Sunday, 7 January 2007

Pray Without Hesitation (Alpha in Prison)

For about 3 years I ran an Alpha Course in a prison. It was quite an experience and very rewarding. The prison was a medium security institution with the maximum sentence being two years less a day. Many inmates were there either because of some kind of substance abuse, legal or otherwise, or the behaviour that resulted from it; assault, spousal abuse, break and enter, etc. It was a co-ed institution, so there were a number of women there as well, their crimes usually related to prostitution, again often with substance abuse being involved. Both men and women attended this course. It was not a large course. Out of a total inmate population of about 500, about 15 to 30 attended the course, which lasts about 12 weeks, every Wednesday night.

Tim Challies recently wrote a post called Zealous Immaturity, touching briefly on whether God gives us impressions by which we may be guided, and whether we should be able to count on these impressions as authoritative. (I’m sure I have taken some license here, but you may read the article for yourself). Now, I’m not a real fan of the “God told me” type of revelation. Not that I don’t believe in them, but I think they always need to be tested and some may be revealed as legitimate words from God only over, or after, a period of time. Unfortunately there have been cases where they have been abused and have brought pain and anguish, even within the body of Christ. But it brought to my mind a couple of situations that arose during my time in this prison ministry. You will see, I trust, how they relate to the title of this post.

I’m sure we all have these times when we receive what we might wonder is a word from the Lord; an instruction, an impression that we should do something. There have been times when I have, and sometimes (more times than I care to confess, frankly) I have resisted these things and convinced myself it wasn’t really God speaking. But let me tell you of a couple of times when these impressions weren’t resisted.

One involves another member of the Alpha leadership team at the time. Several times during an Alpha course guests are given an opportunity to confess to God the things they have done wrong, to turn away from sin, to thank God for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and to ask Him to come into their lives by His Holy Spirit and be with them forever. One evening my friend sensed he should pray this prayer with a particular man, a young Native Canadian. Without hesitating to question whether this was really from God or just his own desire, he drew the inmate aside, put his arm around him and led him in the prayer. Afterwards, he was a little embarrassed, wondering whether it had been appropriate, and confessing how humiliating it would be if nothing happened. He had “put God on the line” so to speak, and didn’t want to have Him look foolish. He fretted about it all week, he told me later, fully expecting to come back the following Wednesday and find that nothing had happened.

Well, next Wednesday did come, and my friend approached the group with some trepidation. Our course always began with some worship songs, then a video, then a time for coffee, then discussion. There was no time for conversation until coffee time, so he had to sit through the whole first half of the evening before he could talk to the fellow he had led in prayer the previous week. When he told me about this experience, he told me he was on pins and needles all the time, looking secretly across the group to find some clue as to whether anything had happened.

Coffee time finally came and they spoke. My friend asked what he thought would be a safe question, “How was your week?” The young Native responded, “Up until last week, since I was a young teen, all I ever dreamt about was knives. I was angry and violent and I would see them in front of me every night in my dreams. Ever since I prayed that prayer, every night this week, I sang hymns in my sleep. All I dreamed about was the songs we sing praising Jesus.” He was a changed man! Praise and all the glory be to God!

I don’t know what would have happened if my friend had resisted his impression and not bothered to pray with this inmate. Whether or not one believes that God would have found another way to save him, in this case God used this prayer, in this Alpha course, at this moment in time, through this team member, who prayed without hesitating to wonder whether this impression was really from God or not.

This post is longer than I thought, so I will tell you about another experience, one of my own, at another time.

Take Care

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