In a prison in Texas, a prison minister once walked past a cell and stopped. A prisoner had taken off all his clothing and was standing ankle deep in water in a stainless steel sink. He was trying as hard as he could to do the impossible: stick his fingers in the live light socket from which he had removed the bulb. Things were not going well in this prisoner’s life. So, he was trying to end it.
My friend asked the man if he wanted to talk and was the prisoner yelled and cussed at him. My friend persisted and asked him if Jesus was his Lord and the man really got creative with his vocabulary. So my friend left - for a while.
He found a chair, brought it back and sat down in front of the cell and intently watched the prisoner as he tried to electrocute himself. After a while the prisoner stopped to rest and asked the prison minister, “What the <blankety blank> are you lookin at?” to which my friend replied, “I’ve never seen a person do this, so I want to watch.”
This cracked the prisoner up and he got down, dressed himself and started talking with my friend.
How did the prisoner get to this point? What brings anyone to the point of despair, really? People despair when, in their own power, they do everything they can do, run out of power…and then fail.
One woman recently told me that she was all wiped out….she had nothing left to give. She freely admits to me that she doesn’t feel able to trust God for either the hassles of everyday life, or the big things of the past and present. I said, “You’re like a car that is moving so slowly that a little speed bump has stopped you dead still.” Her response was, “Speed bump!?!?! It feels more like Mount Everest.”
You know…I believe her. If a person has absolutely no power, a little speed bump might just as well be Mount Everest.
Our ministry has presented our conference, Union With Christ, many times and its core point is that God’s power through us as we walk after the Spirit is much better than our own flesh power. Some people, confronted with this idea, tend to do a pendulum swing into inactivity. Afraid that “doing something” might be flesh, they do nothing and call it “spiritual”. I believe that we are often supposed to “do something”.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
I read this once and I thought: “Solomon said, ‘Do something!’”.
My dad used this phrase a lot: “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”
The problem is that people who have run out of flesh power often:
1) are sitting dead still against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and
2) are so used to drawing on their own flesh that they cannot comprehend calling on the Lord to help them.
Psalm 107 is an accurate picture of a tragic trap in which many believers find themselves. The Lord repeatedly rescues the people after they refuse His continuous leadership and guidance, going off on their own instead until they run out of their own finite power.
Sometimes our despair is so pervasive that we need someone to help us. We can all be like that prison minister was: staying aware of the people around us, always looking to minister real life to people. We can ask the Lord to sensitize us to the groans, anguished cries and soft whimpers of people whose lack of power has left them at a standstill, forehead against a speed bump.
Many Christians do not believe that they have what it takes to minister to people who seem to be hopeless. The truth is that Christ in us is more than capable and we really have only one answer for people: Jesus.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
The best ministry I have seen is when a person draws from his own past to show a person how Jesus has been pertinent in their own life. This is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 in action and we all have something like this.
My thinking is: why does it just have to be at a time when you suffered and then Jesus touched the problem personally? Why not take it further and use it to minister to someone else as you connect the dots from your life to Jesus and then into that person’s life addressing his or her unique circumstances?
Oh, by the way: that prison minister was assigned to that same prison the following year. He was delighted to discover that the prisoner to whom he had ministered Jesus in this very way, was now born again and serving as a chaplain’s assistant.