Thank you for your prayers. There were 17 guys tonight from the lower tier. It was good energy tonight: lively discussion by a number of people with very few “unsanctioned” side discussions.
For the past few months a bagpipe and drum squad has been practicing across the street form the jail. So when I come out of an encounter with gang bangers who are either returning or coming to the throne of Grace for the first time – I transition back to the everyday world with a pipe and drum sound track.
Back to our story…
Tonight I felt particularly anxious before going in.
I’ve been doing prison or jail ministry for nearly 16 years.
As I’ve written before, every time I go in there is a moment of apprehension. Many times there is a minute or two of abject terror. In the back of my mind I hope that there will be a lockdown or some other reason that visits are cancelled. When I enter the room, but before the guys come in, my mind is saying how foolish this is, that it is sheer lunacy to be locked in a room with these guys, that I have nothing of value for these guys.
All of that is true.
I go in any way.
God is constantly faithful to meet me in my inadequacy. Each week the guys teach me about the passages that I’ve been studying. Each week I come out of the study both exhausted and refreshed.
The irony of me being particularly anxious was that tonight’s study was on Peace.
Normally I would just use a single passage for the study. Most of the guys are not familiar with how the Bible is laid out so looking up multiple passages can be a challenge. But tonight it seemed very important that we do this topical study.
I asked for examples of what was the opposite of peace. They provided a long list: war, violence, gang attacks, being black in America, broken relationships, appearing in court, etc.
I asked for examples for phony peace. Some examples were: peace in Middle East, being high or drunk, or being a bully where everyone is afraid of you, or lying quietly on the ground because someone’s boot is on the back of your neck.
So what was an example of real peace? One man described it as being at rest while still being fully aware of your circumstances.
We then read our first passage.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.
We talked about how peace was not a sign weakness. Neither was this “peace through superior fire power.” God strengthens his people so they can face their circumstances instead of hiding, denying, or pretending.
We then looked at the words of Jesus.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
“Not as the world gives.” What kind of peace does the world give? Fleeting peace. The high that wears off. Temporary peace. The mere “lack of active hostilities” is deemed peace by the world.
Some of the guys talked about how prayer and the Holy Spirit was a source of peace for them. It allowed them to find hope and peace while facing the reality of their situation.
I talked about Jesse, a man I met a number of years ago at a Prison Fellowship retreat at a prison in the Midwest. Jesse had been in for 3 months and was doing 15 years for aggravated assault. His circumstances were weighing heavily on him. He was 47 years old. No male in his family had ever lived past 55, so it was entirely likely that we would die in prison. He felt his life was over and questioned the point of going on. Another man in our group was in his late 20s and was serving life with no parole. He encourages Jesse that his life could still have meaning and purpose, even in a place like this. Jesse, who might die in prison, was given hope by another man who knew the he was going to die in prison.
There was some discussion about what to do when distracted by thoughts of rage or violence, or other negative thoughts. That was a good lead-in to the next passage.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[a]who strengthens me.
I reminded them that Paul, who wrote Philippians, wound up behind bars multiple times.
In verse 6 it used the word supplication. No one was familiar with it. I defined it as “asking”. I also explained that it wasn’t talking about the holiday Thanksgiving, but about giving thanks. So verse 6 instructs us to talk to God, ask God for our needs, and to give thanks to God for what we have.
Many of these men truly love their children, so giving thanks for their children is the easiest place for some of them to start.
“Whatever things are true” means stop listening to and telling lies about themselves. The truth is that God loves them and can help them transform their lives.
Noble means the opposite of having a boot on the back of your neck. It means being treated with dignity.
The discussion was great.
What I didn’t know was that almost half the guys had court dates coming up this next week, so they had a lot to be anxious about.
They needed this study on peace — almost as much as I did.