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There are people incarcerated who may have more freedom than some people who think they are free. If they know Jesus Christ, and you don’t, they have more eternal security than you do. I might even think I have more freedom than a believer who is incarcerated, but in reality that discipline has provided them something that I don’t have. A discipline that exposes them to many other circumstantial hazards that come with the territory of being in prison, but absolves them from other culturally rampant problems. They are effectively detached from the outside, so they are fighting a different kind of war. A war that I am certainly not an authority on. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to ask to get cuffed up and locked in prison. I am not looking for trouble, much less to get incarcerated for no reason. I mean that the every day dynamic of not having certain obstacles we face on the outside, may give them an advantage in terms of evading some of the moral dilemmas we face. They confront a subset of problems that most of us aren’t familiar with, and on that same token we evade facing those issues on a daily basis as well. Granted, there are probably too many variables at hand, in order to determine with any precision the eternal ramifications of such parameters. However, from a Christian vantage point, examining some of these obstacles may encourage us to objectively see that there’s hope. Even from the context of a prison environment, we can still acknowledge the detriments while simultaneously recognizing the possibility for strategic solutions.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
I was going to initiate by saying: “granted Winston Churchill probably didn’t spend much time in prison.” However, it dawned on me upon further inspection, he was actually a prisoner of war in South Africa. Who would have thought that one of the men, who by God’s grace, was a key component in maintaining world freedom against the Nazi regime, ever spent any time in anything resembling a penitentiary? He might have known a thing or two about what it felt like to be entrapped, captured, or otherwise unable to escape a daunting situation.
So some of the obstacles that one might infer from many prison context T.V. Series, documentaries, and public assertion include: having to cope with your partner in your prison cell, physical survival, gang related dynamics, perceived physical strength or weakness, and adapting to prison food. Granted, in the state of current affairs, that may not be a particularly bad proposition as far as the food is concerned. Considering what they pass for cafeteria food in schools these days, if your 5-10 year old can eat what they serve there, then most certainly adults of any kind should be able to adapt to what they serve in penitentiaries. Yes, I am going to guess that the adaptability to the food isn’t the primary problem. It’s probably keeping the food in front of you, and not being bullied for it, that may entail one of the components of the challenges inmates potentially face. Particularly those who sometimes go without eating to execute their crimes, or to survive because they might not feel as though they have a contribution to make to the world. As such they don’t have enough money to consistently purchase meals, as a byproduct of not being employed, and instead opting to steal. So the mindset of a criminal thief is taken as a calculated risk. They might think:
“I risk getting caught for a crime, that if I am not caught in, will yield the dividends of my booty [Read: money, valuables, etc…] or I get caught then acquire food, healthcare, and a roof over my head. Granted serious circumstantial risks exist inside, but given my association in the outside world, it might even be safer in there for me than it is out here. Sign me up.”
Then of course there’s that small chance of dying, which shouldn’t be neglected. Of course, if they target establishments that are “gun free zones”, that danger is for all practical purposes almost eliminated. As we have learned the hard way, often times criminals don’t tend to obey the law. It should be common sense, but of course in the world we live in, common sense has a become a scarce commodity indeed.
So the mission, eternally speaking, of a believer is to reach out to the lost. A wise man is said to win souls for Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean we have anything to do with getting them saved, it means that God draws them to His heart, and we are merely chosen to be the messengers. The blessing is that in the process of being the messengers, we are accomplishing the will of the King of Kings, and that opens the door to storing up heavenly treasure.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who wins souls is wise.”
Proverbs 11:30 (NKJV).
Incarceration is a problem, but failure is not final
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. -Winston Churchill
Think about this in terms of a radical Christian who finds themselves behind bars for a second. You’re in a situation where your life is in jeopardy every day, but to live is Christ and to die is gain. You’re in a place where the vast majority of people within arms reach need to hear the truth of God’s Word, and you can encourage them about the truth setting them free. The scenario reminds me of the late Chuck Colson, who had a passion for prison ministry.
He founded “Prison Fellowship” in 1976 (www.prisonfellowship.org), an organization whose mission puts no limits on God’s grace and supernatural power. His power to restore, redeem, and re-equip prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their loved ones. To help them repent from their old lifestyles, and come to know the love and truth only Jesus Christ offers. Chuck clearly had a heart for the men and women who were, are, and are continuously being locked up for their mistakes. Some of them likely facing a combination of circumstances outside of their control in regard to their upbringing [ex: father figures, home life, and lack of physical provision] and environmental factors [ex: peer pressure, schooling, and susceptibility] with respect to living arrangements. Despite these serious considerations, none of us ought to be exempt from the personal responsibility due to us, for committing crime. However, while man may or may not forgive someone for their actions, there is no sin or crime outside the reach of God’s supernatural grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. We simply need to walk through the door He has already established, opened, and provided through Jesus Christ for past, present, and future iniquity. You may still have to face the ramifications of your decisions in the eyes of man, but can also reach a right standing with God, whose ways are infinitely higher and whose approval is infinitely more important than ours.
Nobody is absolved from responsibility and entitlement can be venomous. Likewise, if we focus too much on our limitations, we may be putting limits on what God wants to do in, with, and through us. You don’t need to reach success in the sight of the world, in order to be successful in the eyes of the Lord. Those who are in prison, ought not to be looked down upon, it just so happens that the ways they failed in the eyes of public scrutiny fell into a level beyond that of the average citizen’s transgressions. They are neither necessarily more evil or tolerable in the eyes of a perfect God, but equally in need of His Son Jesus Christ, the ultimate propitiation for all of our sins. In His eyes, even the most miniscule of sins from the perspective of a human being, are all equally in need of Jesus Christ to redeem us through His death. Through His death we who are believers have died with Him, and have also risen in Jesus Christ, as we step into the new creation that we are.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
“14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NKJV).
The death that was given once and for all to cover the sins of all believers – past, present, and future. All sin is equal in the sense of us needing the Holy Spirit to lead us. To set us free from the chains of bondage, addiction, and foolishness we resided in.
“21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:21 (NKJV).
Furthermore, how many people would want to kill the one who blesses them? As a believer, you’d be like a diamond in the rough, in the midst of an otherwise tough environment. You can offer experience, wisdom, love, joy, gentleness, kindness, self-control, and peace through the fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can be a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak place. When someone has an emotion, a desire to cry, or a concern on the inside; they can confide in you in the context of the prison. In the parameters where they don’t have to fear the judgment of their peers thinking them “soft” or looking down upon them given their facade of hardness being taken off. It’s hard to put that mask on every day without letting yourself vent from time-to-time I would imagine. When life gets tough, or when you feel like there’s no hope.
With all due respect of course you should feel as though there wasn’t hope, if you didn’t know Jesus Christ, and you were locked up in jail for the rest of your life. What kind of hope does an atheist have behind a cell door? So much for seeking thrills, so much for building life’s sand castles. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks, which you happen to be surrounded by, “there’s so much more to life than what we can make materially or gain in this world. There has to be more, I have time to reflect now.”
As the Bible says it’s better to be in a house of mourning than a house of pleasure, going to prison might be an excellent analogy for what I believe this verse entails:
Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 (NKJV).
If we are in a house of feasting, or in other words pleasure, we don’t have the time or the desire to contemplate life’s depths. We don’t want to figure out what the things of substance mean, and we don’t want to answer the tough truth the Bible puts in our faces without apology. Who wants to wrestle with the deeper questions of life, when they’re caught up in a lifestyle of sin? No I am not saying all pleasure is intrinsically sinful, I am not legalistic, and of course I recognize that God is the Creator of pleasure. As human beings with a sinful nature, we simply fell into the devil’s traps, in attempting to hijack what was designed to be enjoyed responsibly, by emphasizing the allure of the forbidden. Like Adam and Eve, we ourselves also grabbed of the forbidden fruit and ate of it. In one way or another, we all fall short of the glory of God, and we all need Jesus Christ.
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:24-26 (NKJV).
I am neither saying that there isn’t a time for a feast. Didn’t the prodigal son have a feast when he went back home to his father’s house? Yes he did, and not only a feast, it was a ceremonious feast. The distinction here is that someone who is in a house of pleasure on a consistent basis, doesn’t commit any time to examining their behavior, their hearts desires, and their fallibility. They don’t recognize that they are depraved wretches like you and I, they act the part but don’t submit themselves to the solution we’ve been provided eternally through Jesus Christ.
In a house of mourning, you won’t feel very happy, elated, or otherwise see much dopamine released in your misolymbic pathway [Read: perceived pleasure being injected in your physical person, a.k.a salience]. You see life’s problems, but you don’t just see them from a distance, you see them on an intimate level. You have no choice but to introspect and figure out what your plan of attack is. You stand a chance in the midst of sorrow to come to terms with sobriety, purification, and God’s plan for you. As the verse states “by a sad countenance the heart is made better”. Your heart is positioned to be purified, because suddenly the fleeting pleasures, passions, and distractions of the world have been haulted. Otherwise, someone who might not have been incarcerated, would likely be chasing those pleasures until the day they die.
In actuality many of those dead end roads speed up the process of dying, as people are predisposed to dangerous contexts. If the drug or illicit activity isn’t intrinsically dangerous, then it’s likely going to cause you to do other dangerous or otherwise illicit activity in order to facilitate it. For instance, if you are addicted to drugs, you might need to rob convenience stores, pawn shops, or other small venues to facilitate your habit. One day you might get shot by a store owner protecting his property, and suddenly your chase for that dead end road, ended in your death.
In this sense incarceration could be a blessing in disguise to those caught in a lifestyle of money, pleasure-seeking, and exuberance based on the fleeting passions of this world. They would have little to no other reason to stop, apart from a firm family intervention, of which I would imagine doesn’t have a strong appeal to those currently entrenched in the “house of pleasure”. When push comes to shove, if God needs you to be incarcerated to set you free from a serious, life-threatening addiction, He will take you there. Who are we not to see this as anything other than a pure demonstration of God’s grace? He gave you the opportunity to finally quit. In this regard incarceration becomes a demonstration of God’s love and grace as a precious son or daughter whom He loves dearly. A son or daughter who He desires to correct, and truly set free.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” – English Proverb
A Semblance of Personal Connection
I don’t have any tie to having been in prison, but I have been in a psychiatric ward. Let’s call it a prison without cells, because in the “looney bin” many of us were often too incapacitated or incoherent, to possibly provide much of a danger in terms of escape. I can assure you that many of us wanted to get out of there as quickly as we could, especially me. If I was there for a long enough time, it wouldn’t surprise me if I tried to plot some sort of “Prison Break” scenario and bounce, lol. In all seriousness, the food was probably better than both cafeteria food and prison food, I will concede them that. I will also concede that I wasn’t threatened by the “inmates”, because if anything I might have been the looniest tune in there. I am also deeply thankful for the care of the staff, especially those nurses who personally attended to me, and put up with me at my lowest valley to date. God willing it might be my lowest ever, but one can make no promises for what tomorrow might bring, so I will not boast even in the assurance that I pretend to know where I will go in the future.
I had no desire to harm myself or others, but I had a consistent desire to leave. I can relate to feeling trapped in a place where I didn’t want to stay. I just can’t relate to being in a place where instead of a short span of time it’s a more substantial time in a more physically dangerous environment with more constrained care [ie: time, space, and comparative provision]. Them knowing better than I, in accordance with the instruction provided by my loving family and my psychiatrist, allowed me to put my pride to the side and embrace their program of recovery. My recovery dealt with getting rid of the onset of mania [manic episode], and it required a similar trajectory in terms of the start of drug rehabilitation. The difference was instead of withdrawal symptoms, my symptoms were naturally infused by the self-imposed stressors of trying to do too much. I tried to conquer the world in a day, and I paid the price for it. I was too ambitious in terms of selfish-ambition, and I was spiritually, mentally, and physically drained. God needed to catch my attention, but He corrects those He loves:
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:6-11 (NKJV).
God led me to convert that selfish-ambition to Godly ambition, and discover my passion for writing for His glory. He also empowered me to overcome my manic state, with the help and attention of doctors and modern medicine as His vehicle of choice. They were committed to restoring me to a state of soundness physically and mentally, as God provided, and only the Lord restored me spiritually. He alone helped me to make sense of some aspects of the madness in hindsight, and the purposes of why He allowed such events to occur, events that were difficult to bear. If you asked me before 2006 anything in regard to taking medications, visiting a psychiatrist, or consulting with a psychologist – I would have spoken down about such measures. Likely dismissing them in my ignorance as unnecessary solutions to imaginary problems. Probably with much of the stigma toward mental illness that is still quite rampant now in 2015. I would have told you that I had no expectation of needing or wanting to use them. Yet, I recognized God placed those doctors, nurses, and medications in my path in order to help me get back to sanity. In 2006, 2010, and 2013 there were similar but distinctly different events for different reasons that gave me some of the same old symptoms.
In 2006 it was straight up over-exerting in school, work, and PC-Games. In 2010 it was transition from a small dose of one medication to no medication, because we thought it was worth the calculated risk. Should have listened to mom, she was the only one who thought it wasn’t a good idea. Granted women are typically more risk averse, it figures this might have happened after not listening to my mother. I felt some of the same old symptoms and got induced before we caught the difference. Then in 2013 it came as a byproduct of over-exerting in exercise without ample space between workouts. I wasn’t giving my mind or body enough time to heal, rest, or restore in two of the events – and the 2010 one admittingly was induced with no extraordinary stressors.
Fortunately we’ve found the best balance of pills in a long time these last couple of years, and I think it’s highly likely that after my development as an adult, that this problem won’t reoccur from the vantage point of scientific materials. I suppose since most of your emotional and physical development has passed, that distance gives one a cushion away from susceptibility to similar events. The fact remains that whether God wants to allow this to happen again or not is in His hands, and all the precautions in the world could theoretically be taken, and there could still be risk involved.
Just as when I get in my car I could get in an accident, when I walk into the water at the beach I could get attacked by a shark, or when I cross the street I could get hit by a bus. Every time we walk out the door there’s a risk in practically everything we do. Actuarial Science majors would be sure to be able to explain that it has a direct pertinence to the way insurance companies assess risk. This “Risk Assessment Evaluation” indicates how likely you are to die given various variables such as lifestyle, time alloted, and risk factors [ie: smoking, sky-diving, etc.]. This data, at least in the case of high-net worth individuals, is then used to determine the correlating probability of that person dying. The cost of their insurance premium is determined, and it will also vary based of course on the threshold of their desire for coverage in the event they do die. I am sure they have risk assessment formulas that will help them gauge aggregate risk across many individuals who purchase insurance, and the more detailed ones for the coverage of individuals with higher networth, since those cases expose them to an ascending level of risk relative to how much coverage they desire and the aforementioned variables. To be sure that they don’t have the capacity to go broke, and essentially reduce their risk of ruin to practically non-existent figures or levels that make it a highly improbable statistical anomaly for it to occur.
The beauty of life is that God is in sovereign control over all these both small and large circumstantial dynamics, but that doesn’t absolve us from using our God-given intellect and capacity to make prudent decisions in every area He has blessed us with the privilege of doing so. At least having the humility to admit the areas where you are incapable of helping yourself, gives you the advantage of recognizing how to deligate responsibility. To understand our limitations as a human-being part of the human family (and ideally part of the family of God’s children), likely one of many reasons why pride comes before falls. We think we can make it on our own, but we desperately need God. Often times God chooses to use our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us weather the storms, and we need to adapt to the method of help our ultimate Helper decides is appropriate for us.
When we cautiously look both ways like our mothers surely taught us growing up, we minimize the risk of getting hit by that bus. When we are sober, vigilant, and alert while we enjoy the water – we minimize the risk of getting attacked by a shark. You probably won’t do yourself much good punching a Great White in the face, but perhaps it will increase your chance of survival if it’s a Tiger Shark or a Bull Shark. Furthermore, we can pray that God would bless us with safety. Pray that He would mercifully see to it that His creation doesn’t come to us up close and personally, while we pray for those who were attacked to be restored with their limbs if God would allow it so. Prayer is a powerful force, and it’s a lot stronger than anything we can physically do for someone.
16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James 5:16 (NKJV).
One of the key words here is fervent, we need to be sincere, passionate, and ultimately on fire for God – knowing that He will honor our requests when He sees it in agreement with His will to do so. We need to act in faith knowing that as a prayer warrior we make a supernatural difference in the scope of the entire universe. God hears us, and He answers our prayers. It just isn’t always the answer we might expect, in the timing we might desire, or in the manner which we thought was best. Fortunately for us He knows better than to give us all that, He knows what we need, we merely know what we want.
So without going to far off on my tangent here, my point wraps back to there being risks in everything we do in life. Some of the risks are risks to are ego, pride, or perception. If I approach a woman, my risk is being rejected by her, and perhaps having a public witness or two who might find that amusing. Such a risk is so miniscule, that it shouldn’t stop me from approaching her, if I think that it might yield a positive expectation. In the context of prison, you have a world of more significant risks to assess, but these risks are still smaller than the reward you find in God’s purposes for you in taking them. While some may not still have the capacity to be forgiven by humans, or if they did find forgiveness, still face a life in prison without a possiblity for parole. Their ultimate destination transcends life on earth. In fact life on earth is a vapor in comparison to eternity. If their hearts, minds, and person are ready to repent of their past sins, and trust Jesus Christ as their sole and soul Savior, then they’re going to spend eternity with God in paradise. Not living for the fleeting pleasures, dead end roads, and worldly distractions. They’ll be living in true freedom forever, a freedom that nobody can take away from them. Anybody can kill your body, and God still has to allow that to happen for them to be able to do so. Not anyone can destroy your soul, not after God takes ownership of you through His Son Jesus Christ!
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28 (NKJV).
King Solomon had all the worldly success money, power, or fame a person could ever gather. Yet he understood that it was all vanity, a chasing after the wind. Everything provided some sort of momentary pleasure, but then would quickly exit and provide sensations of dissatisfaction. This is probably why he compared it to a chasing after the wind, because if you’ve ever tried it, most certainly you can’t hug or entrap wind with your hands. [Concept Credit: Jacob Miranda].
He tried finding some sort of contentment from building ornate palaces and spending lavish amounts of money on decor, it most certainly didn’t do anything for him in the long haul. He tried finding satisfaction in women, as he had 1,000 wives and concumbines, but that offered him no lasting joy, peace, or contentment. He enjoyed fine wines and food, but as soon as they were devoured, what good were they to him later?
In the end, by the grace of God and through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit operating through him, he discovered that the only worthy causes for a human being were to fear God and obey His commandments. He said it was man’s all. Fearing God of course to revere, worship, respect, and tremble before the presence of an Almighty and infinite God! Obeying God’s commandments of course closely correlating with loving God and loving people, the simplified explanation of the two greatest commandments given to us. When we obey God it means we love Him, and when we love Him we are considered His friends, what an honor! He also provides us a Helper, namely the Holy Spirit, who resides in us so that we may abide in Him. I thought it would be the Holy Spirit, because we can observe where it says that He will be in us. Well, as believers, we ought to know the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can infer that if He is inside of us, that means He is the Holy Spirit of God.
15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
John 14:15 (NKJV).
Hopefully this will be a sobering warning for those of us who think we are free living outside the jail cells, as well as a light at the end of the tunnel, for those who are facing the serious elements of incarcerations. Quite frankly I cannot directly relate with them, but we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and He can relate with them as you establish your relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. All I know is that Jesus Christ is with us wherever we go, and He will meet us at our time of need. He has never and will never fail you, and if you perceive that He has, the problem is with you not with Him. Get right with God, because eternity is forever and we can’t afford to be wrong about that.
9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NKJV).
9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 (NKJV).