Wisdom Calls to the Undeserving
God encounters the inmates of Skagit County Jail.
As part-time chaplain to the inmates of Skagit County Jail, many people I minister to consider themselves unqualified to be spoken to, or in any way positively pursued by God. Inmates commonly criticize themselves and others for attending our weekly gatherings, often stating that they don’t expect God to help them now that they’re in trouble, since they didn’t seek Him through attending church, praying or reading the Bible before their arrests.
Proverbs provides a powerful antidote to street religion, offering hope to sinners:
“Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud.” (Proverbs 8:1-3 NIV)
I invite inmates to read Proverbs 8:1-3 and ask them where wisdom speaks? Together we identify some of the high places, streets, intersections and entry points of our city. Might God be speaking in all these places?
"Wisdom pursues the uneducated, the undignified, losers who are on the outside."
In Proverbs 9:1-3, wisdom is described as building a house, preparing food and sending out maidens to the heights of the city to invite people. The inmates are struck that God’s wisdom takes the initiative and calls out in the streets, in public places and not in the expected places like church. “To whom is wisdom calling?” I ask.
“God’s voice goes out to all men,” someone says.
“To the ignorant, to the fools,” says someone else.
“And who are the ignorant and the fools today?” I ask.
“We are,” says one of the prisoners—and nobody disagrees. They are surprised that wisdom pursues the uneducated, the undignified, losers who are on the outside.
People usually think that sin separates them from God, but here we see that God’s wisdom is offered freely to the unworthy, the unqualified. I invite the men to be on the lookout for His wisdom and to expect God to be speaking and to even directly ask Jesus for wisdom and understanding.
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 NKJV)
I was recently driving down to Washington State Reformatory, thinking and praying in preparation for our bi-monthly Spanish worship service in Washington’s largest prison. As I headed down Interstate 5 towards the turnoff to Highway 2, I decided to ask God for wisdom.
“Here I am Jesus at an intersection. Give me a word, give me wisdom that would open up the men to your love.”
Immediately I had a picture in my minds eye of a tattoo of a heart on a bare chest over someone’s heart and the words as coming from God: “people see you as having a black heart, but I see you as having a good heart and as being a noble man.” I immediately began to doubt that this was coming from God. Never had I seen a heart tattoo on a man’s chest. Surely I was making this up.
"God is calling us all to be maidens of His wisdom.”
A group of fifteen or so Spanish-speaking inmates came to my service. I led them in a version of the above Bible study, which came together beautifully. At the end I decided to go for it and ask if anyone by any chance had a heart tattooed on his chest. I looked around the circle from right to left, man to man. Nobody was acknowledging such a tattoo. Then a man to my left raised his hand. “I do,” he said, in Spanish.
I looked at him and repeated the Spanish translation of “people see you as having a black heart, but I see you as having a good heart and as being a noble man.”
His head recoiled and another man exclaimed in shock: “that’s truly a prophetic word.” The man then pulled up his shirt to reveal a band of tattoos running across his chest—pointing to a clearly tattooed heart right over his heart.
Two weeks later I was able to ask him what that word about his heart had meant to him. He told me that he is from a notorious street gang in El Salvador and has a long history of violent, criminal behavior. He was viewed by people as having a black heart. He said: “Lately I have been really doubting that people or God will ever see me as having a changed heart, even after all my efforts to follow Jesus. That word really encouraged me, giving me hope that God sees my heart as good.” This man was the most vocal leader of our new prison faith community and one of three or four members of the same Central American gang.
God is calling us all to be “maidens of His wisdom”—inviting the undeserving to the banqueting table. Are there places in your city that God is calling you to be His minister to the poor and the outcasts?
Please pray for this man’s growing faith, for this emerging Spanish church inside the prison and for our future gatherings. Pray for us as we minister to them.