“Gary, most of us in this group have read your story, and basically we are where you were about twenty-five years ago,” Rick began.
“Your life was upside down, you had all that debt, your relationships were all messed up, but now it seems like everything has completely changed for you, and now you are giving back by teaching us. What got it all turned around?”
“Well, it wasn’t just one thing,” I said. “It was a process of many things over a long period of time.”
As I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts in order to explain this more clearly, Dave, who co-leads the group with me, jumped in and took over.
“It wasn’t any one thing other than doing the same right things over and over. It wasn’t exciting or profound. He got a job. He went to work. He followed the rules. He did what was right, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. He stayed steady, and now he is bearing the fruit of that faithfulness,” Dave said.
For a moment, I was a little embarrassed. I wasn’t expecting Dave to say such great things about me in front of the group. Then it hit me. These weren’t great things. They were just simple, ordinary, common-sense things. I jumped back into the conversation and followed up Dave’s points.
“Yes, that’s absolutely right. I am where I am today because I made myself do the same boring things again and again and again. Yes, God did some amazing things in righting many of my wrongs, but I had to participate. I had to do my part, and my part was to continually choose to do the uneventful daily grind, and that never goes away, but it is worth it.”
I continued. “We’ve talked before about not coming back to prison, how each of you needs to make the decision that prison is not an option. However, I do not think I’ve shared this bit of information with you. I know the secret of how to never go back to prison. Would you like to know what it is?”
The men were suddenly more attentive than usual. Many nodded their heads.
“Follow God. Don’t break the law. Do what parole tells you to do. That’s it.”
I’m not sure they all appreciated those comments, but nobody threw us out, and nobody left the room.
“Men, God has a plan for you, and His plan involves bigger things than you being in prison. I encourage you to make the decision never to come back once and for all. Decide you are going to do things God’s way and not your own. Decide you are going to pay the price of doing the right thing every day, regardless of whether it’s exciting or not. Decide to follow the rules and get your life out of the revolving door of incarceration. Some of you have kids who need a dad, wives who need a husband, moms who need a son. Decide today to follow God and be the man He created you to be. You can do this.”
One of our goals this coming year is to recruit some volunteers to lead Lessons for Life groups live. We will provide the training. In most cases, a person would not necessarily lead a group themselves to begin with, but come alongside someone else until they felt they were ready. We would appreciate your prayers, and if you or anyone you know is interested, please have them contact us. It is a very rewarding opportunity to be able to participate in what God is doing behind prison walls. The inmates are always respectful and thankful when you show up.