A couple of years ago, Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative Member of Parliament in the UK spoke at “Socrates in the City” in New York City. He became Minister of State for Defence Procurement under Prime Minister John Major, but was unfortunately convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months in the Belmarsh prison.
Before entering prison a well-wisher slipped a small book, Praying the Psalms, into his pocket. The first evening, in severe agony he opened the book on June 8 (the date of his imprisonment) and read the Psalm of the day, Ps. 130. With the Psalmist he exclaimed:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (verses 1-2)
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (verses 5-6)
He read the psalm over and over and allowed verses 7 and 8 to restore his hope:
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (ESV Translation)
The Psalm made such an impression on Jonathan that he often talked about it in prison. The months passed and as the date of his release drew closer, the prison chaplain invited him to give a talk on his last Sunday evening in prison. Notice boards were put up all over the prison, leading to quite an enlarged congregation. Suddenly, total silence fell on the noisy congregation, as “big face” entered. He was the most dangerous and feared inmate, the executioner of his gang before he was captured.
Jonathan read Psalm 130 and talked about God’s unfailing love and full redemption. Big Face was visibly moved as tears filled his eyes. After the service, he walked up to Jonathan and mentioned to him that the passage he read spoke to him hard. He invited Jonathan to come to his cell. He would invite his best mates, because they needed this message. He added that Jonathan could also bring his best mates, so that they all could feel at home.
Jonathan went to Big Face’s cell and spoke to the roughest inmates of Belmarsh prison. He talked about full redemption, God’s gift of mercy, peace, and grace. Nobody is beneath the reach of God’s grace; nobody can earn it, but people can put themselves in a position to receive it. These hardened criminals accepted the gospel message.
As I listened to Jonathan Aitken’s experience, I thought of Paul’s description of the gospel as the dynamis, power, of God. In Ephesians 1:19-20 Paul prayed that the believers would understand “the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe in him.” Paul then observed that this power “is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.”
Have you experienced this “incredible greatness of God’s power”? Please share with us your experience!