(**A small warning, there is some rough language in this post. I’m blessed to work with real people, if that’s offensive to you, maybe skip this one)
I have the honor of doing prison ministry. It is an honor because it is among, in my opinion, the most broken. It has been one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. The Lord has blessed my team of volunteers and the facility we work in beyond measure. Men meet Christ, our services grow, lives are changed (mine included), and the Spirit moves. What more can someone “chasing after His mission” ask for?
Last night, a quiet young guy that has been hovering around the perimeter of our Sunday meetings for the last month or so, walked up to me right as our service began. He strode with a purpose and he wanted to talk. He was lanky and his face had the sunken in quality of an addict. The teardrop tattoo under his eye and faded prison style ink across his neck told me the story of a hard life. His name was Shane and he had some questions about God.
Right off the bat Shane shared that he wasn’t sure about this whole “faith thing”. He saw how some of the other guys that he was locked up with seemed to only have what he called “jailhouse religion”. They came into prison and suddenly had enormous faith and walked around as if they had it all figured out. Shane was skeptical of them as they looked down their noses at him because he couldn’t tell Matthew from Judas or Easter from Christmas. He said he saw something different that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, in a hand-full of the other inmates and in myself and my team of volunteers. He wanted to know what it was.
“You dudes is different“, he said.
“How so?“, I wondered aloud.
“You talk about us, we the church? You say we in this together, like family and shit. You guys bring us stuff and help us out. I want some of that, but at my own pace, you know?“, he explained. “My family at home, even my kids, they always trying to shove this stuff down my throat. They always telling me to clean up, get right, and then go to church. I’m trying, you know, I am. You see, I use heroin. I’m clean now, but that’s what I do. I’m a junkie. I’m trying to straighten myself out so I can go to church and be there for my kids but I’m pretty scared of all this church stuff. I don’t get it but I want to. I want to understand it, but I’m always messing up before I can. I want it to be real, but slow. It’s too much and I fuck it up before I get it.”
Shane was breaking my heart. His glassy eyes betrayed the hurt and confusion hidden underneath his tough-guy exterior. He was explaining, in his own way, the hole we all have inside. He was telling me about his feelings of not measuring up, his pain. He knew he was a failure and pulled no punches about it. He spoke from his heart about feeling rejected by the church and by the people who supposedly had it figured out. Shane explained the lie he believed, and that we all fall prey to from time to time, that we have to fix ourselves before God will have anything to do with us. He expressed his frustration with being broken and not being able to repair himself.
Shane saw the freedom that some of us experience and wanted to taste it himself. There was something different in the way we accepted him and wanted to include him. He explained that he felt like he didn’t know the right thing to do or the right things to say. In fact, he was saying the exact right things. He actually had “it” more figured out than a lot of people. His actions, feelings, and words were the perfect picture of a sinner prepared to meet Jesus in a real way.
I explained that Jesus loved him right where he was and that He was waiting to meet him right there. I told him that we are all broken and that we all stray far from God. I revealed the truth that we are not good enough, none of us, and that there will never be a time when we are. I told him that Jesus was waiting to do what we cannot. I told him that salvation and a relationship with Jesus is based on our surrender. We set aside our effort and let Jesus come into our hearts and lives to accomplish what we could never do. I told Shane that we do not clean up to meet Jesus but that we bare our dirt and filth to meet him. I told him that Jesus did not come to save the perfect, he came to save the broken.
Shane listened with enthusiasm. I could see the lightbulbs, no, the fireworks, going off around his head as he absorbed the Gospel. He perfectly summed it up when he said “this is, like, the opposite of what I’ve been told and what I thought.”
I laughed and told him that he wasn’t alone. I admitted that many people in the church believed the same lies, and that I was fooled in the same way for a long time.
Shane said that it still seemed like a lot to wrap his brain around and that he wanted to spend some time thinking about it. I suggested that when the lights go out at night and he is alone on his bunk that he start praying a simple prayer that goes something like this;
I want a relationship with you.
I want to know you, but I don’t know how.
Jesus, I need you to do what I cannot.
I need you to meet me right here, in a way that I know is true.
I can’t do it, I know that, I need you to do it.
Please Jesus, come to me!
Shane said that he would give it a try and I believe he will. I reminded him to keep talking to me and to never worry about feeling like his questions were dumb or unimportant.
I loved that Shane didn’t have any idea what I meant when I told him to try reading his bible this week, “but just stick to the gospels for now. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they are the stories of the life of Jesus“, I explained.
“Oh, ok. Those are the parts about Jesus?” he asked confidently.
I smiled and replied, “yup, you’ve got it!“.
I saw light in his eyes and maybe even a tiny, barely noticeable, bounce in his step, as he walked away. Pray with me that Shane’s prayers are answered.