Recently, a group of CrossBridgers and I joined a team on a four day prison ministry retreat called Kairos. The basic premise of the retreat is to overwhelm inmates with love through the Spirit, Word, fellowship and food for the sake of their trusting in Christ.
I spent time with six inmates in particular. As part of a family group we ate together, prayed together, talked and learned together for the four days. One man in particular had a joy that was unmistakeable. He also had a way of weaving in Scripture to his conversation in a genuine and winsome way. I remarked to him about this and he took the opportunity to share his story with me. While I won’t share details here, he told me of a life filled with violence, hatred and anger that seemed totally incongruent with the man of peace he obviously had become. He shared about the hurts in his own life and how he had hadn’t known how to handle them. His solution was to keep stuffing them deeper down inside. This had made him like a balloon about to burst or a pot consistently on the edge of boiling over. Every time a new offense occurred, he exploded, often violently. In those rages he’d committed great evil and would likely have committed much more except that he was apprehended and imprisoned. But prison wasn’t only to keep the rest of society safe from him. He was still the same angry, violent man…until he met Jesus.
Since coming to know the love of God in Christ Jesus, he’d been transformed into the new creation Paul teaches about in 2 Cor. 5:17-21. The old man was gone, and this guy was different–radically. Yes, he was still inside the physical body of the man who’d done evil, and therefore would remain incarcerated, but inside he was free and full of the power of the Holy Spirit.
What especially struck me was his knowledge of Scripture, his commitment to obedience, and his efforts to disciple other inmates. This man, who has only a fraction of the physical freedom that most of us enjoy, was squeezing out so much glory for God with the freedom he did have. He will remain physically imprisoned most of his life, yet his potential for discipling others and storing up glorious treasure in heaven is undiminished.
I was convicted. I thought of ways in which I squander my own freedom in the outside world; how easily I’m distracted or caught up in the busyness of the world, missing opportunities to draw closer to God and live the life of faith expressed through love. I thought of all the things with which I fill my time and mind that have no lasting purpose. With so much freedom, one would think I would run even faster and more passionately for the purposes of Christ. So much freedom I have, yet so often squandered. I need the attitude of this inmate, the commitment of this brother in white. Lord, I want to be a prisoner of Christ, committed to his passion and purposes. Imprison me for your kingdom!