Many people we minister to consider themselves unqualified to be spoken to or in any way positively pursued by God. Inmates commonly criticize themselves and others for attending our weekly gatherings, often stating that they don’t expect God to help them now that they’re in trouble since they didn’t seek God through attending church, praying or reading the Bible before their arrests.
Proverbs offers a powerful antidote to street religion, offering hope for sinners. I invite people to read Proverbs 8:1-3 and ask them where wisdom speaks? Together we identify some of the high places, streets, intersections and entry points of our city. Might God be speaking in all these places?
We also read Proverbs 9:1-3, where wisdom is described as building a house, preparing food and sending out maidens to the heights of the city to invite people. The inmates are struck that God’s wisdom takes the initiative and calls out in the streets, in public places and not in the expected places like church.
“To whom is wisdom calling?” I ask, inviting people to read Proverbs 8:4-5 and 9:4. “God’s voice goes out to all men,” someone says. “To the ignorant, to the fools,” says someone else.
“And who are the ignorant and the fools today?” I ask.
“We are,” says one of the prisoners—and nobody disagrees. People are surprised that wisdom pursues the uneducated, the undignified, losers who are on the outside.
I talk about how people usually think that sin separates them from God, but that here we see God’s wisdom offered freely to the unworthy, the unqualified. I invite the men to be on the lookout for this wisdom & to expect God to be speaking and to even directly ask Jesus for wisdom and understanding.
I invite someone to read James 1:5 “but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
When I ask the men if any of them feel they need wisdom for a difficult decision, a relationship or anything, everyone’s nodding. We go on to read about the need to ask with faith, “without any doubting”—with expectation that God will answer.
I was recently driving down to Washington State Reformatory, thinking and praying in preparation for our bi-monthly Spanish worship service in Washington’s largest prison. As I headed down Interstate 5 towards the turnoff to Highway 2 I decided to ask God for wisdom.
“Here I am Jesus at an intersection. Give me a word, give me wisdom that would open up the men to your love.”
Immediately I had a picture in my minds eye of a tattoo of a heart on a bare chest over someone’s heart and the words as coming from God: “people see you as having a black heart, but I see you as having a good heart and as being a noble man.”
I immediately began to doubt that this was coming from God. Never had I seen a heart tattoo on a man’s chest. Surely I was making this up.
A group of fifteen or so Spanish-speaking inmates came to my service. I led them in a version of the above Bible study, which came together beautifully. At the end I decided to go for it and ask if anyone by any chance had a heart tattooed on his chest. I looked around the circle from right to left, man to man. Nobody was acknowledging such a tattoo. Then a man to my left raised his hand. “I do,” he said, in Spanish.
I looked at him and repeated the Spanish translation of “people see you as having a black heart, but I see you as having a good heart and as being a noble man.” His head recoiled and another man exclaimed in shock: “that’s truly a prophetic word.” The man then pulled up his shirt to reveal a band of tattoos running across his chest—pointing to a clearly tattooed heart right over his heart.
Two weeks later I was able to ask him what that word about his heart had meant to him. He told me that he is from a notorious street gang in El Salvador and has a long history of violent, criminal behavior and was viewed by people as having a black heart. He said: “Lately I have been really doubting that people or God will ever see me as having a changed heart, even after all my efforts to follow Jesus. That word really encouraged me, giving me hope that God sees my heart as good.”
This man was the most vocal leader of our new prison faith community and one of three or four members of the same Central American gang.
Please pray for this man’s growing faith, for this emerging Spanish church inside the prison and for our next gathering this coming Sunday. Pray for us as we seek to be “maidens of God’s wisdom”—inviting the undeserving to the banqueting table.
If you are interested I knowing more about Tierra Nueva or supporting us in this ministry, please check out this new site http://give.fivetwo.org/give.tierra-nueva.org/ or www.bobekblad.com