We meet every Friday, a few men and myself at the Douglas County Jail. It has become one of my favorite things to do each week. We go through the Lessons for Life course, but before we get into the actual content, I always like to see how the men are doing in their personal walk with God.
A couple of weeks ago, Michael was the first to speak up.
“Gary, do you remember in your book where you prayed, ‘Lord if I could move out back, I sure would appreciate it’, and, ‘Lord, if I could work with those other guys instead of milking cows, I sure would appreciate it’, and, ‘Lord if I could be tractor driver, I sure would appreciate it’, and how God answered all of those prayers?
“Yes, I do. Those were some special moments for me,” I said.
“I decided to try it myself. As I’ve told you before, I don’t have any support from anyone on the outside this time around. I’ve burned my bridges and ruined a lot of relationships. I see God changing me in a lot of ways, but I’m on my own right now. I don’t have anyone to put money on my books to get any of the extras that can help make this place a little more tolerable. So I was thinking that if I could get the porter job I could earn some extra myself. It’s not something I can really ask anyone here for—it’s an assignment given out randomly. Anyway, I thought I’d try it your way. I just said, ‘Lord if there is any way I can get the porter job, I sure would appreciate it.’ Within fifteen minutes I was notified that I had been chosen. It was incredible.”
Michael continued. “I was thinking about it again this morning while I was in the shower and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m trying to figure out why God would answer my prayers.”
We all congratulated Michael on the new job assignment, and his testimony really set the tone for the lesson. But before we could get into it, Michael raised his hand. “Can I read a little of what I read this morning in my Bible first?”
“Absolutely.” I said.
Michael opened his Bible and began to read.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who...” Then he got choked up and couldn’t read anymore. He looked up at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “What’s going on with me? Why am I crying? I’m never this emotional. This is crazy.”
“What do you think is going on with you?” I said.
“I don’t know.” He said, “I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before.”
“If you were to take a guess, what do you think is happening?” I said.
“I... DON’T... KNOW!” Michael very emphatically said. “But I think YOU know, so why don’t you tell me?”
I smiled and said, “I think something very significant is happening between you and the Lord. I think He is making Himself known to you in a special way because He knows that you know that He knows you are serious about this relationship. You are honestly and humbly calling out to Him, and He is responding.”
Michael silently stared at the floor for a moment contemplating my comments. Then he looked up at me and said, “I think you are right, Gary. I am serious. I’m tired of my old ways. I want to live for God.”
Once again I was reminded that jail and prison are just locations. They don’t hinder the work of God in any way. Sometimes they are excellent environments to get people’s attention. Which brings me to an important topic I hear discussed by many within the correctional system: recidivism.
For years now I’ve heard that the recidivism rates are anywhere from forty-five to seventy-five percent. The entrance to the jails and prisons are a revolving door. It is not uncommon to hear stories recalling multiple trips in, out, and back again into a life of incarceration.
I’ve sat through many meetings, seminars, and workshops over the years that have addressed this problem, yet very little has changed though the solution is simple: Don’t break the law. In reality, the bar for success is pretty low. Some say it is a social issue. Others say it is a poverty issue. Many place the blame on drug and alcohol addictions. Regardless, the methods for solving recidivism usually focus on making changes to the symptoms rather than the cause. I believe the only answer is a transformation from the inside out.
Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
We all need transformation. We cannot transform ourselves; it is a work of God. Cooperating with God and letting Him change the way we think is the only way the cause can eliminate the symptoms. It never works in reverse. Yet how often do we try to fix ourselves and others by dealing with the issue through some form of behavior modification? Real change, true transformation, begins the moment we choose to surrender our wills and our methods to God. It might take a trip to jail, or two, or five or ten, before a person will take that step of complete surrender, but whenever they do their future is “good and pleasing and perfect.”
I used to become frustrated and sometimes angry when I found out that a particular person we had been working with went back to jail or prison. Now I’ve learned to take it in stride. Yes, it is still disappointing, but maybe this will be the time for their awakening. Maybe this is the time they will get serious. Maybe this is the time they will have a story like Michael’s.
In Mark 8:36, Jesus says, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
This is a very important question. It puts our entire life in the proper perspective. I have a variation of this question for those emphasizing behavior above cause. “What does a person benefit if they never go back to jail but lose their own soul?” Transformation is what matters and when it takes hold under the prescription that God has assigned, the behavior will take care of itself.