God is near to the humble,
to those who know their desperate need for Him,
to those who know that without Him they can do nothing.
As I told the women in prison last week:
“Every time I come here,
I feel the breath of God on the back of my neck,
for He certainly shows up for you, and so I get to be a part of that.
The most alive church I know is in the faith dorms of prison!”
My son J. R. came with me to do the filming for He Calls You Beautiful.
On Sunday he went to death row, and came out shaken at the presence of God.
He said, “Mom — they were in small cells, but I was overwhelmed by their joy!”
When one woman looked up at him he was stunned by her radiance.
They spent two hours praying with the women, and as they were leaving, the correctional officer pleaded for prayer as well, sensing a movement of God.
In the faith dorms, where believers are being discipled, again,
J. R. saw so much joy.
When he commiserated that it must be hard to be in prison for Christmas,
they told him it helped them celebrate a real Christmas.
“I’m a little jealous of them.”
They have lost so much,
and yet they have more than those on the outside often do.
For the next two weeks,
we are going to help each other practice thanksgiving.
Just as worshipping the wrong things takes us into the wilderness,
worshipping the One True God gets us out.
Though our circumstances may not change,
our joy will!
Here I am with four ex-offenders who have been set truly free.
These women graduated from Discipleship Unlimited’s intense 18 month discipleship program in prison. They have been out of prison for several years, staying clean, and living for Him. The recidivism (rate of return) to prison in America is very high, often more than 70%, but because of Christ-centered ministries like Discipleship Unlimited, the recidivisim rate in Texas has gone all the way down to 21%, and of the women who go through Discipleship Unlimited’s after care program, it is 2%.
It is Jesus who makes the difference.
Here I am with just Lisa, whose story I will tell this week.
1.What stands out to you from the above and why?
As is so true of so many, Lisa grew up with terrible abuse and then married an abusive man. Trying to get thin to please him, trying to ease her pain of abuse, she became chemically dependent on meds and that led to her giving into the temptation of stealing some. Her sons were little when she was incarcerated, and her husband divorced her, married another, and moved the children across the country. Prison is hard — she was in what they call the “dog pen” sharing a cell with seven others, with no privacy and tedious daily work.
Lisa’s mind went back to people who loved her. A grandmother who had cared for her and taken her to Sunday School — and the teachers in that school: Mary and Charlie, who showed her real love. While in prison, she was given a copy of the book Linda Strom wrote about Karla Faye Tucker, the inmate who was given the death sentence, but whose vision inspired Discipleship Unlimited.
As Lisa was reading, she was astonished to find that the Mary and Charlie who had so impacted her as a little girl had been a key part of Karla’s life and of Discipleship Unlimited. So Lisa decided she needed to apply for Discipleship Unlimited’s faith dorm, where, if accepted, she would be moved to a part of prison where after work she would be discipled by volunteers from the ministry.
Lisa was transformed by the Lord. She wrote her two sons every week, but she never heard back. When she got out of prison, she began to volunteer with Discipleship Unlimited.
Last week Lisa drove me to prison and told me how much this picture in the Song of Songs meant to her.
St John of the Cross said of this:
It is noteworthy that in the Song of Songs the bride compares the Bridegroom to the stag…She makes this comparison… because of the swiftness with which he shows and then hides himself. He usually visits devout souls in order to gladden and liven them, and then leaves in order to try, humble, and teach them.
When Lisa never heard back from her sons, God was that deer who was hiding. When Lisa got out of prison, she couldn’t afford to make the trip to see her sons. But she remarried (a believer) and just last month they were able to make the long trip to visit her sons. Lisa was afraid.
But her sons, now in their teens, welcomed her with open arms. Her youngest son showed her his bedroom and pulled out a folder with all her letters and pictures. She melted to realize he received them and cherished them. Her husband’s new wife has also welcomed Lisa, and they have become good friends. Now God is that deer who leaps out to encourage and give joy. Lisa persisted when God was silent, trusting Him and not backing away. She passed the wilderness test.
Lisa and I shared the podium at an event to help people learn about Discipleship Unlimited. We were all moved to tears as she talked about being re-united with her sons, attending a son’s game, taking him to school — “the way a real mom does!” Weeping she said, “They were eager to introduce me to their friends. They were proud of me!”
2. Read Song of Songs 2:1-3. How does the bride describe her bridegroom here?
3. Right now, where is God being like a deer who hides in your life?
4. What the enemy wants is to convince you of is that God doesn’t love you. Satan’s goal is to get you to retreat from God. To defeat the enemy’s lies, write down at least five things you know to be true of God that will help you trust Him while He is silent and seemingly absent.
Tuesday: Then Our Mouths Were Filled with Laughter
This psalm was written during a time of sorrow, of weeping, when God was hiding. But the way the psalmist keeps himself from backing up is by remembering a time when God leapt out and astounded him.
5. Read Psalm 126
A. We don’t know what event the psalmist is remembering in the opening verses, but we know how he felt then. Describe it.
B. What promise do you see for those who trust God in a time of weeping, a time of seeming silence?
6. Record a time when God leapt out for you in the past, filling your mouth with laughter.
Lisa is now studying to be a counselor for those who have become chemically dependent. God is truly turning her ashes into beauty, her mourning into dancing. Psalm 30 again shows a time when God seems silent, but the psalmist remembers a time when God turned his mourning into dancing.
7. Read Psalm 30:6-12
A. How is the psalmist lamenting and crying out in verses 6-10?
B. What is he remembering in verse 11?
8. Remember a time when God turned your mourning into dancing and share it here.
I am often struck by how often God uses a grandmother in a child’s life, as he did with Timothy’s grandmother in Scripture, as He did with Linda Strom’s grandmother. (Linda’s parents were truly incapable of parenting, but Linda’s grandmother often took care of her and told her that God had shown her one day she would be used mightily of Him, and be a missionary to Africa. Linda has ministered to the women in prison in Africa.)
9. Did you have a grandmother who impacted you spiritually? Give thanks! Or are you one who is endeavoring to impact your grandchildren with the love and truth of Christ? Give thanks for the opportunity!
Thursday: Trusting Him in the Wilderness
Repeatedly the women in prison told me the word pictures in the Song were helping them trust Jesus in the wilderness and not back away from Him. What I saw, and what my son saw, is that truly they were the fragrance of Christ.
10. God allows us, or even leads us into the wilderness for a purpose. See if you can find it in Hosea 2:15-17.
11. How do we know that the wilderness achieved its purpose in the Shulammite’s life according to Song of Songs 8:5?
12. Share a time when God spoke tenderly to you in the wilderness.
Friday: Planning Ahead
Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. Is there any way you could be His fragrance to those around you that day? Be still and ask for His wisdom.
13. This is my favorite Keller sermon, so I know I’ve posted it before, but am blessed each time I listen to it. Listen and share your notes and comments:
14. What is your take-a-way and why?