Once they return to the challenges (emotional, financial, physical, family or no family, finding work, fitting in at work) of regular living overlaid with special issues facing those recovering from incarceration, broken thinking, and all that brought them to be incarcerated, it is much harder to find the space to consider how loving God might make a difference, if it is possible that God could love them with all the errs they have made, if it is possible to build a different kind of life with God's help.
My faith is stronger and my respect huge for these folks who find their relationship with God in jails and prisons and recovery facilities, who struggle as restored followers of Christ or baby followers of Christ in such stark circumstances.
St. Paul wrote, "Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Col 2:6-7) When I think what that means in a jail or prison it takes my breath away and drives me to my knees in prayer for folks who cling to God with such passion in such stark circumstances. They may experience mocking, disbelief, even hostility from other prisoners and even prison staff who have seen oh so many folks invoke the name of Jesus in an effort to work the system.
Then they live such narrow lives with all their time account for and most of their "decisions" made for them. They can't just call up the chaplain to ask a spiritual question. They can't take the day off to meditate and read their Bible. They can't run by the chapel to pray for their children or a struggling fellow prisoner. They can't join hands and pray with someone struggling (no touching and no exceptions). They can't burst into singing praise music to assuage sorrow or express joy.on a whim. Yet even in such conditions faith blooms, grows and attracts new folks to consider this "religion thing" because they live lives that demonstrate the truth of their words and beliefs.
These folks are either building a life inside the institution over long or life sentences or they are released into a world that takes a lot of getting used to. In the free world also they can experience mocking, disbelief and even hostility from family, and the folks at a church they are thinking of attending, finding work which they must execute with far less attentive supervision then they have been experiencing and managing many new freedoms, fitting back into their families if they ever had one and if they are still welcoming, restoring relationships with children and figuring out how to be involved in their lives in positive ways. I think I would find that all very overwhelming. And into all that they struggle to stay the course of growing spiritually and finding ways to be the hands and feet of God to folks who often think themselves distinctly superior.
But maybe in facing such stark challenges they are actually more willing to accept the need to be rooted and built up in Jesus, working intentionally to strengthen their faith and be truly thankful that they have God empowering, teaching, loving and advocating for them. Too often those of us with fewer challenges seem to be rather careless in these matters.
Today won't you pray for new Christians in prisons, and for the more mature Christians in prisons who will teach them, mentor them, pray with them, learn with them? Pray for the staff that deal with these folks that they might more rightly discern how to interact with them that faith might be fanned gently rather than blown out carelessly. Pray for the families that may be supporting this new Christian with rejoicing and passionate thanksgiving because they have been longing for such a time as this. And pray for families who, still struggling with their own spiritual issues and old resentments, might find the idea of the prisoner finding God's forgiveness to be a bitter pill.
And today, decide also for yourself to be rooted and built up in Christ Jesus, seeking a growing faith in God's love, and choosing every day to find things to be thankful for, so that we might be as serious and intentional in our faith as folks who face challenges we can only faintly appreciate.