On the first Saturday of every month I am involved with ministry at Sampson Correctional. During the Worship Service the men will give personal testimonies and specific prayer requests. The prayer requests are ongoing because these men have hope in a faithful God. Now, these are men that have been through some trying times and know that their blessings will come through their praise. In other words, they know how to give God the Praise and Glory that He alone is worthy of.
For quite some time, there has been one inmate with the same request month after month. He wanted to be promoted to “honor grade.” He was beginning to get discouraged because things were not happening in his time. And it had been years since he had been trying to receive “honor grade.”
With tears in his eyes and a solemn expression on his face, he would say every time we had Worship Service, “it doesn’t seem as though I will ever receive ‘honor grade.’” I would always say to him to hold on because help is on the way. I would encourage him to seek God daily and fast, giving his request to God, and to keep his spirits up and stay encouraged. Opposition will drive us to greater dependency on the Lord and to greater determination to do what the Lord has called us to do.
Sampson Correctional is a medium/minimum security prison for adult males. Inmates are supervised 24/7 with controlled movements. They are serving time in a lower security facility for good behavior. In this facility strict rules of conduct are followed and loss of privileges or isolation. By the inmate praying to be moved to an honor camp, he will have more freedom than at the medium facility where he is.
Those that are productive, haven’t been in trouble may receive honor grade after a period of time. At the medium/maximum facility in Clinton the inmates wear green, and at the “honor grade” facility, the inmates wear green clothes. Honor grade means being bumped up to a minimum security facility. Honor grade is supposed to be a reward, or a promotion to inmates who have been in prison in higher security levels. The higher the security, the less the privileges and more restricted the movement. The lesser the security, the more movement you are allowed on the prison grounds.
This is key because for any person who has been incarcerated for a period of time, the privileges you get can mean everything to you. Seeing others make “honor grade” and you don’t makes you discouraged and depressed. At Sampson Correctional they get adjusted to society by being placed in a communal living-dorm, meaning no privacy. No privacy unless you lay on your bunk and put a jacket over your head to whisper a prayer. You have more freedom in minimum security. The benefits are greater. For those that the prison deems “worthy’ to be in minimum custody and bumped to “honor grade,” their most prized benefit is work release. This means a real job with real money. If someone has been in prison for any length of time, they are going to need money once they are released to start their life over again.
On Saturday, July 1, as Mr. Ezzell and I were preparing for Worship Service, the men housed at Sampson Correctional began to enter the Chapel. I noticed the inmate that had given the same prayer request and felt down, had the biggest smile on his face. He looked at me and said, “Ms. Milley, I have some good news.” I did not know what his news was but I said, “You made honor grade!” He replied by saying, “Yes” as he laughed and gave God the praise for answered prayers. This man kept saying, “He may not come when you want him but He’s always right on time! He is indeed an on time God!”
The inmate also mentioned that he had some friends that had been praying for him and they had mentioned the prayers of Nehemiah to him. Nehemiah’s prayers arose from the heart, and he knew he could bring God into all avenues of his life and activities. His prayer revealed an underlying dependence of God. A reflection on the prayer life of Nehemiah offers a precious confirmation that God not only hears but answers prayer in His own perfect way and time. Nehemiah encourages us to engage regularly in prayer and to live a life of constant dependency on God. John Newton once said, “Beyond our utmost wants, His love and power can bless: To praying souls He always grants, More than they can express.”
In Nehemiah 1:4; “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” I know that this inmate felt this way when he first heard that he did not receive “honor grade.” Just as Nehemiah did, this inmate also prayed pouring his heart out to God and they both looked for ways to improve the situation. Nehemiah’s heart had to be prepared so that God would have room to work, and Nehemiah put the expected results in God’s hands. Nehemiah 2:4; “Then the king said to me, “What do you request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.”
This was a quick prayer that Nehemiah prayed between the king’s question and his own answer is often referred to as the “arrow prayer” because it was direct and to the point. We read that Nehemiah prayed spontaneously (Nehemiah 2:4; 4:4-5, 9; 19; 6:14; 13:14, 22,29). Nehemiah prayed at any time, even while talking with others. He knew that God is always in charge, is always present, and hears and answers every prayer. Nehemiah could confidently pray throughout the day because he had established an intimate relationship with God during these times of extended prayer. Giving God credit for what happens before it happens keeps us from taking more credit than we should.
Also in Nehemiah 4:6, Nehemiah did not give up or lose faith. From the prayers of Nehemiah we learn in Nehemiah 1: 5-11 that God is great and awesome and He cares to keep His promises to us! God keeps covenant with those who love Him and obey His commands. God wants us to confess our sins before we even petition for God’s working on our behalf. That God would remember His words. In our prayers, we refer to the Word, God will remember them and will honor them.
Nehemiah called God to remember. That God is a forgiving God, that if we would return to Him and obey Him, He would once again move to restore us. That God would give ear to the prayer of all those who delight in revering His name. That God would like us to talk to Him first before we act. We must talk to God first about His intention. We should always involve God in our affairs, and not, we just do our thing and when we get into trouble, we run to God for help; not that we should not do that, run to God for help, if we indeed. If we get into trouble it is better to get help from God still — late better than not! But it is honoring God to talk to Him first, before we proceed. In Nehemiah 5: 19(a), he is asking the Lord to remember him with favor. Also in Nehemiah 13: 14(a), he asks the Lord to remember him. Nehemiah 13:22, Nehemiah 13: 22(a and c), he is asking God to remember him and show mercy to him according to God’s great love. Then in Nehemiah 13: 31 Nehemiah asks that God will remember him with favor.
God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through to victory! Hallelujah!
Milley Brewington is a guest columnist for The Sampson Independent.