I had the privilege to share a Bible lesson with a group of inmates the other day. My lesson was titled: “Love Is” and while I’ve been blessed to preach in the jail on a few different topics & stories from the Bible, forgiveness, Joseph’s dedication to God in hardship, Daniel’s self-discipline, and a handful of others, none of these lessons seemed to stir up as much feeling or conversation as the one on love.
The guys who come are a diverse group. From race to age the mix is wide, a 60-year-old African American man next to a 20-year-old white kid, next to a 30 something Mexican guy. All with different pasts but the same present.
The ages & races range and the group fluctuates from week to week. There are a few consistent attendees but with the nature of jail some guys are moved to different pods, some guys are only in for a week or two, so every week is largely a different crowd. Some guys are there to learn & worship, some are just there to get out of the pod for a while, and every once in a while there’s someone just to argue and disagree.
In general, they’re respectful, in part because I try and start each lesson letting them know they have my respect. That I don’t consider myself any better than them, and while I am there to share a lesson and “preach” per se, that I want to hear their thoughts, I want them to share their stories & feelings as well.
I’ve learned to tailor my expectations when preaching or leading and just be happy when there is any impact at all. Part of that is doing my duty to prepare for it, and the other part is I’m just the messenger planting the seed. It’s not my work or my words, it’s all from Him.
This attitude helps just makes things positive, if the guys listen and respond and hopefully take something from it then it is a good day. Even if it’s only one of them. Without this approach, I think the jail work, or really any work, could be discouraging. But it’s not, it’s a blessing to do it, and the lack of expectations on it means I walk away each time knowing there’s at least the hope God is working and that is a victory.
Without the expectations, I also leave knowing God is working on me. Sharing a lesson does just as much for the presenter, it always should. And in that not only do I learn and grow from the topic & study, but also from what they share and discuss as well. And with a lesson on love, they shared a lot, which in turn means we all learned & grew a lot.
We discussed Jesus’ love and the different types including agape love and what that really means, how God love’s us unconditionally. Within the discussion of what love is there was hurt & pain in a lot of the guys' experiences. Speaking about love can also bring up the absence of love. It’s this disparity, this juxtaposition that truly shows the difference between true, Godly love. Illustrated best in 1st Corinthians 13.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is long-suffering. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
These words aren’t new to me, I’ve heard them many a time before from the famed “love” passage of the Bible. But they do hit home. Do mean more now than I ever thought they could.
You see love is special, and special love, I believe, is more unique than anything else. God’s love for us is special and I fully believe He plants that special love inside of us for someone. Love that is not just the strongest feeling you’ve ever known, the deepest emotion you could ever imagine, but also the actionable verb of love that is the embodiment of Corinthians 13.
You see, true love is a light that will never go out. It’s a choice every single day, but it’s a choice that you can’t help but make & could never not. Its actions of great grandeur & smallest detail. It’s a feeling so down in the depths of your heart that it’s the foundation of all that you feel. It’s a thought and a whisper and a joy running constantly through your mind. It’s forgiveness when it isn’t even asked for. It’s thinking the best of someone from the start & giving them the benefit without any doubt. It’s patience in the hardest moments and the easiest. Its effort & grace & belief & faith.
It’s love. That’s what it is.
& love is more than you ever believed it could be.