In Paul's letter to the Hebrews, he tells them to "see to it ... that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (12:15). Yet many of the harsh events of our lives–the separation from loved ones or the toughness of prison existence–plant seeds of bitterness, anger, and hate within us. But when we turn to Jesus Christ, those seeds can be transformed and instead yield the fruit of God's powerful love and peace.
GOD IS JUST
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Before I went to prison, I had my life together. I could clearly see where I wanted to go and everything was proceeding according to plan–or so I thought.
The president of a flourishing business, I was respected in the community and in the front church pew with my wife and kids every Sunday. I considered myself a Christian, but I had put God on hold. I told Him that I would get my business really going first, then He and I would do great things together. It was a reasonable arrangement and I thought He would understand.
But He had other plans for me, and through a series of bewildering events, I found myself in prison. I couldn't believe it. I was bitter, angry, and disgusted with God.
Every night in my cell I would blame Him for the tricks He had pulled on me, for His unjust treatment when I was such a good guy.
But one evening as I railed on Him, I was confronted by the reality of Jesus Christ. I suddenly realized that God was just–and I was the one playing games, not Him. My eyes were opened. I turned my life over to Christ and accepted Him. He had to come to me in prison to give me freedom.
From that point on, God gave me many opportunities to grow. I was no longer in control–He was. I was chosen to attend a Prison Fellowship® discipleship seminar. During those two weeks, my wife, who also attended, sat in on a teaching session. Then she, too, accepted Christ.
Now we have a life of far greater joy and freedom than before, when we thought we had it all together.
Keith,* released from prison
PRAYER: Lord, only you can bring liberty and sight to the bound and blind. Thank you for freeing me from my misconceptions. I ask that you would free those who read this from theirs, through your Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge, I will repay,' says the Lord."
At the time of my surrender to the US Marshals, my heart was filled with anger and hatred toward the injustice and unfairness of the "system." I was angry with the judge; I was angry with the probation officer; but most of all, I was angry with God for allowing this to happen to me and to separate me from my child. During my time in prison, the Lord showed me the above scripture. He showed me that it is His place to take care of injustice. If I would only surrender my life to him, He would protect me and fill me with love for those I felt had injured me.
We all want revenge against those who have wronged us. But that desire hurts us, not those we hate. So when we forgive–and turn our bitterness over to the Lord for him to handle–we are set free.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for taking that angry spirit from me. Fill me with your love, allowing me to love others through you. Amen.
MORE THAN I DREAMED
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the unsurpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8)
To lose is to gain. But that apparent contradiction isn't always easy to understand. We are human and when we lose something precious to us, we feel deeply hurt. And if we let this loss control our lives, we become bitter, resentful, and depressed.
I suffered the loss of freedom, family, and material things when I came to prison. After going through many years of bitterness, hatred, disappointments, and frustrations, I discovered Jesus and accepted Him as my Savior. Since then, I realize that in losing, I found more than I ever dreamed.
First I found freedom in Jesus. I have a new outlook and future ahead of me because of Christ. He is sufficient to meet all of my needs. In gaining Christ, I have no more losses.
PRAYER: I praise you, dear God, for your abundant mercy and love. I thank you for my being in prison. It has turned out to be the greatest blessing in my life, for it has turned my loss to gain. In Jesus’ name, amen.
*Names have been changed.