What led me to begin writing out prayer for inmates is what scares me most about leading a group of men in the “sinner’s prayer.” I feel trapped between the horror of failing to lead someone in the most important prayer they could ever make–their surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior, and on the other hand, praying this prayer without really meaning it from their heart, without truly repenting of sin and hating it, and then thinking they are now ready for heaven. I feel their blood is on my hands either way–to fail to lead them to Christ, or to allow them to think they’re saved when they’re not. Because most inmates who’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer umpteen times carry on in the same ungodly, perverse lifestyle they always did. It’s why they’re always ready to pray it again–just to “make sure.”
The first solution was to write the Seven Point Checklistto See If I’ve Really Repented or Am I Just Kidding Myself article. Step two is to write out prayers they can study and decide for themselves whether they can really pray these prayers from their heart. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can bring true conviction and transformation.
This prayer appears at the end of the article, Five Reasons to Seek God and Four Methods God Uses to Get Our Attention. It’s a rough guide that can be changed to fit one’s personal need, as all these prayers may.
Sexual sin is the only sin I’ve found in jail where about ninety nine percent of inmates are totally unwilling to give it up. (Marijuana is a close second, but not everybody smokes pot, where as everybody “sleeps around.” As one sincere inmate said, “I thought it’s how you show your girlfriend you love her.) It’s hard to blame them, because God created us for relationship and intimacy.
But sex outside one’s own marriage is the number one cause of crime in America. God wasn’t being unfair to put that restriction on us; it’s part of His wisdom and love to protect us for the very thing He created us for–relationship. This is the one prayer almost every inmate immediately wants to have and read, which makes me realize they do realize it’s wrong and deep inside want to change, but don’t know to how or even if it’s possible.
Please pray that God will send a spirit of revival over the jail in your area where His presence will be so strong, the inmates will see and experience something more powerful than this universal craving.
I spent twenty years in more or less acute, suicidal depression which finally led to extreme anger and rage, until I realize I was going insane, even while I pastored a church. I’ve only met one person who had the level of rage I experienced; I saw him in one of the holding tanks in jail, strapped in a restraining chair, with a spit-mask on (to keep him from spitting on someone), androaring like a lion. I wanted to go in and put my arms around him and cry with him, because that’s exactly where I was in 1975. Except that I screamed and roared and cursed and pulled my hair in private: nobody had a clue, not even my wife.
I thought I must be demon-possessed. I’d gone to a psychologist for counseling in the early 1960s and again in 1965, but it didn’t help. I asked preachers and others to pray for me. One group bound, loosed, and rebuked demons, and shouted victory, while I sat there unmoved and undelivered. When I realized I was actually going insane and I’d be of no more use as a husband, father, and pastor, or I snapped and strangled someone, I took Jeremiah 29:13 and began to seek God with my whole heart–six to eight hours a day. (I never took antidepressants because I was a health-nut; also I didn’t want to deaden my pain: I wanted to find the problem!) I spent the first month praying almost around the clock except for a few hours of sleep–loud, yelling, desperate, continuous praying, thirty days, non-stop! When that didn’t help, I went on a ten day fast. That didn’t work either and left me wondering what else to do to seek Him. Why was He so silent? How could anybody try as hard as I did and God not answer?
Finally, on October 5, 1975, He spoke two words: stop reading. Reading spiritual books, including the Bible, had been mysubstitute for God Himself. I don’t recommend this for most people, who probably need to read more or learn how to digest what they read. But I had no ability to wait, to be quiet, to listen to God’s voice in the darkness and dead silence. For hours or even days. Reading the Bible and books I though would make me a great man of God, and to stop was like trying to withdraw cold-turkey from heroin or cocaine (from what I’ve heard from these addicts). I lasted ten days in silence and then panicked, like falling into a black hole! I pulled Edersheim’s Bible History off the shelf and began reading where I’d left off (second or third reading). The depression lifted and I could breathe–relief at last! Suddenly conviction hit me: I had just disobeyed the clearest word I’d ever gotten from God–almost audible–stop reading!
I placed Edersheim back on the shelf and this time surrendered completely: God, if I never amount to anything the rest of my life, if I’m a total ignoramus, so be it. I must obey You if it’s the last thing I ever do! I sat down and let the depression descend back on me like a dark cloud. But it was finally complete surrender. Suddenly I knew! I made contact! God spoke! For the first time in my life I discovered the incredible value of waiting on and for God: waiting for my carnal, mental activity to get quiet enough, for the darkness to put out all the confusing voices in my head. Like waiting in a dark, sound-proof room until the pupils of my eyes open wide enough to reveal hidden things I’d never notice before, and hearing nothing but His “still small voice” when He finally speaks (1 Kings 19;12).
Soon God led me back to the Bible, only now He brought me to precisely the scriptures that eventually brought me out of prison. The Holy Spirit became my “psychiatrist,” my counselor! And one day in September, 1976, it all came together and I was free! Like heaven on earth! The whole story is told in two articles: Get Up: How to Use the Romans Seven Reset Button, and How to Escape the Guilt Trap and Walk in the Spirit.
The answer turned out to be very simple: I’d never really understood the meaning of “justification by faith,” though I’d taught it for many years. Nor did I understand the meaning of waiting in darkness and God’s silence for that faith to come. I did what most of us do–kept my mind busy with activity, making my relationship with God superficial and “religious.” I didn’t reallyknow God, but thought I did because of what I knew intellectually. (Ps 46:10)
This prayer for inmates is very short, followed by an answer from “God,” the way I write in my journal with a prayer to God, then write His answer to me sometimes. The biblical answer here is simple, but may offer a clue to the whole problem of anger/depression for some inmates.
A number of inmates are there either on completely false charges, or minor technicalities, most of which are technical violations of probation. Like getting pulled over for a bad tail light, or failing to report exactly on schedule, or not meeting the payment demands of probation because they can’t get a job. A wife or girlfriend or neighbor can send someone to jail based on their word, especially if the guy has a past record. Many on the outside think everybody in jail is guilty and an inmate’s profession of innocence is, “Yea, right!” But I know first hand how easy it is to end up in jail based on someone’s word.
In the 1990s at the end of a Wednesday night church service, my pastor’s teaching was interactive, and I cracked a joke about Eve I though was relevant and funny, but my wife took offense and decided to leave church without me; she knew I didn’t mid walking five miles home for exercise. But this night I didn’t feel like it and raced out the door to catch up with her. She pulled out of her parking space and ran through a stop sign when she saw me coming, but was immediately pulled over by a cop. He was about to give her a ticket or warning when he saw me running up. So he asked my wife, “who is he?” She said, “My husband.” With no further questions, he asked her, “What do you want me to do with him?” Fortunately, she didn’t say, “Take him,” and we went home together; I think the cop forgot even to give her a warning.
But the majority of inmates who are virtually innocent, as described above, feel betrayed, frustrated, angry, or vindictive. This prayer is meant to take advantage of a rare opportunity to turn betrayal into faith and intimacy with God. Because most of the men and women of God in the Bible became godly through betrayal. We don’t realize how difficult it is to have true faith, because real faith is trusting God in darkness, and the deeper the darkness, the richer and stronger our faith can be–if we can trust God in it.
Isaiah 50:10-11 has long been one of the key verses in my life: “Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness And has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD And rely upon his God. Look, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled— This you shall have from My hand: You shall lie down in torment.”
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