Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
I’ve once read where an inmate had said that “prison is ‘God’s Secret Place’. It’s where God sets someone aside away from the world to draw him to saving Faith in Christ Jesus.”
There is a great measure of truth to this thought. Our ministry has even taught that there would be times during the healing process where God may remove everyone from a person’s life just to get that person to be alone with Him. Yes, that can be a very lonely time, but if we allow ourselves to get close to God during this time, it can be the most healing and rewarding times of our lives. There are many who can identify with being in prison both physically and spiritually. Of course, in the physical it means being in an actual prison cell as a result of consequences for wrong actions. But even more have been in a spiritual prison…a prison of the mind. How do we get into this type of prison? Sometimes from believing the negative words and actions of others since the time we were young (such as we are bad, we’re ugly, we aren’t good enough, we’re lazy, we deserve to be beaten, etc). Other times we have placed ourselves there by trying to meet others expectations that many times are not obtainable, godly or righteous. In the end we not only suffer the consequences, but we continue feeling worse about ourselves in the process and become locked up in the chains of our thoughts. It then becomes a vicious cycle that we find it impossible to break free from. Yet, Christ tells us exactly how we can break free from this cycle in Matthew 6:33:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
So what does this mean for us? It means that when we stop seeking what we want or what others want and instead seek what God wants and live in a righteous manner, God will give us everything we need. He will fill up the emptiness within us that cannot be filled by worldly things and people. Many times we think that more money will make us happy, but the more we get the more we want and soon we realize it’s not enough because we are always wanting more. The same goes with drugs and alcohol, food, material things and even love. It’s like eating a meal but never being full and satisfied. Instead, we are continuously hungry for more no matter how much the over abundance may harm us. Yet, when we seek God and place Him at the center of our lives, we find that even if we have only a little food, money, or things, we will be completely satisfied. We will find the best in every situation no matter how troubling the situation may be. We won’t be defeated by those who persecute us or treat us horribly. We will find peace even in a prison cell because we will now see things through God’s eyes and not our fleshly eyes. With God, we will be filled up within, never hungry, and always satisfied no matter where we are or what the circumstances may be.
Now, let’s go back to the word “righteous”. What does this word mean and how do we become righteous? We know that righteous means acting in an upright, moral way. This means we follow what God tells us to do in His Word even though it will be opposite of what the world does or tells us to do. It means we strive to do the right thing at all times and when we do fall into sin, we confess and repent and continue moving forward.
Some people, however, have a misconception of righteousness and confuse it with perfection. It is true, the Bible also calls us to be perfect as we see in Matthew 5:48 which states:
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
In the worldly sense, perfection means without flaws, defects or shortcomings. Yet in Romans 3:23 it states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So how can we make sense of this? We have to remember that some words have different meanings depending on how they are used. The word “perfect” in the bible can mean “complete” or “finished” as we see with Jesus through His suffering (Heb 2:10; 5:8-9). Perfect can also mean “mature” or “grown up” as we see in Philippians 3:15. The context of Matthew 5:48 shows us what our attitude should be toward those who want to make life hard through force or by treating us hatefully. We see Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5:38-48 and how we can become “perfect” or “mature”:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
This scripture teaches us how to become “perfect” or “mature” in Christ. It tells us we must not retaliate but we are to avoid evil and resist it so far as is necessary to our own security. We must not render evil for evil but give it to God as it states in Romans 12:19:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
We are to forgive those who harm us and take from us. For us to love as God loves may seem impossible but through forgiveness, we are able to obtain that type of love. The scripture goes on to show that if anyone wants to sue you and take what you have, let him have what he wants so long as it does no considerable damage to the family. Christ is teaching us how to live in peace and not be tied down to material possessions. This does not mean we allow people to steal from us constantly, but we are to pick and choose our battles and bring all grievances to the Lord as He will take care of the matter when we’ve done all we can do. We are encouraged to go the extra mile with people. Sometimes that may seem like an inconvenience to us, but in that gesture, they will see Christ in us and it can draw them closer to Him. How easy is it to love those who love us but how hard is it to love those who we consider an enemy, who curse us, who hate us, who spitefully use us and persecute us? This is where we will see the true power and strength of the Lord working through us. Many times we consider someone to be strong and powerful as those who can over talk another utilizing intimidation and fear, who are physically stronger than others, who are more popular than others and who have more money than others. In time, all of these things will fade away. However, a truly strong person in Christ is one who can refrain from retaliation in words and actions. One who exhibits self-control instead of exploding in anger. One who can disengage from the battle with another person in favor of peace. Why? Because it takes great strength to refrain from reacting in emotion. If we look around, we see that not many can do this. If a person or situation can control your emotions, they can control you. Yet when we come to Christ, He teaches us how to have self-control and not react the way the world reacts. We can gain that self-control through submitting/surrendering ourselves to Christ.
When we are in those times of isolation, God will utilize this time to bring us face to face with those things He wants us to get rid of that have caused damage to us for many years. We do this by surrendering things such as fear, anger, anxiety, depression, pride, etc to Him. We have to willingly give it to Him, sometimes several times a day. He will then replace those things with His characteristics. It doesn’t matter what our past is, how bad we’ve been, or how dirty we feel. It doesn’t matter what others think or say about us. All that matters is that God wants us with Him for all eternity but the only way we can be with Him is through salvation…repenting (to feel regret or sorrow for our sins), confessing our sins to Him and accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior who is the Son of God and died on the cross for our sins. It’s not enough to just say the words, but we must then make every effort to turn away from our sinful thoughts and ways. Whenever we mess up, we acknowledge it to Christ and continue on the right path.
Do you feel like you are “set aside” so God can work in you? Do you feel ready to surrender to Him in order to be healed and changed for the better? Maybe you have already come to Christ but need more of Him to help you through your current situation. No matter what the reason, God is there with you now, ready to listen, heal and love you. It doesn’t matter if you are in your home or in prison. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were imprisoned for spiritually freeing a slave girl who was possessed with a spirit of divination. Her masters were upset because she could no longer profit them through her fortune-telling. Paul and Silas were brought before the magistrates (a police court judge), then beaten with rods, thrown into prison and had their feet fastened in stocks. In verse 25, we see that even while in prison, they did not let their situation stop them from praising God as they prayed and sang hymns to God. The rest of the prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was an earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, opened the cell doors and loosened everyone’s chains.
What we see here is that when we praise and worship God in the midst of our problems and imprisonment, God will shake the foundation of our situation, open the cell doors and break our chains, setting us free. It may not always be in a physical sense, but it is always in a spiritual sense.
Do not allow your situation to defeat you. Turn to God, seek His ways and surrender your life to Him. When we do this, though the storms of life may surround us, we will continue to have peace in the midst of adversity.