Talk about a long time ago! I was just a young, seminarian who thought he knew all the answers back then. You can’t imagine how surprised I was to receive a letter from a man I met more than 25 years ago at Folsom Prison. Vance is the one I credit for opening the door for me to begin speaking in prisons, well actually God used him, but nonetheless way back when he wrote a letter to the President of Westminster Seminary things changed for me. Vance’s request was for fellow believers to help bring God’s Word to those behind bars, I “happened” to be in the right place at the right time, although I wasn’t so sure at the time, and was asked to submit paperwork so that I could teach in the prison chapel. I had no idea that this would later be a significant moment in my Christian walk. To put it bluntly, “My life was forever changed!”
The prison doors clanked behind me, I entered into a place where grace and forgiveness flowed freely, and the powerful Kingdom of God penetrated through those prison walls! It was in this unexpected place that God taught me different lessons through men like Vance. It was here in this “home for hardened hearts” where I realized His heart and that this is where Jesus loves to hang out. It was here that God used Vance sentenced to life in prison to initiate a reformation and revival that broke out of the prison doors and would eventually touch lives all over the world!
Let me share a portion of his letter with you:
I have come to that great crossroad where I put aside all of my own ambitions for this life in this world (such as freedom) when I had that epiphany that Christ is about salvation, and the resurrection from the dead into sinless perfection, and face to face with God in all His glory and beauty forever. When Jesus said at Gethsemane, “Not my will, but your will be done,” he provided the perfect example of denying selfish wants and desires picking up the cross that God has given, and doing his will. Tim, it came to me that Jesus said, “If possible, take this cup from me.” Therefore, it was not possible to free me from prison and fulfill His plan for the hundreds of men touched by my direct ministry in here…
Vance surrendered to the will of His Father in prison and another, greater door has opened for him to witness to many others residing both inside and outside of those prison doors. I wonder how my life would have been different if Vance had not written that letter way back then, and if I had not been the one asked to drive up the California coast to preach. I wonder if I would have missed out on a great Kingdom training ground for my soul and the Kingdom movement that was birthed because of Vance’s surrendering heart.
All this makes me reflect on this week, Holy Week and Jesus’ prayer to His Abba Father of “not my will but your will be done.” I wonder if Jesus had blurted out, “No” to becoming a prisoner of wicked sinful me; and, “No” to his execution on a curial cross? If this was the case the world would be left hopeless and forever imprisoned to Satan and his cohorts because of our sin.” But Jesus humbly said, “Yes to the cross” and this act of obedience opened wide a greater door for sinners to be washed in His perfect blood and enter into the Kingdom of a loving Father forever. I know for sure that I am forever grateful!
Jesus shows us the way to that greater door when he prays:
“Abba Father…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” Mark 14:36.
You and I need to remember this verse that when our requests for a particular door to open is answered with a “no,” perhaps we need to step back and bring to mind Vance and more importantly Jesus and look for the greater door that awaits. We need to only walk through it.