I told my sis that I love very much that I would post some words of encouragement. She has a loved one that has been incarcerated and will be released in the weeks ahead. As someone that spends my weekends with those that are in jail I need to bring some words of hope, of inspiration, of encouragement.
I always think about that when I’m visiting with those behind bars. How can I be a spiritual oasis? How can I bring something, anything that might be of help? I don’t want to just show up and be another visitor. I want to bring relief. If you think about it… it’s all I do have, all I can bring to those I visit is a word. Some good news.
I usually don’t have much time so I need to bring the best words I can find. I do enter into the prison always wielding a copy of the scriptures. For in them we do find solace. We find truth. We find hope. We find what our souls need. Jesus did say that mankind is never going to make it on physical sustenance alone… but we are need of spiritual food. That’s found in Saint Matthews account chapter 4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’. I like the authority of this “it is written” statement that has been preserved for us.
Seems like most of us get on in this life most of the time without giving much attention to our souls. To the spiritual side of life. Until there’s a crisis. Until we hit a big valley. A health issue. With the folks I visit it’s incarceration. And… even then many folks seem to get on okay. I’ve been at a few deathbeds and it’s there that many people realize they need some soul care. But what about words of hope that we can use right now.
I’ve given this much thought. What are some words that we can run to for consolation? Where can we turn for help for a thirsty soul? My mom had as her favorite Psalm 23. David’s shepherd Psalm. Sweeter words than these are hard to find. I know the King James Bible has archaic language, but for me it sounds so good, it sounds right…
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Let those words sink in. Aren’t those great words of encouragement? I have always loved the imagery. The good shepherd, the pastures, the still waters. The valley, His comfort, His goodness and mercy. No wonder this is among the most popular of “comfort words” in human history.
How about the Lord’s Prayer for some spiritual comfort food. In Saint Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6, our Lord just finishes up with some ways not to approach God and how not to pray… then He brings the model prayer to us. How we should pray. Try reading this like it’s the first time you’ve read it. I know, it’s hard. We have all recited this so many times that it’s easy to glaze over it and miss just how good it is. It’s the perfect prayer. Read it slow and use it as a skeleton for your prayers…
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Back to the subject of words for thirsty souls. I think of a passage found in Isaiah and I believe partially referred to at the end of the Bible, in Revelation… it goes like this:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The gist of the passage is that God wants us to come to Him. Come and get what you need, “soul relief” at no charge. He says He will have compassion. He pardons. Everyone on the planet needs to know they can be pardoned. Live long enough and you will have regrets, you will stumble, you will need forgiveness. That’s part of the human condition, isn’t it? So there is One that can be approached and says my thoughts, my words, are not yours. My ways are above yours. We need to get a dose of these words of encouragement. We need to soak them up.
Interesting thing. I was visiting inmates last weekend and went to a max unit. I was settling onto a stainless steel picnic table and had my “words” of encouragement queued up. Then I heard my name. Someone came out from beyond the doors and recognized me. This happens once in a while so I did not think much of it. But, this was someone that knew me from juvenile hall. I met him some 5-6 years ago. This always breaks my heart. The young fellas name was Reggie. He sat with me and I brought the “word”.
I always want to bring hope. I bring words that soothe the soul. That Reggie is loved. That Reggie was not forgotten, nor forsaken. That these words (like Psalm 23) are what are souls long for and need to hear. That he can experience forgiveness and have a peace that passes understanding. He was taking it all in and it was good to re-unite. He then said something that I’ll never forget and I really appreciated. Reggie said that I was doing the same thing that I was doing back when I met with him in juvenile hall. He remembered I always had the Bible out and was sharing verses. I said that it’s always the same message (my hope is that as he’s a few years older that he might be wiser and listen, learn, and live because of the Word). The gospel, the good news. the eternal words, the living hope. There’s no secret here. And, I know, I’m a broken record. That’s okay. These are the words we need. Here’s a rapid fire barrage of them… let these words go down deep in our souls:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” I need this bread that He offers… I need daily bread. When we have recited the Lord’s prayer it speaks about daily bread.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” I need this satisfaction. We all do.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Whether we realize it or not… our souls do thirst for God.
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
You know, we are all made of the same stuff. Out of Psalm 103… “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust”.
I’m weak. I need to hear these words of encouragement daily. There was a time I thought I was pretty tough. Now I know I’m not. Traffic a few years on the planet, it can be a desert at times. It can make us weary. Life isn’t easy at times. As I take these kinds of “words” into those that need to hear them, I always share that I first need to hear them myself. I’m privileged to do a monthly chapel at the jail and I always say that I first “preach” the message to myself first. I need to hear it.
I grew up on the east coast and for the most part attended the traditional church of my parents. When you are a kid you don’t listen much, but there were some things that stuck… especially at the end of the service. I was a kid that had more important (so I thought) things to get to. There was what was called the Memorial Acclamation, and, as a young kiddo, I had no idea what this meant. The priest would say it was the mystery of faith and said the following:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.
There is so much packed in those “acclamations” that I could go off for hours. But… trying to have some kind of brevity I wanted to just speak to the most important piece. Especially, and in light of where we are on the holy calendar 2016. As we approach the Easter season we are always reminded that this living Word, our Savior Jesus, came, lived among us, was delivered up by Pontius Pilate, was crucified and rose again on the third day.
Because of the resurrection everything has changed. There is an answer to this world of death, dying, hopelessness, disease, hate, war… and you name it. We jump ahead to the last chapter of the Book… because of what Jesus has done, is doing, and what He will do, there is incredible hope. The future is secure and it helps us to live in the here and now. Some old Bibles have the word “Maranatha” there at the end of Revelation 22. It was a greeting that they had that either meant the Lord is coming or come Lord Jesus.
Those who have named the name of Christ have a living hope that will transform us now and also will give us assurance for the future. My prayer is that with the comfort of these life changing words that I’ve shared that the Spirit of God will take them and do a work in our lives.