I was preparing to write the final article about God’s intention for us as we face months, or years, as Caregivers to our family member with dementia, when I came across an old Newsletter article written by a Pastor whom I know very well. I have received permission to reprint his article, but since this is mainly about God’s faithfulness to this pastor’s son, I have changed the names to protect him. One thing you should know is that the State of Michigan has, what is called, Mandatory minimums in sentencing. This means that if someone receives a sentence of ten to fifteen years they must serve the ten before any good time can lessen their time in prison. I hope this blesses you as much as it did me as I read it.
On May 11, Sarah and I attended our Son Michael’s graduation, at Saginaw Valley State University. It was a wonderful day and confirmed for me some foundational Spiritual insights. One of the things I often say is, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you heard in the light.” This saying comes from Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” Sadly, I forgot many of God’s wonderful promises in the middle of Michael’s incarceration.
When Michael was arrested, he was sent to the Wayne County Jail in Detroit. During his time there we were able to have no-contact visits every Friday. One of the things he wanted was a Bible, so Sarah and I purchased one that we took to the chaplain to give to Michael. The secretary, in the chaplain’s office, asked us why our son was arrested and we gave her the details. She asked if she could pray with and for us and we said yes. She prayed a beautiful prayer of protection for him and strength and comfort for us. After the prayer she said, “I believe the Lord wants me to tell you that everything is going to be alright.” What a comforting word to receive at a time when our lives were turned upside down.
After eleven months in the County Jail, Michael was sentenced to ten to fifteen years incarceration in the Michigan Department of Corrections. Of course, I knew he would have to serve time, but I was hoping for something closer to three to five years. For the next seven years, we visited him every Monday evening in Ionia. Then for three and a half years we drove to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula once a month. He did really well in prison and in spite of my fears it seemed that the Lord was protecting him. In many ways, it seemed that he was handling this better than I was.
Around the fifth year of his incarceration, I went into clinical depression. During this time, I was convinced that I was a failure as a father, a pastor, and a husband. I would also think about Mike’s future and could see nothing but a lifetime of frustration and un-employment. After all, I reasoned, he will be 30 when he gets out of prison. A felon with no college degree will struggle to find any job, struggle to find decent housing, struggle to get on with a meaningful and rewarding life. It seemed, to me, that he would carry the weight of his crime all of his days. In all my reasoning I left God, with whom nothing is impossible, out of the equation. During this time I would pray for my son and cry out to God, “You said everything is going to be alright! But it’s not! In fact everything is all wrong.”
The Lord is so patient with his children, and He used this to strengthen my faith. Michael got out of prison three and a half years ago. Last week, we sat in Ryder Arena watching him graduate, Magna cum Laude, with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I had a lump in my throat and tears of joy in my eyes, as I heard his name announced and saw him walk across the stage to receive his diploma. At that point, I realized that I owed the Lord a huge apology. In fact, everything has turned out alright, why did I ever doubt that it would?
As wonderful as the secretaries prophecy was, we have an even more sure word from the Lord in the Scripture. In Hebrews 13, God promises, “”I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”” Romans, chapter eight promises, “28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In 2 Corinthians 4, St. Paul proclaims, “17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,” And in Jeremiah God promises, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” These are just a few of the many promises that God gives us for our strength and edification. Instead of claiming these promises and living a life of hope and joy, I focused on my doubts and fears, forgot the promises, and lived a life of despair and sadness. How foolish I was to believe the devil’s lies over the promises of God.
I have learned the truth of the statement, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you’ve heard in the light.” It is true that, God never lies, God is always faithful and God always keeps his promises. When Michael sat in his cell and confessed and repented of his sins, our heavenly Father forgave him and set about the process of using this terrible time to make Mike’s life count. He really does have a hope and a future and I can’t wait to see it unfold.
What is true for me is also true for every believer. Whatever darkness you’re in, whether it’s of your own doing or if you’re a victim, you can be sure that God will use this for good if you surrender it to him. He will bring you through it or lift you out of it. And should your darkness leads to death we have eternal life waiting for us. Beloved, our God is faithful, He loves you, and will always be with you. Never, never, never forget or doubt that wonderful truth.
Someone might ask, “What if Michael had died in prison or got out and didn’t go to college but, instead, got in more trouble and went back to prison?” Well, what ifs are never helpful because they are totally hypothetical, but I do understand that sometimes things don’t turn out as we hope they will.
People generally think they know how their life should go; the sequence of events from birth to death. Most of us would like to live, in good health, until our mid 90s and then die in our sleep. Most of us believe that children should attend their parent’s funeral and not parents their children’s. However, we all know, and some of us have experienced, that this isn’t how life always works. Life is fragile, and unpredictable, but God is faithful.
God promises us, “”I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” I will not be afraid because I am never abandoned by God but he is with me in all my tribulations. In fact, the Lord promises peace while we go through tribulation. He said, “27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” How do we walk through life in the peace of Christ? This can be done through the 3 Ps; Perspective, prayer, and perseverance.
When Jesus speaks about life and death it is always from an eternal perspective. This is why he says things like, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are pilgrims passing through this world on our way to our true home. St. Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Since we are citizens of heaven we take the trials, tribulations, and troubles as things that are making us fit for heaven. In 2 Corinthians 4, St. Paul proclaims, “17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,”
However, that does not mean that we enjoy difficult times, which is why we must always run to the Lord for help.
If Michael had died in prison, or returned to prison, everything would still be alright as long as he was living in faith toward Christ. In a similar way, if Michael goes on to become rich and famous, lives a long life, but doesn’t know Jesus, everything has ended in disaster. The eternal perspective assures us that trouble, disease, failure, bondage, doesn’t have the final word in our lives. Jesus does, and He wants to bring all of us into the presence of the Father with great joy
St. Paul was sitting in a prison cell waiting to be executed when he wrote one of his most joyful letters. In this letter he tells us the secret of joyful, peaceful living. He writes, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Prayer is the way we receive the strength that Christ gives. Teaching us how to receive peace, in times of trouble, St. Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” He writes from experience, and that experience can be ours if we live a prayer filled life.
However, the manner of our prayer is important. Some people pray for something to change, waiting and watching for the change. When they don’t see immediate change their faith wanes and they become frustrated and upset with God. St. Paul tells us that we should take our anxieties to God and immediately, after expressing our needs, thank and praise the Lord. If we wait for the answer we want, before praising the Lord, we will live in frustration, fear and failure. On the other hand, if we immediately thank and praise the Lord, leaving the outcome to God, then we will have peace.
One of the great quotes from the Psalms is, “Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning” However, sometimes the night is awfully long and it seems that the joy of a new day will never come. This is why the scripture calls us to live a life of perseverance. It is easy to get angry, frustrated, and disappointed in God. It’s easy to blame God and look for comfort elsewhere. In Hebrews 12, we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Our hope, our home, and our future lies with Jesus in heaven. The night of weeping will not be totally done until Jesus returns. On that day we will enter into an eternity of joy, for, “In the presence of the Lord is joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
When I would write letters, or send cards to Michael in prison, I would always sign off with, “Hang in there, better days are coming.” Ten years is a long time to, “Hang in there,” and I’m sure he had days of sadness, depression, and despair. However, things are now in a much better place for him. In the same way, Jesus, would say to us, “Hang in there, better days are coming.” As we walk with an eternal perspective, with our lives filled with prayer, we are able to persevere in faith knowing that the Lord has everything under control and is going to make everything right.
Remember, and live the 3 Ps; perspective, prayer, and perseverance. Doing so will bring you through life with the love, joy and peace of Christ regardless of what you face.
In everything, always remember the wonderful promise that God gives us in Jeremiah, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
One of my favorite verses is, “Here we have no lasting city, but we look for the city whose builder and maker is God.” Hebrews 13:14. When things are going all wrong and everything I hoped for is dashed to pieces, I take comfort in the fact that I’m not home yet. Sometimes God allows terrible things to enter our lives to make us homesick. Then, like generations of Christians before us we pray, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus!!” Joy comes in the Morning, the scripture promises. The night is far spent and the sunrise is upon us. Hallelujah!!
I want to thank Pastor for allowing me to use his article. I hope you were encouraged by it. Next time I will really try to finish this series.
Please continue to pray for us as we will also continue to pray for you.