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I want to tell you about a concert Johnny Cash gave in 1969. It was like any other he’d participated in except for one major difference – this time he wasn’t playing in an auditorium filled with kids from the suburbs.
Instead, Cash and his band were locked deep inside the walls of San Quentin Prison, and the audience was made up of some pretty rough guys. But that didn’t stop Johnny from giving the performance of a lifetime. He sang hits like “Ring of Fire,” “A Boy Named Sue” and “Folsom Prison Blues” – riled up the guards, cussed with the prisoners and even shared the same bad-tasting water the inmates drank!
But near the end of the set, Johnny slowed everything down. He turned to the men and started talking about his faith. He didn’t quote Bible verses out of context or attempt to shame them into a corner, He didn’t moralize or give them a pep talk to hype them up with “optimism” – he just talked from the heart about how God was continuing to transform his life.
What I loved about this concert was the way that Johnny was able to minister to these inmates in a very specific way. He started by bringing them what they wanted to hear – hit songs played fast and loud. He connected with them, sharing his own struggles with drug abuse. Finally, after all that, he unpacked what the gospel had done for him. As far as Cash was concerned, he was living out this verse in Hebrews: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
Cash performed over 30 prison shows during his career. He felt a real connection with those who had lost their way. But like Christ, he never gave up on them. He always held out hope that God’s mercy was strong enough to break through the bondage that held them hostage. I hope that we can have a similar impact by living every second of our lives in complete participation with God.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.