About midnight Paul and Silas were praying
and singing hymns to God, and the other
prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly
there was such a violent earthquake that the
foundations of the prison were shaken…
Acts 16:25:26 (NIV)
I have been in prison where iron gates clang closed and locked, confined between walls of bars with no way out except by the approval of a prison guard and walked a hallway marked with an overhead sign which read, “You are now entering Death Row”. I sat among murderers, rapists, drug addicts, thieves and prison gang members—men in white.
In the chapel, wooden pews worn smooth by use stood as a testament to those who sought sanctuary over the years. This Do in Remembrance of Me, carved into the front of a large wooden table, hid a bathtub which served as the baptistery for those whose lives were changed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, while the French doors that opened onto a long tiled hallway with yellow stripes painted eighteen inches from the wall were a constant reminder of incarceration—men in white.
My heart ached as I watched brothers, sons, fathers, cousins, uncles and grand-fathers gathered inside the fifteen-foot high chain-link fence topped by razor wire and guarded by men standing in a high tower and holding automatic weapons —men in white.
Many had been found guilty in a court of law. Some had cut a deal for a better sentence. A few possibly were innocent; unjustly accused, traumatized—men in white.
I, along with the rest of our Southern Gospel quartet, stood on the small stage in the chapel, and we began to sing; at first some of the old hymns familiar to most of the men. Amazing Grace! The Old Rugged Cross! I’ll Fly Away (their personal favorite)! Amazed, I watched as the crowd in white uniforms began raising their hands toward heaven; tears flowing as they lifted their voices in genuine praise.
In the physical, there was no violent earthquake and the foundations of the prison were not shaken. In the spiritual, the rafters raised, the walls vibrated, and the floors reverberated as the Holy Spirit of God filled that room to capacity! I saw Acts sixteen in action.
During that visit, and many visits after, Jesus walked among the men in white seated in a small chapel and unlocked the bars heart by heart, man by man, life by life as they lifted their voices in praise to our Heavenly Father.
I thought about how often those outside of prison may not be locked away in a physical sense but rather an emotional prison; holding onto hurts and fears, allowing them to grow larger and larger, creating a prison of emotional pain, walking around appearing to be free but having a heart locked in an iron cage.
If you find yourself in that condition, sing! Praise God! Allow Him the joy, in the midst of your trials, of unlocking the bars to your heart. Then you too can be free—just like my beloved men in white.