In mid-November, I had the special privilege of speaking in the Bowling Green State Prison at Bowling Green, Mo. This providentially was an immense blessing and an exceptional time of among the inmates there.
There are 1900 men in this medium security prison, with the inmates from such offenses as white collar crimes of embezzlement, forgery, finance fraud and theft, to murder, sex offenses, and all kinds of felony crimes. We were with murderers, gang leaders, as well as former stock brokers who are still wealthy, but were caught in illegal activities.
Every Wednesday evening two separate chapel services are held, as there are two different inmate blocks within the prison. The first service was at 7:00 pm, with inmates from Block A attending, then the second service was at 8:00 pm for Block B inmates.
Both services were fully attended, each time filled with men, standing room only. It was also interesting to find out that the men cannot freely come to the services anytime any of them desire to, but first have to sign up once for permission and then they are on the chapel list and can go anytime. So every inmate who attends has made a personal choice and effort to be given the opportunity to be in the services.
From the very first minutes of being there, as the men began to file in, my heart was moved and my emotions stirred. Black men, hispanics, whites, old, young, middle-age, all kinds, began to come by and speak to me and welcome me. It was obvious that many of them knew Christ. I saw quite a number of men who you would never want to meet up with them in any way in their former life. But when they approached me to welcome me, it is no exaggeration to say that 95% of them evidenced true humility, graciousness, joy, kindness, and thankfulness for us coming.
When we began to sing, from the first song, the Spirit of God settled upon the time and we sensed it was a special moment. I saw men with tears running down their cheeks, singing joyfully, "How great is our God--sing with me, how great is our God--how great, how great, is our God". We sang choruses and hymns, and almost every man in the service was singing fervently and with what appeared to be reality.
I had learned that God has been at work in this prison in recent years in a significant way, with a number of inmates having been converted. Former murderers and gang leaders are now real students of the Word and lead Bible studies in the prison. It was very moving to speak to brothers in Christ there who are in prison for life and yet are free men in Christ; they know He has set them free. Some of them are even looked to by other inmates as being real pastors, though the prison or the chapel does not recognize any such designation. But it is still happening anyway.
I found my heart very moved as we went through the time of singing, and felt the Lord's presence very near; I knew He was working and I sensed He wanted to really speak to these men. As I rose to speak in each service, I felt right from the beginning that God was going to give great help in opening the Word. And He did.
Both messages were on Ps. 107: 4 - 43 -- Grace for the Mess I'm In.
There are four groups in Psalm 107 who find themselves in a mess and have no hope unless they are delivered by God.
1. Wanderers - vss. 4-9
Many are wandering in life and cannot find their way at all; but these 'wanderers' finally in desperation cried out to the Lord and he delivered them; what do wanderers need? they need to be led out of their wanderings; that is what God did for them (see. vs. 7).
2. Those in darkness - vss. 5-16
Some are not wandering, but are sitting in darkness as prisoners in affliction; in their distress, they also cry out to God and he delivers them as well; what do those sitting in darkness need? They need to be brought out of darkness, and that is what God does for them (see. vs. 14).
3. Fools- vss. 17-22
Some are only described as fools, because that is the only thing that explains their life and condition; they are suffering affliction as a result of their foolish sinful ways; they also cry out to God in their distress and he delivers them also; what do they need? Healing and powerful deliverance. (see. vs. 20)
4. Businessmen in trouble- vss. 23-30
The fourth group are not wanderers, or in darkness, or fools, but are businessmen who are in real trouble through their business. They are doing business in ships on the sea and now storms are about to wipe them out; they also in their distress cry out to the Lord and he delivers them as well; what do these men need? They need the storm calmed and brought safely to land, and that is what God does for them. (see. vs. 29-30)
Everyone who sincerely cried out to God were helped and delivered; God also tailor-made his grace to fit the need for each one--the wanderer is led, those in darkness are led out of darkness, fools are delivered, and those businessmen in the storm in their work see their storm calmed and they are brought to their desired haven. Tailor-made grace for each situation.
Then vss. 33-42 show that it is all by the sovereign, free, and unaided power of God; God does it all.
David then closes the Psalm in vs. 43 by saying that anyone who is wise ought to pay close attention to all these things and should consider that it is all an evidence of the steadfast love of God.
Words can't convey at times what impact the preached word has on those who are hearing it. It was not an ordinary time, but God was working and speaking to many. All I can say is that it is clear that God is really at work at the Bowling Green state prison; please pray for the inmates there and pray for the good chaplain who leads the work and for the dear and faithful brothers who go weekly, especially Larry Hinds from Grace Covenant Baptist Church in Hannibal, as he is one of the main leaders who goes to the prison to preach every Wednesday night.
I hope the Lord gives me the blessed privilege of going back to Bowling Green. The kingdom of God is mightily at work in that prison among the prisoners who are coming to be the Lord's free men.
- Mack Tomlinson