Prisoners, the hope of our world
As I drove my car this morning to town, I was struck by the sight how the main road where it turns was totally blocked by minibus-drivers. Most of them do not care at all for other users of the road, as long as they may gain, maybe, one more passenger before moving on; a long line of cars was waiting for an opening to pass through. This is just one typical example of how people in African countries usually take without any appreciation, instead of give; obviously they do not understand and practice the nature of our God who always, and only, gives. Giving is a key word of this message. We just cannot give if there is no love in our hearts, and we cannot love without giving liberally from an open heart.
Jesus makes it very clear that to follow Him we must deny ourselves, let go of our own desires and wishes for our own life, begin to serve Him with all our heart, and take up our own cross. Our God and Father is eager for us to love Him, just as we are eager to be loved, yes, in fact we cannot live without being loved. Can He truly be happy with His life if His love is rejected by His children? After all, we were created in His image, and therefore He looks spiritually exactly like us. We might even say that our heavenly Father is hungry for our love as we are hungry for being accepted and loved. God’s Word so often describes His relationship to His people Israel as that of a Husband to His wife. In our human relationships a husband becomes extremely jealous when his wife flirts with other men, just as a woman is deeply hurt as her husband looks at attractive looking women. So our God is also jealous to the extreme for our undivided love and commitment to Him. Even the Ten Commandments state this in Ex 20:4-6: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My laws.”
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:
- Can you discuss together the relationship between loving and giving?
- Do you understand why our God is jealous of our undivided dedication to Him?
We read in many places in the Bible the words “with all your heart”? Here are a few examples of the use this statement:
Deuteronomy 4:29-30: “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-14: "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the laws of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?”
Deuteronomy 11:13-15: “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.”
Deuteronomy 13:3-4: “ ….. because the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Deuteronomy 26:16-17: "This day the Lord your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Joshua 22:5-6: “Take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
1Samuel 12:20-21: “Then Samuel said to the people, "Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.”
1Samuel 12:24: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
Jeremiah 29:11-14: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Matthew 22:37-38: “Jesus said to him: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”
Acts 8:36-37: "Then the eunuch said: ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip responded: ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered: ‘I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’"
QUSTIONS TO DISCUSS:
- What does this mean to you: “WITH ALL OUR HEART”?
- Is it easy to give God all our heart?
- What is hindering us from giving Him our all?
- Did Jesus not teach us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Does that not include our personal lives too? and our hearts?
The more we cling to things we love of this world, the more difficult it will be to let a relationship with God be all that is important to us. It is therefore that we are kept by our own desires from experiencing God to the fullest and experience the blessings He has promised us.
I want you to clearly understand that our God is a very creative Father God who creates through a process of laying down His own life for His creation; He gives and gives, and gives more - ever more; that is the nature of our Father and His only begotten Son Jesus. Jesus also gave Himself for our salvation! When He marries us at the marriage celebration of the Lamb of God, we become one with Him, just like a husband and wife are one. Does that not require a full commitment to each other? Can you then see that He will never be totally happy until we also give Him everything we can? We cannot love our God well, until we give Him our all from a joyful heart. And if we want to give Him something, we do that most often the best when we give to people in need, for example widows and orphans, His children. In Galatians 2:9-10 we read: “When James, Peter, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.”
We just cannot love our God as long as we cannot love our fellow men, His children, and give without hesitation, as He directs, from the substance He has entrusted in our care. If we are Jesus property because He purchased us with His blood, then all we have belongs also to Him; it just makes us managers for Him of what we have.
So many of us look down on prisoners because they have committed serious crimes, but do we then not realize that we are not better at al than they are? Do we have any righteousness with which we can come before our God without Jesus Christ? Isaiah 64:6-7 says it so clearly: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; because You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.”
Yes, no one in earnest seeks after God and we should never consider ourselves any better than any other person. Prisoners who committed serious crimes and got caught have a big advantage over others because they have little left to give, making it easier to give all they have left yet, and God hears them, and responds to them, and they become His favorites. Let us ask our heavenly Father to open our eyes so that we may be able to see how terribly sinful also we are, and how much also we need His help to love Him with all our hearts, just as many prisoners come to love Him. Father God is the one who will give us this desire to love Him if we ask Him for that. He creates in us the desire to do His will and then actually makes us do it too.
You know, our misguided pride of how “quite good” we think to be, makes it very difficult for us men to come close to Father God. By nature it is easier for a woman to seek after God, but we men just put up so much resistance against coming close to Him. Can you then see the benefit for us men if we spend time in prison, or go through some other deep trouble? Because then we may finally begin to listen to God. I can now indeed so easily see the benefit of men spending time in prison. You know, it is Adam whom our Father had called and equipped to make His world more beautiful for Him, to manage His world for Him, and to lead his family for Him. Woman was given to man to help him, and she was equipped by Father for that purpose, but man just would not listen to her very well. And so we men just resist doing our duty for our Father God and for our families. Yet our Father wants us to start doing it for His sake, for His glory, so that He may become satisfied and truly happy about us and His creation. Therefore He sends so many men to prison so that they may begin thinking about God’s will and plans for their lives, begin humbling themselves before Him, and begin seeking Him with all their hearts.
That was also Father God’s process for many of His great servants. Think about Joseph who needed to spend thirteen years as a slave and in prison to be changed from arrogant into a humble servant leader who could hear God. Think about Moses and how God sent Him for forty years in the wilderness of Midian after he had killed a man in his arrogance and anger. Think about how God formed a man like King David into a man after His own heart by letting him get chased in the wilderness for many years by his own father-in-law, King Saul, who wanted to kill him. Think about how God brought Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, his friends, close to Himself through terrible suffering as they saw their families slaughtered before their eyes when Jerusalem was sacked and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It is such men who become shakers of the world for their God, who become gladly servants of their living God and Father to manage the earth for Him in a most responsible and creative manner. Well, it was in every instance God Who did the creating, but in fellowship with these men, working through them as they sought Him continually with all their hearts.
Can you then see why prisoners are so important to God, and so important to our Lord Jesus Christ? They remind us of our own spiritually bankrupt state. And sending them to prison is God’s way of drawing them close to His heart, so that they may begin serving their God and Father. Is it possible that we do not like to think positive about criminals because we do not want to be reminded of our own state before God? But can you then understand why even Jesus made a big point of it that we visit prisoners?
We read Matt 25:34-36: “Then King Jesus will say to the people on His right hand: 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from when the foundation of the world was laid: because I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, and when I was in prison you came to Me.'”
When an inmate truly comes to his Lord with all his heart, a big miracle happens as he is then being born for the second time: not of the will of an earthly man, but of the will of God. That is when God begins giving spiritual understanding, wisdom that makes things obvious truths not understood before. And what our heavenly Father does is always very good; it is just like at the time of creation when we read after every day’s creative work: “And God saw that it was very good.” That is also why Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6-7: “I am confident that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Imagine such men after having been released from prison, how they will be used by God in powerful ways to change the world! They will become Noahs, Josephs, Moseses, Davids, Daniels, doing God’s work here on earth even though actually it will be King Jesus doing the work, but through them. Many prisoners will enter into their Father’s kingdom more easily than those who have never committed a crime.