What is the most honest worship service you ever attended? For me, it was while I was interning with a prison ministry at a maximum security prison. We regularly led Bible studies for a small group of inmates.
I will never forget one convicted bank robber, Shobe Streets. He was known as the “Fur-coat Bandit” in New York. He always wore a fur coat to his heists. That is until he was caught. Shobe had the most worn out Bible I had ever seen. No pastor ever had a Bible like his. The edges of the pages were worn and blackened from his constant thumbing through the Bible. He knew the word and he could quote passages at length.
Shobe became a Christian in prison. He helped us, along with a few other prisoners, work on the inside to promote a chapel service for the prison. Those of us working with the ministry from the outside began to pray for revival in the prison and make plans for a large chapel service we would lead.
On the day of the service, several hundred inmates filled the prison’s gymnasium bleachers. I found it interesting that everyone was dressed alike, except for those of us from the outside.
I was struck in my soul about how this service was different than any religious service I ever attended. Outside of prisons where we worship as free people, we all dress up and dress differently. God forbid that two ladies would catch each other wearing the same dress.
The danger of our freedom is that we have the liberty to be fake and dishonest. We put on plastic smiles. We ask each other, how are you doing? We flippantly respond that we are “Fine! Just fine” no matter how rough our day had progressed.
There was something else different about the chapel service in a maximum security prison besides everyone being dressed alike. It has to have been the most honest worship service I have ever attended.
Every one of the inmates were murderers, gang members, thieves, and drug dealers. Most of them knew what the others were in for. There was no hiding out. No plastic smiles. No ‘holier than thou’ judgements.
It reminds me of the two men Jesus told about who went to the temple to pray. One, a pharisee, was praying about himself, even bragging in his prayer. He compared himself to a man who was on his knees near him and actually said, “I am thankful I am not like this guy.”
The prayer of the man who was humbled before God was simply this, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Jesus’ conclusion was the one asking for mercy was the one who went home from the temple justified before God.
I think of those prisoners, those who humbly asked for mercy and willingly accepted it from God. Those were the ones who went back to the cell blocks that night more justified before God than any of us free people from the outside as we returned home that evening.
God is looking for a certain kind of worshipper. Someone who doesn’t look at the outward appearance. Someone who is comfortable with knowing that each worshipper is in need of His grace, including himself. How honest are your Bible studies, worship services, private and family prayer times? Do they provide a time and place to be honest with each other and God?
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”John 4:23