Are you feeling like you’re on the bench? On the shelf? On the receiving end of hard times? Are you like I was, imprisoned by the need to prove your worth? Chained by illness or depression like my wife was? You are not alone.
As we’ve shared our story about hardship, prison, and grace over the years to encourage others, we’ve discovered something interesting. Most people begin to react when we ask if they might be in some type of “prison.”
And we ask that same question of you. What prison might you be facing that has you feeling trapped, discouraged, upset, broken, or disillusioned about life?
It’s almost certain that at some point in your life you will get a phone call, an email, or a diagnosis from a doctor that examines the sturdiness of your life’s foundation. You will be forced to ask yourself, “Have I unintentionally built my entire life on sand that’s going to sink, and in the process, destroy me? Or have I built my life on the solid foundation, the bedrock of Jesus Christ?” Scripture tells us that He is the only solid foundation you can build on (Matthew 7:24-27).
As we journeyed through our nightmare and into the arms of God, He clearly revealed several key truths that lead to the freedom only Jesus can give. I’d like to share three that may help you, too. But before I do, consider asking yourself these questions:
“What trap do I feel I can never escape?”
“What difficulty seems too hard to overcome?”
“What causes me to cry?”
Will you share your answers with God? Can you make your trial or difficulty a God deal? No matter what your prison is, you can use these keys to find freedom— beginning today.
1. God loves you and wants a relationship with you.
Here I am! I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20
Jesus Christ not only wants a relationship with you, but He also wants to free you from your prison. Begin by opening the door to Him, confessing your sins, and asking for His forgiveness.
Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool! – Isaiah 1:18, TLB
Jesus doesn’t simply forgive you and unlock your prison doors; He says that if you believe He is the Son of God, He will “give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Imagine that: You can enter a kingdom whose ruler loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on a Cross so you could have eternal life. All you need to do is believe in Him (John 3:16).
If you believe in Jesus, you can begin a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17)! With God’s help, you’ll be able to deal with any trouble life may bring your way.
I’ve learned that forgiveness plays a role in our relationship with God. Because He has forgiven us, He wants us to forgive anyone who has hurt us even though it’s not always easy (Matthew 18:21-22).
Most offenses are small and easy to forgive. I usually tell myself, “Play it down, pray it up, and blow it off” when a small offense occurs. Give it to God, take it as a part of life, and don’t make an issue of it.
But when someone goes out of his or her way to cause pain by telling partial truths that damage reputations or break hearts, or even cause physical harm that may call for an even greater effort to forgive.
I needed to make that effort to forgive the banker who wasn’t 100 percent honest and the person who chose to lie about me while I was in prison. Some of those lies remain in people’s minds to this day, so every time the issue comes up, I need to forgive those men again. Forgiveness keeps me free from the prison of grudges that would other-wise exist.
As Gari says: “If we don’t forgive, we risk dam-aging our souls and destroying our lives with bitterness and anger. If we don’t forgive, we jeopardize the freedom that comes from Christ. God commands forgiveness because we receive His very best when we forgive.”
Asking God to help us forgive others and be reconciled with them if possible seems to be His path to healthy and free living. I know it worked that way for our family through our crisis.
As you pray about these things, you can be sure that God hears your prayers. Prayer is our means of communication with God, so pray as much as you can. Talking to and listening to God leads to freedom! In fact, the Bible says that the prayer of a person who is right with God is powerful and effective (James 5:16) and presenting your requests to God with thanksgiving brings peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
On your darkest day, remember one more thing: God performs miracles! He can change your situation, your perspective—anything— in an instant. If your situation requires a miracle as amazing as the Red Sea parting, then pray for that! Ask God to move as only He can. But as you ask, keep in mind that God’s timing and your timing won’t always be the same. His timing is perfect, and only He knows what’s best for you.
2. God is in control, and because He is, you can find hope and fresh meaning in life.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30
After Ted Blank and I entered into a contract to purchase Mercy Hospital— but before we completed the transaction— a hospital group in Neva-da offered us a generous sum of money to purchase our position. We could have stopped our work immediately and felt good that we had been blessed in a big way.
But Gari had other thoughts.
“God is in control of this transaction,” she said. “And obviously you and Ted have done a wise thing or this group wouldn’t have made the offer. I think God has a bigger blessing planned. Why don’t you complete the purchase and wait on the Lord to see what happens?”
We closed on the original deal, owned the hospital for 13 months, and then sold it to a happy group of doctors for 10 times the profit we would have made on the Nevada offer. Wow! I had almost anchored my happiness to a small blessing compared to what God had in mind!
That real estate deal is my reminder that God is in control and I’m not. I had pushed Him out of the driver’s seat of my life and taken the wheel back into my own hands. But God is the best driver because He wants the absolute best for us and is ready to give us hope and a new beginning.
Have you turned loose of the wheel? Let God do the driving in your life! This will give you peace when you realize that He knows your problems and wants to help you if you’ll allow Him to.
Even when it seems all is lost, God is still in control and you can hope in Him. If you’ve sinned and that has led to your prison, God wants to forgive you. Just ask for and receive that forgiveness, knowing He wants you to start over with a clean slate!
No matter what placed you behind your own bars, believe Romans 8:28— that God can bring good out of your situation.
And consider these verses:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:19-24
So as you hope in the Lord, hold on to this truth: The Creator of life knows you and has a great future for you (Jeremiah 29:11)! Ephesians 2:8-10 says you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do.
While I was behind bars, God showed me He loves me just the way I am, but He loves me so much that He wants me to grow into all I can be in Christ. He has that same message for you! Philippians 1:6 tells us to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
To begin stepping into the future God has for you, make a list of everything positive in your life and ask God for the hope He wants you to have.
3. Seek to live every day to please Him, drawing wisdom and strength from His Word and the wise counselors He puts in your life.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. – Ephesians 5:8-10
I was falling back into the trap of being a people-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser during my 10 years of work with the Teammates for Kids Foundation.
Each year our foundation attracted hundreds of donors, and each year we had hundreds of worthy charities asking us for money. A lot of strings were tied to me once again. I could feel myself being pulled back into the habit of moving too fast and trying to do too much.
But before I made things worse for myself and those involved in the foundation, God provided me with a respectful “means of escape.” I’ll always view my experience with Teammates for Kids as a God deal and a good deal, but in 2007, it was time for me to move on.
I quickly moved back to focusing more on God’s Word and paying more attention to wise counsel from people who love me and love the Lord. My personal protection team was in full agreement when I left the foundation.
Teammates for Kids continued to succeed without my help, and I avoided the pain I’d caused years before when my pride and ego got out of control.
So let me ask you: What’s the North Star on the compass of your life? Is it people? Is it projects? Is it money? Is it anything other than God? A life lived to please Christ leads to the most joyful and successful existence possible!
Reading the Bible— God’s Word— will help you to know what pleases God. Learn what He expects of you, so you can “stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you” (Jude 1:21, TLB). I’ve discovered that it’s easier to make right choices daily, because many wrong choices in the little things of life often lead to wrong choices in the major decisions.
What you believe and do should align with what the Bible says, not with what you see on the Inter-net and TV, read in other books, or hear from well- meaning friends who may offer advice not based on God’s Word. Read the Bible daily to maintain your focus on Jesus and gain strength and wisdom.
The Bible also tells us to choose partners and friends wisely (Proverbs 12:26). God wants us to encourage each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and He is able to put fellow believers in your life who can do that and give you wise counsel. The Bible says that the way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15).
You can do what I did: Ask God to help you assemble your personal protection team. It should consist of wise people who love Christ, want the best for you, and will have the courage to say “No,” if that’s what you need to hear.
So don’t waste another minute behind the bars of your prison! Take hold of Jesus Christ’s keys to freedom today. With Christ’s love and grace in your life, your best days are ahead of you. And someday soon, when people ask how you are, you’ll be able to say, “Never better.”
From Grace Behind Bars by Bo & Gari Mitchell
Grace Behind Bars shares the true and dramatic account of how Bo Mitchell, businessman and chaplain for the Denver Nuggets, inexplicably ended up in federal prison only to find God’s true freedom behind bars. Ironically, it’s in a six-by-nine-foot cell that God begins to free this driven Christian leader from his prison of performance and success. In the end, Bo realizes that God’s love is a gift, not something he must earn.
But there’s more to the story: Just before Bo enters prison, his wife, Gari, becomes incapacitated by a brain illness and enters her own prison of clinical depression.
Readers will see how the couple struggled together as their world fell apart, yet ultimately grew closer to each other and God behind the bars of their trials. This story will not only inspire and encourage readers, it will show them how they, too, can find spiritual freedom in life’s “prisons” if they choose to see God’s hand in their lives.