Have you ever felt as though you are trapped within a prison cell?
I have. To say that I have felt trapped within a deep, dark prison cell within the past year is almost an understatement. I have felt jailed, withheld within a place where I felt I did not deserve to dwell. I had done all of the “right” things before entering this prison; I loved deeply, I strove to be a compassionate person and I remained faithful to church and to God. I avoided maliciousness, I departed from hate and I abstained from what the Lord considered evil. I almost believed that I was immune to the harshness of the world and the pain therein.
Almost… until one day, my husband died, and the world before me suddenly became a prison; I became trapped behind the bars of pain, shackled against my own will, where I served an undeserved sentence. I began to ask God, “How is it possible to find hope within a hopeless place?”
And He answered.
In Chapter 16 of the Book of Acts, verses 16-34, the Bible tells a story about Paul and Silas. These two men of God were not unfamiliar with a prison cell; in fact, they spent many nights in prison as they journeyed through various places spreading the Gospel. In this particular instance, they were minding their own business, going to a place of prayer. As they went, they encountered a possessed girl who followed them persistently, shouting repetitiously that they were servants of the Most High God. This girl was a slave, and her owners used her as a fortune-teller, profiting off of her ability. Paul became increasingly annoyed, and he commanded the possessive spirit to leave her body in the name of Jesus, and the spirit departed.
Paul and Silas did nothing wrong. In fact, they, too, were doing everything “right.” They were ministering in the name of Jesus, spreading His love and compassion to multitudes. They were being obedient in their worship by going to a place of prayer. They even cast out a demon spirit along the way, which is something that anyone of the Christian faith should rejoice about. Nothing they did merited being thrown into prison.
However, the owner of the demon possessed girl became angry because they knew they could no longer profit from her ability to tell fortunes. Out of their anger, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the rulers. They wrongfully accused Paul and Silas, and as a result, they were stripped of their clothing and beaten with rods. And then, they were thrown into prison.
This seems very wrong, does it not? Two of Christ’s most faithful servants, beaten, ridiculed and imprisoned for virtually nothing. It brings one of the most irritating questions to mind- “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The Bible tells us that while they were in their cell, with their feet fastened in stocks, they began to sing hymns and praise God. While they were worshiping, the prisoners listened to them, and suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison to its foundation. The quake broke everyone’s chains, and it opened the doors to all of the cells. Upon seeing what had happened, the jailer who had been in charge of the prisoners panicked, and he drew his sword to kill himself. However, Paul cried out, urging the jailer not to harm himself because no one had fled. Then, something miraculous happened. The jailer brought them out of their cell, and he asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” And the jailer did.
The jailer took Paul and Silas to his home, and they shared the Gospel with his family. His family received Christ, too, and they all rejoiced together because they made the decision to believe in God.
When I look back on my relationship with Jorre, I think about who he was when we first started dating compared to the person he was when he passed. Jorre did not know Christ when we began dating. We were very much in love, but we were two totally different people spiritually. I was not perfect by any means, but I was firm in my faith, whereas Jorre was not. I spent many late nights with him in my tiny apartment, sitting on the couch with him and sharing Christ’s love with him. I remember one moment so vividly, where I was telling him about my relationship with God, and Jorre stopped me abruptly and said, “I’ve never had anyone talk to me about God like this before. I’ve never known God the way you do.” And I said, “Jorre, you can have a relationship with God in the same way I do. You just have to make the choice when you’re ready.” And I prayed for him continuously.
On October 25, 2013, Jorre made the decision to give his life to Christ, and he began a relationship with Him that transformed Jorre into a completely different person. I fell in love with him even more. I had no idea that within a few years, three months after our marriage, that he would die. I had no clue. But I often wonder, what if I had not shared my faith with him? What if I had shied away from the Gospel during those late nights? What if he had died without knowing Christ?
It is a terrifying thought- but I am thankful that is only a thought and not reality.
Like Paul and Silas, I did all of the right things. I harmed no one, but I loved. I did my best. And in the midst of all of the good, I was thrown into a prison for a wrongdoing that I could not see. I cannot tell you how many times I have cried, “It is not fair, God!”
But I am here to tell you that there is purpose in the prison. God’s ability to shine the brightest is when you are in your darkest prison cell. Look at what happened to Paul and Silas- they were shackled, but they continuously praised God, regardless of their circumstance. Because of their faithfulness and steadfastness in the Lord, God not only set them free, but they became to a witness to His glory for others to see.
Here is the thing- people are going to watch you while you are in the prison. They are going to see how you react; they are going to see what you do. You can choose to either die in your cell spiritually, or you can choose to trust the Almighty God. You can believe that you will be imprisoned forever, or you can choose to believe that the King will set you free. You can choose to praise Him in the pain, or you can choose to wither away in your despair. And if you make the right choices-if you choose to trust Him, if you choose to believe the King, if you choose to praise Him-your prison can become a purpose. It has the ability to become a living testament for the Creator of the universe; it can become an earthquake to shake the lives of others for Him, it can shout volumes about the saving grace of the Savior.
I am thankful for my prison now. I rejoice in Jorre’s death, not because he is gone-no, I mourn his passing every day-but I rejoice because his life has been spared spiritually. I rejoice because I know he is with our Savior. I rejoice in my prison, because even though loving him through his loss has caused an unbearable amount of pain, I know that God has been seen and heard through it. I rejoice because I know where Jorre is-in heaven, with Jesus-and I am now thankful for the prison that I have endured today. Jorre’s life, God’s forgiveness, and the pain within the prison have all become a testament for God’s glory, a rock upon which I can stand and shout His praises of His goodness, His mercy and His love.
Please know that God has not forgotten you in your prison, neither has He abandoned your cell with the keys. It is quite the opposite. God is waiting for you to trust Him in your prison. He is waiting to show you your purpose within it, and not only that, He is waiting to use your prison for His glory. Because I guarantee you, just like Paul and Silas, others are watching, they are listening, they are searching for hope. Only Christ can offer hope in the most hopeless place.
There is a purpose in your prison.
“I open eyes that are blind, free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42:7