Jesus Inside: an excerpt from A Prison Minister’s Manual

Scripture says the soul pants for God as a deer might pant for water in a drought. Setting the stage for a convict to satisfy this longing in his soul, to drink in God’s grace like a long, tall, cool drink of water, is a main reason we enter the narrow gate. We prime the pump by imbibing in the cup of mercy for ourselves. Certainly private prayer in preparation of a prison visit is a reasonable sacrifice. Likewise, a prayer at the gate with the entrance personnel for an unbelieving generation to raise their hopes.

Something as simple as leading the Lord’s Prayer in a call and response format can smooth the way for a novice worship leader, as well as give old hands a tried and true handle on the pipeline of His presence. Worship is corporate and personal. Worship is public and private. It’s what’s up and what’s going down. It’s where we take our place with angels and saints, heads bowed, tattooed hands folded.

Worship is joy and awe at being invited to the Lord’s table, it is every arm in the room reaching when Jesus says, “Pass the Bread.”

We sometimes praise children for doing a good job. Worship reverses that. We are the children and the good job we acknowledge is literally everything spoken into existence at His Word. The cement room we meet in at Pelican Bay has excellent acoustics. When I tune up my saxophone in the corner the whole room rings like a bell. The notion that our notes and voices travel the spaceways from an isolated chamber in a maximum security prison to the throne room of God is a spiritual elevator along the lines of Jacob’s ladder.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven is the tuning fork that sets us vibrating. As sheep we know His voice, but as we sing it comes to us in a heart beat that He knows our voice as well, perhaps even better than we do. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then what a beautiful thing it is to be in the ear of He who holds the world and stars.That’s one part of what’s so amazing about grace. A wretch like me, and you, and a couple dozen gang bangers in blue dungarees joining a chorus of saints that stretches across continents and centuries.Theologians rarely have the power to infuse a room with Spirit like a well played tambourine, and like Miriam coming out of the other side of the Red Sea, we dance on dry sacred ground when we worship.

And. There is always more to worship than what we do, say, sing, or experience. There is the still small voice of God urging us out from where, or what, we’ve been hiding. There is confession of sin and profession of faith.

Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by Whom we cry out, “ABBA Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

This is pretty head stuff for any of us to absorb, but for a convicted criminal, a person whose day to day experience is locked down in the ‘joint’, to be established as a joint heir with Christ is either ridiculous, or edifying. We sometimes sit in chapel to read the Scripture as if we are in a lawyer’s office for a reading of the will of a long lost ancestor. The notion of inheriting something ‘out of the blue’ strikes a familiar code with the men as the ability to earn anything resembling a living while incarcerated is nil.

We wait for the Word to be opened up to us in quiet, albeit squirmy, anticipation. Romans 8:28 spells it out as plain as any verse in the Bible. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are gathering together in His name in prison, a few of us voluntarily, most of us not so much. What can His purpose be in assembling us together except to show that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing can snatch us out of His Hand? We put our little hands together in the Hand of the Man who stilled the waters. Because we are reached, even in jail, we can reach.

Will Schmit

Will Schmit is a volunteer outreach prison minister for Lifehouse Church in McKinleyville Ca. He is the author of Head Lines A Sixty Day Guide to Personal Psalmistry and Jesus Inside A Prison Minister's Memoir and Training Manual both available at Amazon Books and The website also includes poetry, ministry updates, and music downloads from Bring To Glory a CD of spoken word with coffee house jazz.

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