My Letter to a Prisoner

Around Christmastime, Immanuel puts up a Giving Tree at church where members can pull off wish lists of prisoners’ kids and purchase Christmas presents for them. I received a letter from Josè, who has been sentenced to life in prison, thanking me that we provided his son a gift. Understandably, Josè is grieved that he won’t live with his family again. I am replying with this letter and I thought I would share:

Hi Josè,

I am sorry for your situation. It sounds like an incredibly hard time for you and your family. I can’t imagine what you are going through nor what they are going through.

You asked for guidance on how to pray, receive God’s blessing, forgiveness and love. Thank you for asking! Josè, know this fundamental truth: Jesus has died for you and rose for you. He covers over all of your sins, shame, bad decisions, bad thoughts, and bad words. He removes all of that from who you are. In your standing before God, you are perfect. No matter what we bring before God, bad or good, it has no bearing on our relationship with him or our eternal life. Our identity and our destiny are determined by his Word alone. And God’s final Word for you is Jesus, who has claimed you as his and has given you eternal life. I often tell Christians to not say, “I hope I will be in heaven.” If we trust in Jesus, we should not water down our faith to mere hope. Instead, if we trust that Jesus overcomes all of our faults and failures, no matter what, we should confidently say, “Because of Jesus, I know I will be in heaven!”

Another point: the Bible tells us much about Heaven, but I think that we tend to make up a lot about Heaven that is not accurate. The Bible refers over and over again to the “new heavens and the new earth.” We tend to emphasize the heaven part, but not the new earth part. Yet, when God made the earth in the beginning, he called it good — and even “very good!” It’s clear that God loves this creation that he made. Additionally, not only did Jesus come as a fellow creature once, he has promised to come back again — the second coming. Romans 8 and Revelation 21 talk about how Jesus is coming to make all things (including the rest of Creation) brand new!

I bring this up because we tend to only focus on Heaven “in the clouds.” While that’s a real thing that happens before we rise again on this earth made new again, we tend to think that Heaven is going to be our “final stop” and that God will just get rid of this way of life entirely, including families, homes, animals, nature, relationships, etc. The problem is, God made that all good in the beginning and he sent Jesus to redeem all of it. Jesus is going to make all of it brand new again without any sin, death, disease, or tragedy!

I bring all of that up because I want you to know that even if you spend the rest of your days in prison and don’t get to live with your family again on this side of the resurrection — as tragic as that may be — Josè, thanks to Jesus, you will live eternally with your family again in a brand new, perfect world that by comparison will make this life seem like a few seconds. I realize that doesn’t make your time in this life any easier. But know this: In Jesus, not all is lost. In fact, nothing is lost; Jesus will rewind tragedy, undo injustice, and turn sin inside out. He may not do it now, but he will do it perfectly and completely when he returns.

So, Josè, pray for Jesus to come quickly. For your sake. For your family’s sake. For my sake. For the world’s sake. We all need Jesus. We all need his power to make everything new. In the meantime, pray also that God will care for your family. Yes, God works through means, and in most cases that is through a husband and father caring for his family directly. But believe that God is a good God who takes care of all of our needs. Trust him, that the same God who normally takes care of families through husbands and fathers (and who delights in doing so!) can also take care of families without husbands and fathers. It is not right for a husband and father not to be in the picture, indeed God designed families to have husbands and fathers! But know that Jesus will restore all things to his grand design, and even make them better. Pray for that day, and pray that the Almighty Father will care for your family.

And pray boldly. Not only has Jesus died for you making you in good standing with God, not only does God love you and wants to hear your prayer, not only does the Holy Spirit even give you the words to say, but God even commands you to pray! God wants to hear from you and God wants you to be bold in asking him for things as the Almighty One who can grant all things. Take God at his Word. Obey his command and be bold in prayer. Be specific in prayer. Don’t hold back requests from God because he has commanded you to bring them to him! But pray his promises back to him. He has told you that you are forgiven, so address him as the God who has forgiven you, and as the God who will one day reunite you with your family.

In the name of our King, Jesus.

Pastor Jonathan Petzold

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