I had the extreme privilege to preach at the Perry Correctional Institute’s church service yesterday. I had visited them a while back and gotten connected with them due to my involvement with the Courageous curriculum. It was great to reconnect with these dear brothers in this level-4 security prison.
After leading worship at North Side in what were some really special services, I jumped in the truck and headed up the road to join them. Before leaving, I picked up Gloria from the nursery where she was having a great time. When I stopped her from climbing the stairs in a certain way, she became very upset and needed some consoling after her mean father had saved her from falling down a flight of stairs.
As I jumped in the truck, I realized that my shirt was covered in snot and tears. As I grabbed a napkin in the truck and tried to remove the sticky evidence, the thought occurred to me that many of these men would give all they had just to have a shot to be covered in their child’s tears again.
What I saw as an inconvenience they would have welcomed as a privilege.
As I drove up the road, that thought changed the way I prayed for these men.
It made me think of all the things I take for granted. I take tears, snot, hugs, air conditioner, drive-thrus, padded seats, and so much more for granted.
The Church Service
After the drive, I went through the numerous steps to enter the building. I was at the front of a line that had a sobering amount of children and adults anticipating a few moments with a loved one inside.
I walked into a stuffy gym with folding chairs lined up ready for church. The large fan filled the room with noise but could not cool us off on this humid South Carolina afternoon.
As inmates filed in, I was greeted with hugs from some dear brothers of mine. We shared what God was doing in our lives and in our ministries. I circled up with inmate leaders to pray for the service.
As the band and choir assembled, a young man got up and starting singing an Edwin Hawkins classic: “I love you, I love you, I love you, Lord today, because you cared for me in such a special way…”
The older gentleman that I sat beside said, “Ah, man, I’ve got to stand up. Is that gonna be a problem?”
“Is it gonna be a problem if I join you?”
And with that, approximately 100 men rose in worship with a genuineness and passion that was breathtaking. The drummer and the lead singer then changed position as we began to sing Israel Houghton “You Are Good.”
After singing, we got into small groups and shared prayer requests and prayed for each other. Most of the men in my group wanted to pray for persecuted Christians in Iraq that they would stand firm in such times. Yeah, that was their biggest prayer request and it was humbling to say the least.
It was such a beautiful time and I thought to myself how thankful our church had begun this as well. I then thought how these guys were so ahead of us! These guys reminded me of what church is supposed to look like (Acts 2:42-47).
After some times of prayer, Scripture reading, and testimonies, I grabbed a microphone and began to preach from Romans 6. I shared with them a message entitled “Jesus Didn’t Die for You to Continue in Sin.” Let’s just say that those men were very responsive, and the more they encouraged me, the more expressive I got, and well, let’s just say, we had some church up in there.
My microphone went out and had to step away from the podium to grab another one to finish the message. I was sweating like crazy. One of the officers had to approach me in the middle of the sermon for me to tell a prisoner to come with him. It was chaotic and beautiful all at the same time.
This precious time with these precious brothers made me thankful for the things outside of those prison walls that I take for granted. But it also made me value the things within those walls that could not be taken away.
Mark my words, freedom exists behind those fences.
There is a group of men who are doing what they can with the time they have in the place where they are in order to make a difference for Christ and to live holy lives.
While I appreciate all the encouraging words I received from them, they will never know how much good they do for me. These dear brothers are spurring me on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
Today, thank God for those things we often take for granted. Cherish those gifts. But also, remember the faithfulness of our God and how he is worthy of our devotion regardless of where we might be.