“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.” (Psalm 142:7)
David never spent one night in prison. He spent many days of his life in caves. But there were times that he felt incarcerated by God. Not as a criminal but he was confined in a place where he did not want to be restrained.
He says to God in the famous Psalm, “thou hast beset me behind and before and laid thine hand upon me.” (Ps 139:5). In front, in back, on top and below are God’s fingers, the bars that imprison me. The word “beset” means “to…closely surround, so that there is no way of escape. This is the idea here – that God was on every side of him; that he could not escape in any direction.” (Barnes). David was a glad prisoner to the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God (Psalm 139:6-12). I wonder why. How could he praise God for such times in solitary confinement?
I can identify with David at least in this matter. I am one of the King’s prisoners (Gen 39:20; Philemon 1,9). There is doubt about that now. This fact is both comforting and disturbing. It all depends on what I see happen outside of my cell: the good and the idiotic things those who a free engage in, especially those in ministry.
It is comforting because I have experienced God’s mercy before; he saved me, filled me with his Spirit and called me to preach, feeling his anointing and seeing his power. That is some comfort to my soul.
It also disturbing because I sit in a cell day after day watching those who freely minister the gospel in church, in the media and on the internet and I wonder what it is like to be free, really free to preach the gospel. It is like being exiled to a concrete island that is not on the map with a view of a raging dark ocean.
It seems to be a place where people look at me and sometimes visit me but either cannot or will not help me. God seems to have hindered them from doing so. I am not sure. Prison is a confusing place. I am in lock up and I do not know why. Talking about my innocence or what I did when I was free is awkward because people don’t believe me. People ask me what I want to do and prison is making me forget. I think I will remember when I am free (Gen. 42:9).
When John the Baptist was in prison he had heard of the works of Christ and needed reassurance the Christ was the Messiah. Sometimes in prison you need to have confirmation that he is really the Liberator (Matt 11: 1-6). The only thing I remember at times is the Lord. I have pictures of him in my cell and letters he has written to me. I wait for him to write again telling me he is about to release me so I can once again be surrounded by free men, the righteous who will surround me like a crown of liberty and the bountiful favor of God. But for now, like Simon Peter, I used to be able to move freely in every direction but now Another’s hand takes me where he wants to go (John 21:17-23).
Being in “soul prison” is revealed in Psalm 102. You feel your days are being burned up and your life is going up in smoke. You live off the scraps of others and are lonely even with family around you. It is like you are stuck with your binoculars sitting on the roof watching others that are laughing, enjoying life and their ministry. You see your shadow and it seems more real than your life that casts that shadow. You are like a blade of grass ready to be mown down by the kid the neighbors pay to cut the lawn. You lay down and your thoughts spill into your head and make you an insomniac and even when you sleep you get no rest. You feel weak and like you will die. People gossip about you and slander you (you are paranoid that they are). They look funny at you, wondering what you did to end up with your orange jump suit thinking that you are getting what you deserve and why you are not cleaning up trash by the highway.
It hurts most when others see that you are in pain and avoid you. Especially those who claim to have been incarcerated. They act like they never had a record but you know they did. Why won’t they admit it? The prison food is no better because you eat sorrow like old stew and drink the salt water of tears. People see you frustrated and tell you not to be and give unsolicited advice on how to be free or that you are impatient and need to wait on God. The worst is you wonder if God is angry with you and left you flat, you know the scripture that you can never be alienated from his love or severed from his presence, but soul prison makes you think that way. It tests the mettle of your faith and your desire for freedom.
God does not despise his prisoners (Ps 69:33). He hears their sighing and groaning (Ps 79:11; 102:20). Eventually, “bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:7). But for me I wait for his salvation. Deliver me, Oh Lord!