This article appears in the New Beginnings newsletter, an Independent Prison Outreach Ministry, Summer 2017 Edition.
I have a good friend, ____, who some years ago served ____ years of a ____-year sentence for (a deadly serious crime). I’ve heard his testimony several times. He credits his time inside and the healing work of Jesus Christ for making him the man he has become: liberated from prison, college graduate, married, a father and grandfather, a man of God, full of faith and hope, giving back and paying forward in many ways (including visiting those inside), sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ; that all may be saved and set free. He was saved by Christ right in his cell and was immediately released (spiritually).
I have not been confined against my will, except for a few hours for a DUI in 1996 and a week-long stay at a behavioral health center following a suicide attempt, so I can’t relate literally to my friend’s experiences. But, like him, I am a lifer spiritually. The ironic thing is, today I’m “held” by my will, not against it.
You see, Christ found me on that same day I attempted to escape life, July 25, 2008. Before that day, I was in a prison of my own making, with bars of guilt and secrets, surrounded by a wall of shame, convicted in my heart and head of the things I know I did.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8 NIV
One thing my friend and I both have learned is that freedom and restoration are possible. These things are not at all circumstantial. You can be free no matter where you are. And all it takes is accepting a gift, receiving a new life. That gift is the one man who voluntarily accepted every sentence, punishment, and penalty, once and for all. He is Son of Man, Son of God.
Why would anyone, let alone a Son of God, do such a thing for the likes of us? One reason is that God is perfect, completely just and completely merciful. The only way He could fulfill his own verdict on sin and still hold each one of His creations dear is to pour out His wrath on Jesus.
But there’s another reason. He offers us this gift of being born again because he has an important task – a sacred mission – for every one of us, and He fully understands how we have been detoured and side-tracked and even kept ignorant of our purpose.
Now, my friend and I have something very much in common. We’ve been sentenced to life; a life of hope. Now that we know even a little about God and Christ, we will never be free from Him and the hope that he gives. And this is a very, very great feeling.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
Zechariah 9:12 NIV
What do I hope for? Something, anything, everything better, even though I may not receive it until I finally meet my Maker face to face.
How does it work? I describe it being given a new attitude, a tiny piece of awareness that caused a complete reversal in the way I looked at myself and this world. This is miraculous because my outlook hadn’t been something I seemed to have much control over – especially about myself. Deep down, I did not love, or even like myself, and that made me miserable and angry.
If I had to choose a single word to explain what changed in me, it is acceptance. Acceptance of several things:
- acceptance that there is a God with a plan for everything, and incredible, unbelievable love for me, even at my worst, because He created me
- acceptance of reality – of my current place in this world, my circumstances (and that my own decisions had led to the mess I was in)
- acceptance that there are many, many things I have no control over – specifically other people, and that actually, the only thing I can control is myself – my own thinking and reactions
- acceptance (and this is huge) that God has something for me to do with this life
I can see that this is God’s story, and that mine is just one small chapter. This does not mean that my part in the story is small; it’s unique and vital in some way to the biggest picture. I may never know exactly how.
There is someone who is a great example of this faith, Nick Vujicic. You may have heard of him. You can google him. He was born with no arms and no legs. Think about that. He can’t do even the simplest of tasks by himself. But he can control what he thinks and how he would react to his circumstances. Today, he is very much alive and living, a successful (meaning $$$$$$) motivational speaker, a husband and father, and famous. And he is a Christ-follower with hope for life.