God's Word for today

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Scriptural reflections on prison ministry (5)

Passage: Jeremiah 29: 11-13
" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.' "

How does this passage relate to prison ministry?
It is interesting to note Verse 11a, “[f]or I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD …”, since a visiting pastor to the prison, who presented a course on anger management, made the statement that “none of us are here by accident … to be in this particular place at this particular time, participating in this particular session, is God-ordained”. It can certainly be validly argued that, for the prisoners who attended the anger management session, if they took on board the insights imparted, and turned them into lessons to be learned and applied to their own lives, this could certainly be seen as “[a plan] to prosper you and not to harm you; [a plan] to give you hope and a future” (Verse 11b).

It was readily acknowledged that uncontrolled anger was undoubtedly a contributing factor to many of the prisoners committing the crimes that they did, resulting in their incarceration, and being empowered to deal with such anger would give them hope for the future since the likelihood of this anger driving them to re-offend would be greatly diminished.

What relevance does this passage have for ministry?
The passage has particular relevance for ministry, since the message that it contains is one of hope. A problem that many people face as they journey through life is the apparent lack of meaning of it all, a sense that one drifts through life going through the same daily routines for 70 or so years, after which life ends. The fact that God has a plan for our lives gives us hope and direction, and a sense that our time here on earth is not futile but has purpose.

A primary aspect of ministry is to proclaim this message of hope; to help people to understand that their lives do have meaning and purpose. God hasn’t just “lit the wick” and then allowed the candles of our lives to burn on their own until, eventually, it burns itself out. Our job as ministers is to accompany our congregations on a journey to discover God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

How does this passage define serving for Christ?
Jesus’ earthly life and ministry was no mere accident of history – he was sent by God with a specific mission, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and its express purpose was to “preach good news to the poor, … proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (sic)” (Luke 4: 18b-19, NIV). He then set about fulfilling his purpose. Towards the end of his earthly ministry, after he had risen from the dead and was about to ascend into heaven, he gave a mission and purpose for their ministry, being to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20a, NIV).

What this teaches us about serving Christ is that, just as he was sent by God with a purpose, so he has called us with a specific purpose in mind as well. Our obligation as Christians, therefore, is to seek the specific purpose to which Jesus has called us, and carry out that purpose with faithfulness and integrity.

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