The Gift of Grace | Devotion #2: Cowboy
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director
Growing up, my siblings and I always dreaded family dinner. It was not because my mom was a horrible cook (quite the contrary), but because my dad would often assign one of us to say “grace.” I did not really enjoy praying out loud, because I was unsure of the correct vernacular, and was afraid of saying something wrong. So I guess you can say that in experiencing what I thought grace was, I was afraid I was not going to experience what grace truly is! By definition, it is underserved, or unmerited favor (or forgiveness). This “favor” was demonstrated to us by God sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for us to have a restored relationship with God. It was not until many years later that I started to understand what grace truly is, and how much I have already been shown.
In our ministry, I am afforded the privilege to visit a large number of correctional facilities. As a result, I meet a large number of people who have committed heinous crimes. I never ask what someone has done. I do not want my human level of discernment and sense of justice to influence or cause hesitation in letting the Holy Spirit work through me. For me to think I can justly decide who deserves grace and who does not, diminishes what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
Three years ago, I went into Noble Correctional as a volunteer. It was an awesome setting, as it has a huge grassy hill that the inmates sit on, listen to the band, laugh at the “magician” Rodney, and then hear the Gospel presented to them as the only thing that can invoke “real” change in their lives. Hundreds of men came down to receive a book, and have someone pray with them. I prayed with many men, but when the crowd started to thin, I noticed a man standing off by himself. I had one book left in my hand, so I figured it was for him. As I introduced myself, he told me he went by the name Cowboy. He was reluctant to pray with me about anything. I told him no matter what he had done, God would forgive him even though, just like me, he did not deserve it. He looked at me with a puzzled look, then let me pray for his family and a case he had pending, and then he left.
A year later, we took a basketball team to Noble. As I was running around doing the things I have to do for us to run our program, I heard someone hollering my name repeatedly. I thought it was someone on our team, but when I looked in the direction it was coming from, it was Cowboy! I ran over to him, hugged him, and listened to him share how his life had changed. What I did not know is that Cowboy was serving a life sentence. The case he had pending that I had prayed with him about had a positive result, and now he had a date for his release. He said he felt like God had forgiven him, showed him grace, and now he wants to live for Him. He had accepted Jesus Christ three weeks before we had gotten there, saw the flyer that we were coming, and could not wait to tell me that all of that started from the time he and I had prayed together a year prior.
I read somewhere of a great way to remember what grace is, to think of it as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! Titus 2:11-14 puts it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
When I was growing up, I thought grace was a verb. Something we did. What Cowboy and I have found out for ourselves is that grace is actually a noun. It is something we receive. It is a true unperishable gift from God, wrapped in the unblemished package of His son, Jesus Christ, and His sacrificial work on the cross. It is undeserved forgiveness from God that is truly amazing.
Every year for three years now, when we go to Noble, Cowboy and I meet up, shed a few tears, and share stories of how God has worked in our lives and shown us unending grace. How about you? Have you experienced God’s endless grace?