Gather | Devotion #5: Why do we Gather?
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director
I spend much of my time in prison. Yes, it is part of my job, but it is also a passion for me. The knowledge that less than 1% of the population of our country get to go where our teams are blessed to be able to go makes me stand in awe of how God is using us. It is humbling, to say the least.
Recently, we went to a facility in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We visited three different facilities in three days, and played six softball games with inmates, after which we had an opportunity to interact and pray with the men in these facilities. Our team had the opportunity to pray with hundreds of men that needed encouragement, and in some cases wanted someone to show them how to “throw their life to God!” It was awesome watching God bless the efforts and sacrifice of time by our team.
Many times I stand back and watch our team in action to make sure that they are not clumping up too much, or going outside of the boundaries that the staff has set up for us to work. I happened to notice a very tall man standing not too far from me also watching what was happening in the yard. I 100% believe God was speaking to me to go talk to him. I have had this happen a number of times and know now that the best thing to do is just to go.
I walked up to him and asked him his name. He hesitated, looked me in the eye as to say “what do you want,” and then told me his name was Eric. I asked him where he was from, and he told me, Grand Blanc! I told him we were practically neighbors since I was from Goodrich; we hit it off immediately.
When I asked him if there was anything I could pray about with him, he shared that he had just started going back to gatherings in prison after growing up in the Church. His question and prayer request caught me off guard and really made me think. He asked, “What is a service (gathering) supposed to look like?” His observations when growing up was that it seemed to be a fashion show. Small groups of people were seeming to be crushing their Christian walk, but knowing them outside of the gathering, he did not see consistency. In prison, he saw the same inconsistencies, but also saw many men “going crazy” during worship, but they were some of the “darkest” individuals that he knew. So, my concern was I only had ten minutes for the Holy Spirit to formulate a response to his broad sweeping question.
In my answer, I remember telling him some integral parts of a gathering. I told him my analogy of a gathering is it is like being in the military and going back to the fort or base. Why does someone in battle go back to their base? They return for reassurance that they are not on the battle lines by themselves, for first aid if they are wounded, for additional direction or instruction, to train and sharpen their skills, to celebrate their victories, or how to not repeat a defeat. It is a time to learn the importance of working together; they can achieve much more than being out there all alone. All this happens at the fortress for one reason. It is to prepare the troops to go back out to battle.
In our gatherings, we should be celebrating our victories. It is the things we are able to do, people we are able to reach, and lives we are able to touch. None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We should be surrendering our victories back at the feet of God in genuine worshipfulness and thankfulness. In 2 Corinthians 13:11-12, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This speaks to us being able to identify the wounded, lift one another up, and agree on a common cause. This working together and greeting one another would be a way to salute one another. Acknowledge the fact that you recognize they have been in battle. Receive instruction and encouragement, so as to be ready to get back to the battle.
The most effective soldier is not necessarily the one with the most elaborate uniform, or the one sharing all of his accomplishments so that everyone notices him. The most effective soldier is the one who realizes his purpose, his call to action, and then goes out and performs his duty to the best of his ability. It is the one who is putting himself in harm’s way for the cause of his Commander. The goal is to hear, “Well done good and faithful soldier (servant).” He should then come back to base to encourage others to do the same.
When we gather, we need to remember what is important. Things like worship, encouragement, instruction, comradery, and then returning to the fight. We need to remember those who have stopped showing up at gatherings. They may need our assistance to come back for all that is important in the elements of the gathering. We need to remember we are meant to bring in the wounded. Leave no man (or woman) behind should be our motto.
After giving Eric my answer, he looked and me and thanked me. I did not think it was anything profound, but evidently, it was what he needed to hear. When we prayed together, I made sure to thank God for the answer I gave, because in my own intellect, I would have no idea what Eric needed to hear. You see, he was one of the wounded. The Holy Spirit gave him the first aid he needed. I was encouraged as the Holy Spirit used me as a first responder for Eric. Now we are both better equipped to go back into battle.
I like to close my emails many times with a specific phrase as encouragement and seems appropriate in this context: Let’s return to the battle!