Monday, November 25, 2013

Freedom in a Prison

“We do not usually learn that Christ is all we need until we reach that point where he is all we have!”

--Vance Havner

The great gray door swings shut and there is finality in its closing. The door is shut and the building is grim and the guards hold sentry, ever watchful of their captors.

A prison is a dismal place, the barbed wire fences speaking as if to say, “Don’t come inside, for you will never get out.” And those inside have more often than not broken the rules of society . . . There are others who never enter a prison because they haven’t broken society’s rules. But they have at some point in their lives, broken God’s. Every man is in chains until the blood of Christ frees him. Some chains are visible; some are unseen.

And some sit in prisons and they are weary and they are discouraged and they are hardened by the rough language, by the jagged behavior around them. They sit in prisons and wonder if they will ever be free, if their life will ever be redeemed or whether they are “stuck” for good. And it is just that they are there and justice has been served and they have “gotten” what they technically deserve.

The Gospel offers the hope and the freedom that we don’t deserve-- the Gospel that is able to emancipate men, to make them right with God, to set them loose from their prison so that they may praise His name.

Jesus brings freedom through prisons, through closed doors, through hopeless, waiting days of nothing but four gray walls and a sink and a latrine. Jesus visits prisons where no one else would set foot inside, lest others might think that they belong there, too. Jesus walks in prisons.

My brother-in-law Alex was blessed to be able to attend a Bible study this week that was led by a missionary that our church supports. It was in a prison. He had to undergo a background check and pass under the watchful eye of the prison guards there. He had to enter into that closed place so that he could feed upon the Bread of Life with free men in chains.

When he came home he said that the experience made him think of Vance Havner’s quote, “We do not usually learn that Christ is all we need until we reach that point where he is all we have!”

Often, men and women in prison are desperate. They have come to a place of desperation in their lives, committed some crime that further proves their desperation, and now sit silently behind the great gray walls that hold them and their desperation in. Some turn to the Lord in prison—why? Perhaps because they have come to the end of themselves. Perhaps because they finally realize their need for a Savior. Perhaps because they are lonely and weary and discouraged thinking of the joyless hours, days, years looming before them.

Jesus is joy and they cling to Him. Jesus is joy behind prison walls because He is freedom in chains. And the men and women who come to know Him in prison are often some of the most grateful because they realize that they have been forgiven much. And so they love much. The Son has set them free and they are free indeed.

So, for some, prison is worth it. Prison is worth it if the soul is united with its Maker and the spirit is set free to praise the God of heaven. When He is all we have . . . when family and friends have forsaken us. When the years stretch before us like dark-robed guards and threaten to suffocate our souls. When we realize that we have committed crimes too great, too heinous for words and that without forgiveness we will sink beneath the mire. When we don’t think that we can go another day without seeing the blue sky or without feeling the lovely crisp grass beneath our unchained feet.

He is salvation from prison. And there are other “prisons” that chain us and hold us down in the dark and threaten to overwhelm our souls. The “prison” of a spouse dying-- the loneliness, the pain, the utter grief of spirit, the “prison” of a painful divorce in which we have been the victim of bitter rejection, the “prison” of a long, drawn out disease that wracks our body and steals the joy of the light of day from our hearts.

And I can remember days, joyless days in the prison of a situation that I could not control, and thinking, if the sun was out and the birds were singing and the beauty of spring was in the air, “I wish it were dark and cold and gray,” because that is how I felt. I could not relate to light and to warmth and to grace and my soul was in agony. Until the Lord stooped down and I realized that He is all that I need. That “when all around my soul gives way, He the is ALL my hope and stay.” Until I realized that “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform” and that “behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” He was all I needed. But His grace had to touch me and make me realize that, not only in my mind, but in my heart.

A prison can be the gateway to freedom when it makes a man or a woman recognize their need of Christ. And a spiritual prison can be the beginning of an open door, if we will allow the Holy Spirit to stoop to us in our need and help us, lifting our feet, like pilgrim out of the mire and setting them on solid ground.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk / / CC BY-NC

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