God identifies with you. The Scripture speaks about taking up your cross and following Jesus - the cross is not just us identifying with Him, but Jesus identifying with us. When I was in prison for Bible smuggling, I felt so abandoned by God. In the Lord’s Prayer it says, ‘Who is in heaven…’, I argued, “You are in heaven, but I’m in a stinking filthy cell, don’t You understand?” Then God reminded me of the truth; He sent His Son to die a criminal’s death. Jesus understood my pain - He identified with my suffering.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
In 1972 I was arrested and imprisoned for Bible smuggling into Communist East Europe. I would be woken early by the guards in that Czechoslovak prison. In those hours before our breakfast of mouldy bread and a drug laced drink arrived, I would try and pray.
I remember one morning when I had been three months in that cell, I desperately cried out that I could not pray anymore because, I said, “O God, every time I pray, You say no! When I want the food parcels my family send, or a visit from my wife, or for me to be found not guilty in the court and be set free, always the answer is no! I don’t know how to pray anymore, everything I ask for, it’s no!” I sat there, not knowing what to do. “O God, if You don’t hear me, I’d rather die, because life has no purpose, no meaning if You don’t answer me.”
Return, O Lord, and rescue me. Save me because of Your unfailing love. For in death, who remembers You? Who can praise You from the grave? ...The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will answer my prayer. (Psalm 6:4-5, 9)
While I was still saying, “O God, I cannot pray anymore”, I remembered the words in the Bible (I had no Bible in the prison – it was forbidden) where Jesus said, “When you pray say…” – and I began hesitantly to say those words, ‘Our Father’ – but as I did I began to argue, I cannot say ‘our’, that’s plural – I’m alone in here, no family, no friends, no believers, how can I speak in the plural? I have to say MY Father. Suddenly I knew the reality of those words, He’s mine, He’s my Father!
Then I came to the next part, ‘Who is in heaven’. Then I argued, Yes, You are in heaven, but I’m in a stinking filthy cell, don’t You understand? Joy, happiness, glory – that’s in heaven. But I’m down here – and then I remembered the truth – You sent Your Son – Your only Son – and You sent Him down to this earth, He was in a prison cell like me. Yes, God was willing, not only to let His Son die, death is easy, but He was beaten and tortured – why – because God loved me! He allowed His Son to suffer – for me! How could I complain? And then I realised, God is not just in heaven; He’s here, in this prison cell with me! Suddenly the glory of that revelation flooded my soul. I began to understand who God is.
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yea, I will praise Him among the multitude. (Psalm 109:30, KJV)
Then came the next part, ‘Hallowed be Your Name’. I questioned, what does this really mean? Surely this is the moment when we must worship Him, and how can I worship God in this cell? My mouth was closed and I was trying to praise God through clenched teeth, because of my suffering and pain. Suddenly my heart opened and a miracle happened: it was as if heaven had opened, the cell was filled with a brilliant light, all the angels of heaven seemed to crowd into that cell, I began to praise and worship the Lord. I got to my feet, and I began to run around that cell singing, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, how great Thou art!” The glory of God filled my heart, changing me, the sadness and the pain were gone! I was locked in a prison cell, yet I was in the presence of God, experiencing the glory of God, something greater than I had ever known in a church – it was as if I was transported into heaven! I made so much noise, the guards came running to see what was happening – but the glory of God was so great, they did not even enter the cell. From that moment everything changed, God began to answer every prayer, I got food to eat, God showed me the day I would get out, (my birthday), and that I would be speaking in the biggest auditorium in Britain to 10,000 people, sharing the joy of the miracle of answered prayer.
‘How great Your love’ used by kind permission of www.vinesong.com