This devotional thought is from OSWM, a Watchman for the Lord serving behind the walls at a west coast state prison.
Have you ever noticed who Jesus noticed? Have you considered how that is a wonderful thing?
Yes, Jesus noticed the Pharisees and Teachers of Law and spoke with Temple officials, but He also noticed the small and weary individuals of no status. For example, Jesus noticed Zacchaeus, who was trying to hide up in a tree (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus noticed when one frail and ceremonially unclean woman in a great crowd touched the fringe of His garment (Luke 8:41-48). And Jesus noticed the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Luke 18:35-42) who sat on the side of the road that Jesus traveled en route to what we now call the Triumphal Entry.
It’s amazing that Jesus would take notice of anyone’s need as He walked the long dusty road that He knew led to His cruel death, but He did. Jesus was never too busy or too preoccupied to notice the hurting or an opportunity to share hope and truth. Watchmen must emulate His heart. We must notice.
Prison can be a violent place. Many men have grown accustomed to getting their way using brute force. Patience, diplomacy, and social graces are not well-known or exercised here. I was reminded of this again this week when the men on my tier were on the verge of a riot. I should share a few things to set the stage.
There is a tender-hearted younger man on my tier. I’ll call him Jim. He lacks self-esteem and tries too hard to fit in. This leads to Jim being teased quite a bit. Recently he decided to sing an original song to the men on the tier. This is generally not a good idea, for the feedback can be very harsh, and I was especially concerned for Jim – knowing his confidence could not weather many blows.
Jim has some musical talent, and I complimented him on the strong points of his song, but the men, as expected, were harsher in their comments. Jim was crushed. Though a few reached out to him, he was silent for the rest of the night.
The next morning he went out to the medical wing to begin testing for what he thought was an intestinal problem. A nurse bluntly told him he would have to come back – for colon cancer testing. She added that the mortality rate for colon cancer is high and explained to Jim that his potential cancer may have progressed beyond stage one.
Tender-hearted and emotionally young, Jim was very frightened. He was having a terrible 24 hours. He asked for literature on colon cancer, which a staff member promised him, but then an alert sounded, and all inmates were ordered to return to their cells immediately. This heightened Jim’s anxiety. Once again, he asked for literature on cancer and was told, “NO!”
Almost in tears now, he protested, “They said I could have it.”
“That was before the alarm sounded, and you were ordered back to your cell,” was the curt reply. With that, Jim was roughly escorted out of the medical office.
At the same time, I and the rest of our tier returned from an abbreviated recreation time. The men were angry about being called back to their cells early and became irate when a guard stated that the reason was “poor air quality” (due to regional fires). For some, this latest change, on top of many COVID-related restrictions and changes in available services (such as chapel, visits, books, games, etc.), was just too much. A riot began to develop.
The two-story tier, with bars across the front of each of the 20 cells, erupted. Some men were locked in; others were waiting to be locked in as guards scrambled to secure outer doors. Men began yelling, cursing, rattling doors, and throwing items out of their cells onto the tier corridor floor.
Into the chaos slowly walked Jim. I was locked in my cell but noticed him – walking with red eyes, seemingly oblivious to the noise and trash raining down all about him. I called him over. With a few simple questions and expressions of care, I got Jim talking about his life, fears, and ‘terrible day.’ It was a bit surreal – talking about grave concerns and the power of prayer amid screams, shouts, and the constant throwing of items out of the cells on both top and bottom levels.
Regular staff could not regain control of the men. Neither could the shift Sargent. Finally, the site Lieutenant came and brought some sense of order to the tier. By that time, Jim felt better, bolstered by prayer and a muffin I had saved from breakfast. A spiritual foundation for future talks had been laid, not because I am wise, not because I am an outstanding evangelist, but because I noticed.
I noticed that Jim’s feelings were hurt when he grew silent the night before. I noticed his red eyes and slow walk when he returned to the tier amid a chaotic scene. I noticed, and the Spirit provided an opportunity to help, pray, share, and lay a foundation for future spiritual discussions.
Watchmen watch. We are called to look—to notice. We notice opportunities to help, serve, love, warn, and witness. John 13:15 notes these words of Jesus: “I came that you might have an example.”
Jesus noticed. We should notice too. In today’s busy world, it is easy to become so focused on our schedules and to-do lists that it becomes very difficult to see – to notice the precious “divine appointments,” the small opportunities God sets before us.
Ask God to help you slow down and live with eyes open. Always be ready to notice and respond to the lost and hurting people that God helps you to see.
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