Our footsteps echo as we navigate the now-familiar cavernous corridors. The linoleum's high gloss luster that proudly shines in the lobby gradually gives way to a dull, worn finish that speaks volumes as we travel further into the prison. Passing through a series of secure holds we make our way to our destination—the “chapel.”
Once there, the sparse, but thoughtful posters and wall decorations, and rows of cheap, but neatly-aligned, plastic chairs clearly define the purpose of this otherwise generic cinderblock room.
Soon a few men enter, and then a few more. The trickle becomes a steady stream. All wear identical light blue shirts and seemingly one size fits all (or none) black pants. Sneakers seem to be an allowed accessory of choice. Some share easy smiles, friendly conversation and warm handshakes as they file in. Others enter cautiously, avoiding eye contact and quickly look for a place to sit. A few kneel in front of their chair and pray. I recognize a few of the faces from previous visits.
Within moments, singing and shouts of praise paint this sparse room with glory. Glory that defies our geography and demographics. Honestly, I hadn’t wanted to come tonight—I just didn’t feel like it. But now I see it’s exactly where I need to be.
I don’t know exactly why, but worshipping here makes so much that’s blurry in my day-to-day life come into sharp focus. I see Jesus more vividly. Grace becomes less of a concept and more of a reality. And I become acutely aware of all I’ve been given.
Somehow, despite the incredible limitations on the inmates’ personal freedom there is a sense of victory and boldness about some of them. Each day there is very little they can choose—but they can choose Jesus. And doing so sets them free in a way prison walls can’t contain.
The night ends with half-dozen men accepting Jesus as their savior, allowing each of them to go back to their cells with their own personal key to freedom.
With the service over, the six of us return to our cars and our lives on the “outside.” But before parting ways, we pause in the trash-strewn parking lot, under the noisy interstate to pray. As we gather in a circle and hold hands, the frigid winter air visibly carries the breaths of our hearts upward.
On my turn, I pray for boldness. Because even though I’m obviously not physically incarcerated, I often live like I’m in a cell—in a prison of my own making, restrained by insecurity, fear, comfort of the status quo, comparison, worry and more. I pray that we accept the key Jesus offers and live a life of confidence.
And that is my resolution for 2009. This year I resolve to be bold and confident in my faith. To step out of my cell and live in a way that gives evidence to a life that’s been set free by our Redeemer. In 2009, I want to be brave.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
~ (Isaiah 61:1)