“Well, I’m almost done,” Craig began. “I’ve been down for 30 years, but I’ll be getting out very soon. The Lord has been good to me, and I want to stay serious in my relationship with Him on the outside.”
“How long have you known the Lord? I asked.
“I’ve been following the Lord now for thirteen years. The first seventeen of my time in prison was me living for me. I was always fighting, getting caught up in all the prison culture, and wasn’t really interested in God. There was this one guy who kept asking me to come to the church services and Bible studies, but I kept putting him off.”
“What happened that changed your mind?”
“I was writing letters to my family, demanding that my kids come to see me, and that they needed to respect me. But my wife said they were older now and didn’t want to anymore. That really hurt. At first, I was pretty offended, but as I gave it more thought, I started realizing why they didn’t want to see me. I was selfish, angry, and always feeling sorry for myself. It was around that same time that I began to get depressed and tired—tired of being who I was, tired of living the way I had always lived. Then I got transferred to a different cell. As I was moving into my new location, some of the guys said to me, ‘That’s the Christian cell. Anybody who goes in there, regardless of what they believe, eventually come out as a Christian.’
“I laughed this off at first, but after a few days in that cell, something came over me. I walked in and decided to get on my hands and knees and give God a try. I asked Him to forgive me of all my sins and to come into my life and change me. It was as if somebody just flipped a switch. All of a sudden, I wasn’t angry anymore. Everything looked different. I was filled with peace, and I decided to quit having a pity party about my life. It was instant. From that day till today I stopped feeling sorry for myself and letting anger get the best of me.”
At almost every one of the Lessons for Life meetings in the prisons, we hear a story or two of how God is working in the lives of the inmates. One of the reasons we go into the prisons and jails is to help disciple those who participate. For several years, I thought it was my role to make sure I was providing sound instruction, good information, and important discipleship principles. Obviously, there was nothing wrong with these intentions, but in the last couple of years, I’ve discovered more important aspects.
Becoming a disciple or follower of Christ is more than behavior modification. It is about a relationship. One of the important aspects of coming along side others in their pursuit of God is to help them develop that relationship. This nurturing process can be enhanced by listening, encouraging, and offering opportunities for them to share their personal experiences.
Who are these inmates anyway? Well, if they have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, Scripture tells us that these men and women are our brothers and sisters. They are God’s sons and daughters. They are friends of Jesus Christ, they are justified, they have been made righteous, they belong to God, they are redeemed and forgiven, they are complete in Christ, they are free from condemnation, they cannot be separated from the love of God, they are citizens of Heaven, they are ministers of reconciliation, they are God’s workmanship, they are joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit dwells within them. In other words, they are just like us. Yes, they have sinned, but just like us.
As we are in this Christmas season, I would like to encourage you to pray for our brothers and sisters in prison. Pray that they will utilize this opportunity over the holidays to grow in their relationship with God. Pray that they will remain safe. Pray for their mental and physical health. Pray for provision for their families. Pray for those who have been victimized by their behavior. Pray for the officers and staff of the prisons. But above all, pray that every prison cell would become a “Christian cell” and what the enemy intended for evil will be turned for good.
Thank you for your prayers for us.