Recently, I went into a local prison to visit a friend of mine named Pascal. Six months ago, he was leading a church. Now he’s in prison. Six months is a long time to be in a horrible place through no fault of your own. The prison is crowded, dirty, and full of corruption. Yet, in the midst of this dark place, a bright light shines. I went to the prison to encourage my friend, but I left being very much encouraged myself.
In order to meet with him, I had to go to the gate within the gate and ask the prisoners for Pascal. As I waited, scores of prisoners tried to get my attention, looking for some sign of hope from this foreign visitor. Finally, Pascal arrived, smiling. We embraced warmly, and he asked me, “How are you doing? How is your family?” I thought to myself, how can you be thinking about me and my family?
Pascal is doing well. He told me about the church that meets in the prison. These inmates are the bright light, and Pascal is one of them. He’s not just surviving in prison, but thriving. He spends his day reading the Word, reading books, praying, and preparing teachings for the prison church and for the training he’s doing with the inmates. He’s making the most of his time.
Pascal has led a number of his fellow inmates to the Lord already. One was a former politician, a powerful man before he was imprisoned, and the other was a prominent Muslim leader who, since coming to faith in Jesus, has a significant bounty on his head. Pascal is now discipling both of these men.
A few things that Pascal said really hit me. He said, “I have peace, a peace that transcends all understanding.” Incredible. In the midst of hardship and injustice, the Father had granted him this peace. And joy, as well. Pascal did confide in me about the pain of being separated from his wife and children, and being worried about their welfare. But he testified to the fact that they were being held in the same Father’s hands.
Pascal also said, “I want to be open to the forging that God has for me.” Wow. How do I pray for someone like Pascal? Do I ask that he be released from prison and taken out of this crucible of learning, away from this ministry opportunity?
I think about Paul and Silas in Acts 16, two disciples of Jesus who freed a young girl from demon-possession and, as a result, were beaten and imprisoned. What was their response? Though they were treated unjustly for an act of kindness, they did not cry out, nor did they demand justice. In prison, Paul and Silas rejoiced in the Lord, giving him praise and thanks. And their faithful witness impacted the jailer whose entire household eventually came to faith in Christ.
Paul and Silas could have complained about the injustice and the horrible conditions in jail. But then they may have missed their divine appointment with the jailer. Instead, they rejoiced in the midst of their suffering and trusted God’s leading in their lives.
Does God lead us into dark places so that we can be bright lights for his glory? Why do we run so quickly from the pain and discomfort in our lives?
Let’s remember Paul’s perspective in Romans 8:17, that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him.” Can we have the inheritance without the suffering? Maybe our lack of spiritual vitality and passion is due to the fact that we try so hard to avoid any hardship or discomfort.
My prayer for Pascal is that God would use him for his glory; that God would give him endurance and strength to stand up under the weight of his suffering; that he would continue to teach him, and that God would take care of his family.
My prayer for myself is that I would not be a runner; that I would experience the peace of Christ in each moment; that I would live in such a way that I too would bring glory to God in whatever circumstance I find myself.
My prayer for the Church is not freedom from persecution or for safety and comfort, but rather that we would be marked by the freedom found in Christ and that our joy and peace would inspire acts of kindness and mercy worthy of the kingdom that is coming.