In all the CA State Prison chapels where I teach, we have turned now to the Book of Romans for the next season of our ongoing studies. Opening its first chapter, I was struck with the Apostle’s statement…
Romans 1:9-10 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times…
I do pray for my brothers and for the advance of the Kingdom and Gospel in their sphere, but the verses commend to me growth in and a deepened understanding of prayer.
It crossed my mind last week to reflect on the sign-in lists for chapel at each Yard where I work. Since I must turn in records of attendance, I print an updated spreadsheet each week for signing in. The updated lists include the names of all who have attended any of the previous four sessions, plus some who, because of long acquaintance, would surely come if there were no temporary schedule conflicts with work, school or other chosen rehabilitation programs.
The lists display both an encouraging characteristic of Prison Ministry and a cause for ache in the heart.
1. There is something about the situation of incarceration. So many come at least one time or a few times to listen, to inquire! The chapel Bible Studies get visitors constantly! Those very lists show that across even as little as four weeks one hundred forty-seven men have attended at least once. For that reason, it is a tremendous privilege to be there and to hold out good news!
2. But average attendance in any given week is between sixty and seventy.
I long for the advance of the Gospel in each Yard, especially since there is OPPORTUNITY to interact with so many! To be honest, I have to admit some bewilderment and discouragement when so constant an opportunity doesn’t seem to bear so constant a result of enduring fruit.
But then I remember a couple of important principles, and I take heart.
First of all, there is in fact much documentable grace. In many of those whom I’ve known now for some years, God has laid a firm foundation of renewal by His Spirit, grounding in His Word, and stability. Just three weeks ago, I met a man in whom the dawning of faith occurred in jail, before he had ever been sent on to prison. Rather immediate to the whole crisis of the offender’s wrongdoing, and in the circumstance of the man’s grappling with his wickedness, the Lord sent a believing volunteer who held out the call of the Gospel. The inmate’s soul awakened. Now twenty-seven years in, and knowing the likely impossibility of his ever being released, he serves Christ earnestly, humbly, eagerly, even cheerfully!
And second, God has plans to save. Scripture describes not only God’s ability to save, but His will to save. As our Lord Jesus declared once to Paul, under very threatening circumstances…
Acts 18:9-10 Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent….
… I have many people in this city.
This week, reading with the men the Apostle Paul’s account that he had attempted more than once to make plans to come to Rome with hopes for a Gospel harvest (which plans were thwarted), it called to mind Acts 16, where Luke records this...
Acts 16:6-7 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
God had Gospel harvest plans for ALL those areas in His time. It was right for Paul and the others to continue seeking where the harvest would occur, planning, trying this and that door of possible opportunity, alert to watch for what God would do.
How does all this relate to learning to pray?
Remembering, and turning my thoughts to the fact that God is in the business of giving life and light, and observing the Lord’s evident work in many, I can learn to pray more earnestly but also more buoyantly and expectantly for the advance of the Gospel where these opportunities have been given. Engaging in more earnest prayer is not about seeking to try harder to persuade God, as though He were not as inclined to mercy as I could motivate Him to be. It has more to do, I think, with the honor He receives the more I discover, through prayer, His heart to save – His PLAN to save!
I’m glad that the kind of prayer described in Ephesians 3:16-17 is a valid way of praying…
Ephesians 3:16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…