I had the amazing opportunity to minister in a prison in Marion Ohio a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know what to expect, as I had never entered one. I had done some jail ministry years ago, but this was a new adventure for me that the Lord opened up. My experience there left an impression on me. It made me evaluate my life and how much I take for granted. For one thing—with my background in drugs and crime—I realize that it is only the mercy of God in my life that I don’t find myself behind bars today.
I shared with the prisoners a simple message that the Lord put on my heart. It was called, “The God of Another Chance.” My first title was, “The God of Second Chances,” but I realized that many of the men I would be speaking to were probably a lot like me and needed more than just a second chance at life.
I shared about four characters in the Bible who the Lord used powerfully, but who had made some major mistakes in their lives. The first was Moses.
We all revere Moses as one of the greatest figures in the Old Testament. He was the one whom the Lord used to bring the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt. The Lord gave Moses the Law and used him to lead the nation to the Promised Land. When Jesus is on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17, Moses was one of the two people that appeared to Him.
In Numbers 12:6-7, God says this about Moses:
“When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.”
In Exodus 33, Moses makes the bold request to see the Lord face to face, and he is given the great privilege of being able to see glory of the Lord as He passes by. That is quite an honor for a human to receive!
We remember the scene when the Lord first appeared to Moses in the burning bush Exodus 3. And yet, if we read just before that chapter, we find out that God appeared to Moses when he was hiding in Midian as a runaway murderer.
Moses didn’t live a perfect life, yet the Lord used Him. God did not disqualify Moses because of his past.
I then spoke about King David. His story is familiar to most of us. God used Him in many incredible ways. He slew Goliath, fought mighty battles, and wrote many of the Psalms that we treasure. David had a special relationship with the Lord that many have been inspired by as they read the Scriptures today.
In fact in Acts 13:22-23, it says:
“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”
God called David a man after His heart. The Lord also brought the Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world through David’s heritage.
And yet in 2 Samuel, we read the story of David committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband, Uriah, murdered. David knew God personally at this point in the story. This wasn’t something that happened before the Lord had used him. Yet, to say that he blew it would be a huge understatement. He took a man’s wife and then had him killed in battle to cover it up. That’s no small lapse in judgment in a time of crisis. He planned it out and enacted it with precision.
Certainly, we would think that God would reject someone like him, especially since he knew better. King David was no stranger to God’s Law. And yet, not only does the Lord forgive him when he repents, but He allows the Messiah to be born in his family line. One might think the Lord would say, “Well, now you ruined my plan. I’ll find someone else.” But He doesn’t. In fact, many called Jesus the Son of David! God didn’t write David off because he messed up. Instead, he restored him and made his name famous.
Peter was another one who made some big mistakes. After walking with Jesus for three years, proclaiming Him to be Messiah, and pledging to die with Him, he denies him three times in John 18. It is the darkest moment of his life. When Jesus needed him the most, he completely turned his back on Him. Yet, on the day of Pentecost, it was Peter that the Lord used to preach a bold sermon and bring thousands into the Kingdom of God, giving birth to the church. He is a God of another chance!
The Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament. We consider his letters to be Holy Scripture, given by the Holy Spirit Himself. And yet, before his conversion, he was the Pharisee Saul. He was one of the greatest persecutors of the church. He worked against what God was doing on the earth, throwing Christians in jail, and even having them executed. He would not be the person that I would pick if I were the Lord. But God saw something in Saul that He wanted. And Paul became one of the greatest men of God to have walked this earth.
None of these examples are to give the impression that sin is excusable, but simply to show that—in spite of major mistakes—the Lord is still willing to forgive and restore anyone who looks to Him.
After giving these character sketches from the Bible, I shared my personal story with the men. If anyone would be disqualifiable, it would be me. Having lived for years in hypocrisy—pretending to be something that I wasn’t—I had my share of failures. And yet, the Lord has restored me to the ministry and put the pieces of my broken life back together.
After I shared the message, we had around six men who came forward to either accept Christ or come back to the Lord. Many hugged me with tears in their eyes, thanking me for sharing a message that they so needed to hear. Several others received prayer for areas of need in their lives. My heart was broken to hear their stories. One man was in his seventies and was asking prayer that his parole hearing would go in his favor. He looked at me with desperation in his eyes and said, “I just don’t want to die in this place.”
As I exited the prison, I felt the strangest feeling. I thought about the men who would spend the rest of their lives in that place. A couple of the prisoners that I talked to were serving life sentences. And for a moment, I could feel the oppression of their reality. As I walked into the parking lot, I realized there were people who would never enjoy the freedom in which I live every day. It was overwhelming, and I realized how much I take for granted in life. I can go where I want, when I want. I can embrace my wife and snuggle up to my daughters any time I desire. I can eat when and where I want to. I don’t have anyone standing over me, watching my every move.
I understand that these men made choices that led to the consequences they are experiencing. But they are people just like you and I, who took a wrong path in life and now are paying for it. And just like you and I, they can find true freedom even behind bars when they come into relationship with Christ and become sons of God. What a mighty God we serve! He is the God of Another Chance!
While the world may look at convicted criminals and say, “You’ve blown it. You’ve lost your chance,” God doesn’t say that. He does not give up on people. And He can radically change any life that is offered to Him. Although many of us may never spend any time behind prison bars, we all have been prisoners to sin and rebels against God. All of us deserve the death penalty for our sins, but Jesus became our sin for us. The Lord is still turning rebels into children. He is still setting prisoners free. And I was honored to have a small part to play in that work during my time in the prison.