When prisoners of #CCC (Caddo Correctional Center) crowded round in response to the Gospel message there was joy as God made His move at the end last evening’s chapel service. They soberly entreated prayer for felt needs and tangible fears. You see they have no hope nor help unless God acts, and they daily live in the driven reality of this constraint. That is not all bad. It can turn redemptive by Divine design.
“Dust and rust, thy life’s reward? Slay the thought! Believe thy Lord!” (A Carmichael)
Ideally this present life of imprisoned restraint could actually become the narrow neck of the funnel that rapidly propels the prisoner toward that unique avenue that opens into the flowing River of Life. Part of my role as “shade-tree” pastor-counselor is to first isolate their location and then encourage their escape out of the difficult place they live by entry into the path of possibilities filled with Gospel promises. This great escape can only be offered without promise of immediate change in circumstance and with no pretense of anything beyond God’s presence and approval in the final analysis. This is not really a “hard-sell” to the inmate if they are apprehended by the God who delights to build His new house upon the very foundation that their sin constructed. It rings with a clear, full tone of eternal truth and hope. Otherwise their life seems destined for destruction.
Simply stated their surroundings are at work to sharpen their spiritual acuity as their visual perception becomes focused upon an ever-narrowing experience of reality. The fluff and stuff of life are gone. These disappeared into Neverland with the resounding clang of the prison doors. Four walls now encroach upon their existence. Their experience is confined to the consequential grind of old life choices come home to haunt them. We on the outside easily neglect and even stumble over that which they have come to value as true needs in their distilled, simplistic world. Our affluence becomes a distortion… an idol… of our perceived reality, and we easily miss what they learn, where they live, what they value, and why this is Truth that screams incessantly to Conscience.
In retrospect I think the real obstacle in this opportunity of prayer is to draw their attention to prayer’s reality, not as an “abracadabra magical-method” to swish away all troubles. The goal is the challenge to unmask prayer’s mystique. The prisoner must begin to embrace prayer as quiet communion with God as an elementary exercise God affords to teach us to entrust our cares and burdens to the wise, personal, powerful God who knows our needs before we even think to ask.
So my real goal in prayer with any inmate is for us to seek God together, not to the end of audible clangs of the cell doors as they rattle and swing open; rather my prayer for them is answered if I point them to a God who is near to the broken-hearted and a God who is willing to forgive the debts of those now crushed in spirit.