Prison Ministry

 "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Hebrews 13:3....."Tell me how much you know of the suffering of your fellow men, and I will tell you how much you have loved them." Helmut Thielicke....."God's prisons are full of His loved ones." Chris Tiegreen

 

When I started out in ministry, I somehow had the naive belief that I would be pastoring lots of nice folks, living nice lives, serving a "nice" God. I saw myself as willingly being "where they were." I never foresaw myself as being with them "in prison." Both literally and figuratively. Even more, I never saw myself as being one "in prison." But I would be, and many times.

Through the years, the Father has placed me in the lives of people who were in literal "jailhouses." I have never been able to be comfortable in these places. The bars, the guards, the sense of real sorrow and suffering that is there. I have always felt like the very walls were closing in on me when in them. Yet I knew He would have me there, offering whatever kind of comfort and hope that I could to them. My distaste of these places is natural. No one would want to be there. A desire to avoid them is natural as well, but He didn't give me an option with it. He never does. He had given me my own type of "prison ministry," and along the way, I discovered that for those that are His, prison ministry extends far beyond concrete walls and iron bars. It goes to those confined in jail cells whose walls and bars are made up of circumstances, emotions, and desperate needs of every kind. I have also discovered that just as my flesh wished to avoid visiting those behind literal bars, so does our flesh tend to try and ignore those trapped in invisible prison cells that involve just as much suffering and more, as those held in literal ones.

 

Paul was a man well acquainted with prison cells. He spent a lot of time in them. Yet they never defeated him. He knew that his being there had been allowed, even ordained by Him. That's a hard place to be. How could a loving God allow any of His people to be in such a place? But He does, because He has something far greater in mind in all of it. Paul knew that cell could never imprison His spirit or His life in Christ. God knew that in that cell, He could so work in Paul's life as to make him a blessing to people like you and me two thousand years later.

 

I've a good friend whose life circumstances cause him to now refer to himself, as did Paul, as "the Lord's prisoner." After a long and fruitful public ministry, he finds himself with real limitations on himself, but none on the ability of His God to speak into and grow his life in that place. And many benefit from what he learns in his cell. It is always so, and if any of us who find ourselves in such a cell right now, know that the Father intends the same for us. To make us "fruitful in the land of our affliction." Paul knew his prison cell was not final, and neither is ours. In his cell, Paul was fully free. We can be as well. He will bring us out into that "broad place." For those who are His, no bars or walls of any kind can hold us. We are to be free in all places, even a jail cell.

So what is the part of we who are not in a prison today? Paul cherished the ministry of those who visited him in prison. That is to be our ministry as well. Our flesh will seek to avoid it, but the Father commands it. Someone, near you, right now, is in such a prison. How often, if at all, do you "visit" them? They have the Lord, do they also have you? Jesus said, "I was in prison and you visited Me." Are we doing so in the lives of those living in all kinds of prison cells? Or do we just stay away? Neglecting Him as we neglect them. 

 

Blessings,
Pastor O

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