I want to tell you about a woman I met a year ago during a Sunday morning visit to jail. “Savannah” stood out from the rest. Her hair was shaved on both sides and she had a pony tail that would have been crafted into a Mohawk had it not been against dress code. She had tattoos down one side of her neck, her arm, and on the top of her right hand. The tat on “Savannah’s” hand was a faded heart with a name scratched in the center. The name was so worn I could barely make it out. However, upon close examination it became clear the tattered letters in the center of her heart spelled JESUS. I must admit, it seemed out of place on the hand of the woman who wore it.
The prayer card “Savannah” left that Sunday began, “I have been running from the LORD since I was thirteen years old…” I was reminded of the Old Testament story of Jonah, who was a Hebrew prophet. He was sent by GOD to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh but tried to escape the divine mission. Jonah ended up on a ship headed away from the city he was directed. The LORD caused a great storm and Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale.
Similarly, “Savannah” heard The LORD’s call on her life, but chose to flee. She began running in the wrong direction which led straight into life’s storms. I guess you could say when “Savannah” landed in jail she, like Jonah, was in the “belly of a whale”.
In Jonah 2:1 the book refers to the fish as dag gadol, "great fish", in the masculine. However, in 2:2, it changes the gender to daga, meaning female fish. The verses therefore read: "And the LORD provided a great fish (dag gadol, masculine) for Jonah, and it swallowed him, and Jonah sat in the belly of the fish (still male) for three days and nights; then, from the belly of the (daga, female) fish, Jonah began to pray." The peculiarity of this change of gender led scholars to reason this means Jonah was comfortable in the roomy male fish, so he didn't pray, but GOD then transferred him to a smaller, female fish, in which the prophet was uncomfortable, so that he prayed.
As I assess “Savannah’s” situation I can definitely see GOD at work. “Savannah’s” initial time away from the FATHER was by world standards not that intolerable. As a matter of fact, in the beginning separation from the FATHER was exciting, maybe even dare I say fun. Isn't that how it works? Satan is strategic. He lures us away by offering what looks good.
1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. “Savannah” goes from content to cursed before she knows it. Yet, Genesis 50:19-20 tells us, “...Don’t be afraid...You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives…” In accordance with HIS plan, the FATHER used “Savannah’s” imprisonment to draw her back to HIM. Her fish got smaller.
I recently read an article posing the question why is Good Friday good? Why is Jesus’s suffering and willingness to die on the cross considered good. The answer given was, “it is entirely appropriate because as bad as it was it marked the dramatic culmination of GOD’s plan to save HIS people from their sin”. In order for that to have meaning for “Savannah”/us, we have to understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people. As a result of “Savannah’s” jail time she was forced to look at where her distance from GOD had taken her.
Although, “Savannah” was literally behind bars, I am certain more than a few can relate to being in bondage. Tied up by sin and doubt. I would venture to say, “Savannah’s” inadequacies were somehow related to her decision to fall away from the LORD. I have heard the voices myself such as; “you will never be enough!”, “why would GOD want someone like you?”, “you are the sum total of your poor choices”...yet Mark 2:17 reads When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners. HIS very WORD says HE has come to call the broken.
“Savannah” stayed in jail about 2 months and eventually bonded out. Although she was still facing charges she started hearing GOD call her again. Over the last year, I have witnessed the LORD pursuing “Savannah”. HE has been patient while the chasm narrows. HE has been gentle as “Savannah” learns to trust the ONE at the center of her delicate heart. I learned most often the hard exterior is just a guard of what's on the inside. “Savannah” has countless wounds and scars from a rocky start in life. She was in and out of foster care beginning at age five. By age eleven “Savannah” had been introduced to cocaine, and by twelve she had dabbled in prostitution. She had been used and abused, and passed around and cast off more times than she could recall. Trust was definitely an issue for “Savannah”....but what a sweet and merciful GOD we serve. 1 John 4:8, tells us, “...GOD is love” and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says “Love is patient, love is kind...it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
A few weeks ago I found myself in a small room adjacent to the courtroom with “Savannah” and her appointed attorney. He suggested she take a plea of fifteen years as opposed to the maximum of twenty five for the crime she was charged. I watched in agony as she pleaded with him to speak with an investigator involved with her case. “Savannah” had been promised a lesser charge if she cooperated with the investigation. The attorney was obviously ready to wrap up his time with “Savannah”. Frustrated, by her constant request he harshly said to her, “The investigator probably doesn't even remember your name. You've got nothing! This plea is the best offer you are going to get!” “Savannah” calmly and assuredly replied, “I’ve got GOD”. The attorney retorted, “well then I suggest you start praying!” He left the room only to return moments later with a look of shock bringing the news. “Savannah” was given three years unadjudicated probation. Which means in three years if ”Savannah” pays her fines and does what she is supposed to her record will be wiped clean. No record of wrong. A new beginning!
The deceiver says to us, “I'm the best you've got! HE (GOD) doesn't even remember your name”! Contrarily GOD’s word says in Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart."
2 Corinthians 5:17 assured us…”that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
1 Peter 3:18 declared, “Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit.”
Bring your brokenness to the cross and nail it there. Let it be crucified once and for all so that you may rise up a new creation and live the life your HEAVENLY FATHER created you for!