Thursday, October 31, 2013


A few weeks ago, I had the incredible joy of visiting the Arkansas State Maximum security prison for women. I must admit, I went with a, I’m coming to bless you, attitude. Which might sound good. But that’s just a pretty way to say, I think I’m better than you so I’m going to grace you with my presence. I did feel good about myself. It didn’t take long for my heart to be completely humbled. About 5 minutes after entering the prison. The first thing I heard was from one of the inmates who shared her testimony of the life changing grace of God. “I was in prison before I ever came to prison.” And she could stand before us, wearing a white jump suit, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ and say, “I did murder someone. And I’m thankful God brought my rebellious heart to this physical prison because it’s where the prison of my heart was set free. I am thankful to be in prison because it’s where I found Jesus.” Before you even let your thoughts go here, let me tell you that this was the most real testimony I have ever heard. Do not let yourself think for a second that this was some jailhouse religion. This was from the heart of the most joy-filled woman I have ever met. A woman who had already been in prison for 15 years and would be there until the day she dies. And she is content. At peace. Simply because she has Jesus. She wasn’t a victim. She didn’t try to justify or blame. She owned her sin. There were about 10 of these women who shared the same story and the same Grace. And I was completely humbled at the reality of my own heart. My heart that, in all honestly, becomes so discontent with the most petty things. And I was overwhelmed by this thought, I wonder if Jesus looks at my heart and says, “you white washed tomb?”
What I realized is that we are all prisoners of something. Pride. Appearance. Approval. Prominence. Prestige. Privilege. Perhaps us “free world-ers” are even more imprisoned than these prisoners. Because we have “goodness” to hide behind. It struck me that day how much more us good church going, pew sitting Christians are like the Pharisees than Christ-followers. And these real life prisoners? Well, they are so much more like the woman at the well. And the adulterous woman. And the Mary who washed His feet with her hair. Sure, their sin was more visible. And detestable. But they knew they weren’t good. They had nothing to hide behind. Their shame is what drove them to Jesus. But we would rather stay hidden behind our self-conceived goodness. So we miss Him. Because we are too busy looking at her with disgust just to feel better about ourselves. I didn’t murder anyone. I didn’t commit adultery. I cannot imagine how she got herself into that state of sin. Yet, I’m the one to miss Jesus and she’s the one to experience Him. Because she is desperate and I’m good with good. I am a prisoner to my pride. And this real life prisoner, she is a prisoner to nothing. She is free. She is free because she knows she has nothing to hide behind but Him. And she isn’t trying to, unlike me.

This verse has been constantly coming to mind since this day, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” Yet I realize, I am comfortable in my captivity. I would rather hide behind my pride than admit my mess. Those of us who sit in our pews, in our pretty clothes, with our hearts dirty with pride, don’t realize that we are blind to our need for Him. Don’t you see? We are still trying to be depend on ourselves. Our good. When there is none. He alone is good. We either clothe ourselves in His good, rejoicing in His grace, or we are still enslaved. My eyes were opened the day I visited these free women in prison. They were opened to myself. To us. Christ exchanged my disgraceful state for His goodness. Yet, I am still trying to be good and good enough. These women? They walked in His goodness. They were free and I’m the one who is the prisoner.

I know this brings the question, “Aren’t I supposed to live a life that is good?” I’m so busy trying to look good and what they realized is that Christ makes me good. The goodness of my life is based on who I am in Christ. I do not have to earn “goodness” because it is based entirely upon Him. Our pretty little lives result in the same thing it did with the Pharisees. You look at the captives set free by Christ. You look at those who encountered the life changing power of Christ. Those who came to Him sinners and walked away saints. They came admitting their mess and realizing their need. The Pharisees were so blinded by their “good” that they didn’t see how desperately dead their hearts were. They were trying to make outward appearances be their good. Those who truly encountered Christ allowed Him to get to their heart and their lives were radically changed as a result. And that’s the point. Looking good doesn’t make me good. That’s what I learned that day in prison. This life in Christ is not about living a “good” life. It is living from the overflow of my changed heart. That alone will result in a life that gives glory to Him. Otherwise, I’m just a white-washed tomb.

Here’s the reality of things. There are no felonies and misdemeanors in God’s justice system. We are all a mess and it’s all death sentence. We just don’t have to pay our penalty because we’ve been pardoned by an Innocent Person. My reality is that I don’t really have any goodness to hide behind. But I am covered by His perfect goodness. That’s what these women understood. That is their freedom; I am not good, but He is. They choose Grace and I choose my self-constructed good. What a lie. What a pity. And I just wonder how many hearts I’ve murdered with my unkind words and condemning attitudes?

Hearing 200 prisoner’s praise with the following words was life-changing. And they gave me the greatest glimpse of the work of Christ:
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more. Where grace is found is where You are. And where You are, Lord, I am free. Holiness is Christ in me…. (Matt Maher, I Need You)