Praying From Prison
I used to share an acronym in New Testament class so students could remember Paul’s four prison letters: ECPP, representing Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. One day Amanda spoke up: “Every cool preacher preaches.” Forever after we used her nonsense phrase to remember the four letters.
However, prison is certainly not a cool place.
Just after we moved to Judson College in 1998 my long-time friend Eddie Smith called to tell me he’d been named chaplain at the Bibb County Correctional Facility in nearby Brent. Chaplain Smith gave me numerous invitations to teach and preach at BCCF. And I met Bob Hall at the prison who, at the time, directed the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Birmingham extension. Through Bob, I got to teach a bit for the extension, and got an invitation to do a week-long intensive study in oral communications twice at the Philipps State Prison in Buford, Georgia, where the NOBTS Atlanta extension has an associates degree program.
Since BCCF is a dormitory prison, Philipps was my first experience at a cellblock facility. My classroom was in the gym, but a kindly correctional officer allowed me to visit a cellblock. The two day rooms looked good, but the tiny, closet-sized cells gave me a claustrophobic shudder, especially when I saw the two and one-half inch steel doors.
The church traditionally teaches that the four prison letters were written in Rome. The late Dr. Dale Moody argued for their being written in Caesarea where Paul was for two years in the last chapters of the book of Acts. From Caesarea to Colossae was about 1,000 miles. From Rome to Colossae was about 1,300 miles.
We’ve all been in worship services in which the minister asked us to take a moment to pray for those sitting next to us. We can understand and visualize this. But what about praying for someone more than 1,000 miles away as Paul assured the Colossians he was doing for them?
Modern satellite technology helps us grasp this concept. A ground signal is sent skyward and received by an orbiting satellite. Then the signal is sent to a downlink receiver across the planet with no loss of signal, unlike the old radio and tv towers we used to use.
In prayer, we ask the Heavenly Father for his intervention in the lives of others. Thus we pray to the one who “sits on the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). He is above all his creation and watches over it. There is no distance in prayer since we can, and should, ask him to work in the lives of people who live in distant lands.
ECPP can remind us that “every committed person prays.”