Not Behind Bars: David

  • Real lives at CCD

“I was in prison today,” is something David often says. We chuckle when he does because it sounds like he was serving time when he was there for a totally different reason: as a chaplain. After being a pastor for over forty years, David ‘retired’ and became a prison chaplain, but many years before, he might have been in prison on the other side of the bars.

David grew up in a home that loved the Lord. He went to church every Sunday. As a child, he became intensely afraid to die, but the worry didn’t last. He quickly forgot his concerns and lived only for himself. By the age of twelve he was rebelling from his upbringing, his parents, and the Lord they had taught him to love. Everything revolved around what HE wanted to do. He hated having to attend church on Sunday when he could have been doing other things like fishing or getting work. His attitude and life continued in a downward plunge into stealing, drunkenness, filthy language, and many other wrong doings. He brought much shame to his family and had brushes with the police. On one such occasion, a friend of the family who was a police officer said: “How can a yob like you come from such a good family as yours?!” He would have another encounter with the same officer later.

At 17, he wasn’t able to study what he wanted to at school, so he left. He wanted to do whatever HE pleased. Kindly, his dad helped him get a job. It was his father’s good reputation that earned him the position, but David behaved so badly that a year later he was told to shape up or leave the company. Never one to change to please anyone, David walked out.

By that time, one of his brothers had joined the police force, so David did, too. He became a police cadet on his 18th birthday. He was a policeman by day and ‘skin head’ by night.

During these years, David’s mum made a commitment with a friend. They decided to pray for him every day. They did so for 18 months straight. Every day. David didn’t know this until many years later.

After a time, David was moved to a different police station. One day, he was sitting in the station, feet on the desk, hat pushed back askew, with a cigarette in his mouth. At that moment, his family friend the police officer walked in.

“What are you doing here?!” his friend asked in surprise.

“I’m a copper now!” he cockily announced. His friend followed by inviting David to a youth meeting at his church that weekend. Self-sure, David announced that he could “handle that.” And he went.

At the youth meeting, the young people sang, had a quiz, talked, and so on. David found out that there was another meeting the next evening. When he asked his friend if he could come, the friend said he should come the next week instead. At that, the friend’s wife insisted David COULD come if he wanted. The man and his wife went back and forth while David insisted that he could “handle it” until the friend agreed!

The next evening, a man spoke to the young people about a difficult topic but as David listened to the preaching, he felt like he had been set up. It was as if the speaker could read his mind. He was struck deeply with the knowledge that “God is real!” The realisation was so profound, his body shook. Then he also realised: “I am in deep trouble here. I’m doomed. I’m going to stand in front of God one day.” The fear of death he had felt so keenly as a child returned. Fear of death, and the judgement and Hell that followed.

The speaker spoke about being chosen by God. David had always thought that God was just waiting around for him to be ready, that he could come to God whenever he felt like it. “If God doesn’t choose me, I’m lost,” he realised. But the speaker went on to explain that people shouldn’t worry if they were chosen or not chosen, but that they should just come to Christ. David knew he needed to come to Christ but was now convinced that God wouldn’t have him! Again, the answer came from the teacher and from the Bible. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6v37 NIVUK)

That part of the meeting drew to a close and David knew he needed to sort through his troubled thoughts. While the others in the room prayed for the next part of their meeting, he half-listened. He was wrestling with his own thoughts and talking to God about them. He knew he needed to trust God and wanted to but didn’t know WHAT trusting God meant. Helpless, he asked God to help him to believe. At that moment, he knew. He knew that God had heard him, had mercy on him, had forgiven all his wrong doings. Every wrong he had ever done was placed on God’s Son Jesus instead of David. God had rescued him from his life of ruin and put him on a new way, the one that follows Jesus.

The day after David’s life was made new in Christ, it was a Sunday. He got up, dressed smartly, found his Bible, and came downstairs for church. His mum looked at him and said: “It’s wonderful being a Christian, isn’t it?”

In the many years since then, David has never ‘looked back’. Whenever he reflects on God changing his heart, there are some regrets, though. Deep regrets. He knows he brought much shame to himself and his family, and that he hurt others with what he did. As he thinks back, though, he is amazed that God ever bothered to rescue a ‘yob’ like him.

– by E.M. Harding