I arrived on the unit and set up while the guards announced that Bible study was available.
No one came.
I waited a bit longer and prayed. I acknowledged to myself and to God that this study wasn’t about me. Where do I see God in the maximum-security unit at that very moment? I look around and wait in the moment: now, here, this.
Eventually one of the regulars came into the room.
Then another joined him.
And then another.
Finally, there were 11 guys that joined me for Bible Study in the maximum-security unit – a mix of guys from rival gangs meeting together to seek God.
Our opening discussion was about stall tactics – what do we do to put off doing something?
Some phrases that came up were:
- Ask me again when this show is over
- Just give me 10 minutes and I’ll get to it
- I’m busy now, I do it later
- What? I didn’t hear you.
- I don’t understand. Can you explain it a different way?
Some other tactics:
- Incomplete – if the request was “take out all the garbage” then just take out the bathroom garbage
- Do a poor job so they won’t ask you again – leave big streaks if they ask you to wash the windows
- Do it wrong – mix whites and darks when doing laundry; give the kids ice cream for breakfast; bring home the wrong items from the grocery store
I asked if lawyers ever used delay tactics. A collective groan arose from the group. They were all too familiar with this. One man mentioned a lawyer whose goal was to always put off going to trial because, “You haven’t lost the case yet if you haven’t gone to court.”
Another man asked his defense attorney how soon they could get a court date. The attorney said, “But if we have the trial sooner it just means you’re going to prison sooner.”
I asked about stall tactics that we use with God. The most common one was, “God, how do I know it’s really You?”
That was a great lead-in to our scripture. But before we read it I gave them some background on Gideon and the situation at that time. Then we saw how God’s angel had a sense of humor.
When Gideon is first introduced he is hiding inside a winepress trying to process grain. The angel says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12b)
It’s a modern-day equivalent to hiding in a coat closet and covering yourself with a bunch of old boots and shoes, and the angel saying, “My, my, aren’t you one bad-ass gangsta’!”
As the angel describes how Gideon will be used by God, Gideon’s response, albeit politely, is to question and delay:
- Pardon me
- but if
Even after the angel responds Gideon persists:
- Pardon me
- My clan is weak
- I am the weakest
Then Gideon takes delaying to the next level:
- give me a sign that it is really you talking to me
- wait until I come back
Even after God uses him, Gideon still further delays by asking for more and contradictory signs.
Judges 6:36-40 (NIV)
36 Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have promised—37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
Frequently my role in these studies is to provide space and a scripture, and then to step back and listen to how God has already been speaking to and through the men. This was one of those nights where I didn’t have to say much.
As they observed Gideon’s delay tactics and compared it to their own techniques, they wondered about how Gideon eventually became yielded to God. In their own lives many have made promises — “God if you get me out of this I’ll turn my life around.” But as soon as they are released they go back to their old ways.
They began discussing the idea of true repentance. Some of these men long to break the cycle of addiction, violence, and incarceration.
They wrestle with God’s capacity for forgiveness. Some felt they had to plea-bargain their sins with God, that if there were extenuating circumstances, perhaps they could be forgiven, but there was no forgiveness if someone murdered out of greed, or killed several people, or hurt a child. Several men knew a guy at a nearby prison the was serving life without parole for killing four people in drug deal gone bad. But this man was now serving God even in prison. There was forgiveness for him.
Another man found himself abusing God’s forgiveness – “I can do anything I want because, in the end God will forgive me.” But he was seeing the emptiness and futility of that lifestyle.
As the study wrapped up I explained how God didn’t kick Gideon to the curb because of his unbelief. He met Gideon where he was, and it transformed Gideon’s life.