How to pray in prison, part 2

money prison

Money, or the lack thereof, can, in itself, be a prison.

Prison is a place where no one wants to go, yet almost all of us have been. Let me explain.

There are prisons with guards, as well as physical and civil restrictions, much like the apostle Paul experienced as he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates 2.2 million people under such conditions as of 2013, making the United States the world’s leader in incarceration.

Our culture, it seems, knows a thing or two about prison. Claiming that all of us have been, you may say, is still pretty audacious.

As Christians, one of our mandates is actually to minister to prisoners. In the words of Christ, himself, “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36c NIV). Hebrews 13:3a (ESV) continues this thread: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.”

What I am referencing, however, is not being a visitor, but an inmate. Though they might not have physical bars, the prisons that we encounter as believers are just as real. In the last post, we discussed how the apostle Paul details one such prison as “the schemes of the devil,” based on Ephesians 6:10-11. In writing to the Philippians, he identifies another prison:

Prison #2: Material Needs

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (4:10-13 ESV)

When in a prison situation, it can be difficult to maintain our desire to pray. In regards to our own needs, maybe not so much, but what about praying for others?

The apostle Paul embodied a ministry of prayer. A commentary on the subject posits, “Prayer must be more than simply a devotional habit in the Christian’s life. It must be a ministry, both in the lives of individual Christians and within the life of the local church.”

Paul, from prison, was able to say to the Philippians, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (1:3-4 ESV). Not only did he have a constant habit of praying for this church, but did so with joy, and this in the face of apparent material need. How do we, then, maintain a posture of prayer while in need?

We need POWER to be CONTENT.

When facing the various circumstances of life, it is contentment that allows us to remain unmoved. While Paul does rejoice at the sight of aid from the Philippians, he is not complaining (Phil. 2:14).  The church at Philippi was actually the only church that ministered to his needs after leaving Macedonia during his second missionary journey (Phil. 4:15-16; Acts 16:40-17:1). Moreover, saying, “you have revived your concern for me” (Phil. 4:10), must mean that there was a period when the checks stopped coming.

Paul’s primary concern, however, is not that his own needs are being met. He rejoices at the prospect of this generosity being credited to account of those who gave, believing that God will add to them materially and spiritually (4:16-18).

Paul does mention his needs, but is not preoccupied with them. The various situations in his life had taught him to be content. Between being “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:27 ESV) — just to name a few — he had plenty of opportunities to learn.

Consider that the bouts we have with challenging circumstances, albeit financial or otherwise, are not to discourage us. They, however, are opportunities to learn Paul’s “secret,” often revealing the degree to which our hearts are actually content.

Upon closer reading of Philippians 4:10-13, we see that the contentment of which Paul speaks is not something that is contrived, but a work of Christ. He says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13). Ultimately, our contentment is not only a result of Christ’s power at work within us, but is founded in a heart that rejoices in the Lord (4:4). When this is the case, we can adhere to Paul’s admonishment to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6 ESV).

Interestingly, Paul not only acknowledges a need for this contentment in “hunger and need,” but also “plenty and abundance.” Having more-than-enough presents a prison of its own kind. To this end, Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV) reads:

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

While having little can cause one to turn his focus to himself, fostering a disregard for others and God (Matthew 6:33), having plenty can cause us to forget God altogether. Before entering into the Promised Land, the Israelites received the following warning:

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 ESV)

Wealth has an uncanny affect on the human heart. This is why we see so many strong statements regarding it in the New Testament (i.e. 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19). Jesus tells a parable of a man whose wealth turned him to greed, and that at the cost of his life (Luke 12:13-21). Paul plainly tells us, “a greedy person is an idolater” (Colossians 3:5 NLT).

We need to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4 ESV), so that in lack we do not discredit Christ’s sufficiency, and in abundance we do not begin to rejoice in things. A heart that is strengthened by the Lord will not only be able to achieve this, but also maintain the ministry of prayer, which is “good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:3 BSB).


~ by christianballenger on February 15, 2016.

2 Responses to “How to pray in prison, part 2”

  1. Amen. We so need to recognize that God already knows the situations (prisons) we may find ourselves in because he ordains them. This is why we must look to him as the keeper of our soul as Peter recommends in I Peter 4:19 – Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. KJV

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