I am still coming down from my time spent on Death Row at Angola during our recent Kairos. I’ve had some time to reflect and analyze. I guess what really blew me away was the joy and peace the ten inmates we dealt with enjoyed. There were clearly ten distinct personalities, but the joy and peace were common certainly by the end of the retreat and was still alive when I went back for a training session a week later.
Consider the things that tend to rob us of joy and peace.
History. Sometimes we just can’t get past our past. No matter how awful your past was it’s unlikely that it involved taking a life. These ten have this in common. Not just the death or deaths but all that comes with a trip through the legal system ending up with a death sentence. Top that.
Circumstance. We are often drugged down by the world around us. These guys spend most of their lives in a tiny cell coming out only briefly each day. The food isn’t great. There is little family contact. In the summer, the cells stay around 100 degrees until late into the night. Can you really say your circumstances are worse?
Future. I think most of us spend lots of time worrying about the future. I worry endlessly about things that never happen. Often when the dreaded event occurs, it’s not nearly as bad as I imagined. Nevertheless, I don’t lose sleep over being put to death in a public execution.
So why the peace and joy on death row. We know our joy is in the Lord. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 Paul wrote these words from a prison cell. As Christians in the “free” world, we know this truth. It just keeps slipping away from us. There are so many distractions that seem to offer joy and peace. Like bubbles, they pop as soon as we grasp them in our hands.
There are many joy and peace robbers about. Violence and death seem more common than ever before. There is no safety or sanctuary even in schools or churches. True Christians are an ever-shrinking minority. Even those who “claim” to be Christian have fallen by nearly ten percent in the last few years. Hearing from Jesus is considered a mental illness. Billy Graham went home today. There doesn’t seem to be many stepping up to take his place.
When Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two they were overjoyed by the success of their ministry. Jesus warned, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 In times like these, when the spirits don’t seem submissive, it’s important to know what’s important, that our names are written in heaven.
Even that source of joy is under attack, as the church seems to be more legalistic and unwilling to offer assurance that our names are on the heavenly list.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that for those sitting for decades in a cell the hope that Jesus offers can be the most real thing in the world.
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)
Flying away is sure sounding pretty good; whether from a prison cell or a world that doesn’t seem to know or care about Jesus anymore.