Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
Some of the best things in life have happened to me when I’ve become desperate enough to reach out to God. One of these occasions took place over twenty-seven years ago during the lowest point of my life. I had just been sentenced to prison and was in a facility where all of us were in lockdown. We were confined to our cell all day and night except for one hour of recreation and to go to chow.
I was thirty-five years old and had never been in trouble before in my life. I was raised in a Christian home and had actively been involved in church and Bible studies from the time I was born. I thought I had a good relationship with God, but some big gaps developed between my intentions and my behavior when it came to business. Because of pride and a fear of failure, I became a liar and a thief, and prison became the consequence.
As I lay on my bunk struggling with depression and hopelessness, I decided to start reading my Bible. For someone raised in a Christian environment, this should have been my first thought, but I wasn’t feeling all that close to God at the time, and it didn’t seem like the Bible would do me much good where I was. It was the last thing I wanted to do.
But I decided to start reading anyway, because I knew there was nowhere else to go. It was a decision birthed out of desperation. I needed hope. I needed to feel like life was worth living. I needed to have some direction and clarity, and down deep I believed that somewhere in that book I would find life.
With nothing but time on my hands, I decided to start reading and not in a casual manner. Over the next thirty-six days, I read every day between eight and ten hours a day. My time consisted of sleeping, eating the three meals the prison provided, an hour of recreation, and reading my Bible. That was it. That was all I did for those five weeks.
Now some of you might be thinking, That had to have brought comfort and encouragement, but really, it didn’t do much of anything. I was so disgusted with myself and full of shame that I couldn’t concentrate. If someone had asked me to share with them what I’d read every day, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them.
Yet, I continued to force myself to keep reading, verse after verse after verse, even though it didn’t seem to be doing any good. At the end of the thirty-six days, I was transferred to another prison. At this facility, there was no more lockdown, and as I adjusted to my circumstances, life started to get a little easier to handle.
Although I didn’t continue the rigorous reading routine of eight hours of Bible reading each day, it was still a big part of everything. And over the course of the next twenty months, I read the Bible all the way through seven times. During this season, I was able to concentrate better, and I was able to absorb some direction, clarity, encouragement, and hope.
It’s fascinating to me now, many years later, how situations come up in life, and verses just pop into my mind. I used to think, How do I know these verses? How do they seem to always come to mind when I need them?
I believe the following passage from Isaiah holds the answer to these questions.
Isaiah 55:10-11 (NLT)
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
Regardless of my attitude or inability to focus and concentrate when I started reading, regardless of the seeming lack of comfort and encouragement I was getting from it, God’s word was working in me. Seeds were being planted. And today, after all these years have passed, those seeds of truth are still bearing fruit, helping me to prosper spiritually beyond anything I could ever imagine.
I share this story as an introduction to something new going on with our ministry that is very dear to me. Over the past couple of years, we have been purchasing and sending Bibles into several jails and prisons, as inmates from several states have been requesting them. Typically, Bibles are available for free within many of the institutions through the chaplain’s office, but in many circumstances these donated Bibles are difficult to read because of the small print, and in many cases even difficult to understand because of the reading level of many of the inmates. The Bibles we have been providing have larger print and are a version that is easier to understand. We receive letters regularly from these inmates, thanking us for helping them.
This past fall, one of the key members of our leadership team, Chuck Wills, was able to help us work out a partnership with Biblica, The International Bible Society. They receive hundreds of requests for Bibles from inmates throughout the Unites States each year. Biblica has offered to provide us with all the Bibles we need for our ministry requests, and we in turn are handling all the mailing for both our requests and theirs. In addition, we are able to offer the Lessons for Life Correspondence Course to each of the Bible recipients and thereby help provide discipleship.
Each year, we typically have over 800 inmates participating in our correspondence course. With this new opportunity with Biblica, we envision that number to double or triple in the next couple of years. We are very excited about the possibilities of reaching and discipling more brothers and sisters for the Kingdom of God.
The obvious awfulness of it aside, there can be something special about being in prison. The inmates are alone. They are away from many of the distractions of the outside world. Many have told me that it was during their time there that God finally got their attention. Our prayer is that during this coming year, many more will become desperate like me and take the desperate measure of reading the Bible and seeking out God.