My first night in jail, many years ago, I had to sleep on the cold concrete floor, deciding I’d rather use my blanket for a pillow, since I wasn’t given one.
My first experience with being locked up was sharing a two man cell with 5 other people for four days.
And as I lay there, freezing, aching, and worried to death, all I could ask myself was “What have I done?”
I knew in that moment that I had thrown away every blessing God had given me to choose my own selfish path, and I now had to pay for it.
We all hit that moment in our lives, at least once.
Maybe you thought you were safe to drive, but instead caught a DUI.
Maybe you cheated on your wife, and she found out.
Maybe you overdosed and nearly died.
Maybe you stole money and it got traced back to you.
Whatever the case, you made a selfish, stupid decision and now you will pay the price for it. And God could take the punishment away from you and make things easy, but he usually won’t, even if you have a repentant heart.
Why? Because God knows what it takes to change a person.
After those first few nights in jail, I was repentant. Truly repentant. And, in my fear, I convinced myself that God was going to let me off the hook. I thought they’d drop the charges, I thought the judge would throw out the case, I thought I’d get a warning, I thought I’d get a slap on the wrist. Even sitting in prison, I thought they’d let me out early, saying I learned my lesson.
But none of that ever happened.
And I know why now. I know that I HAD to go through that season of punishment, because it forced me to face my problem every day. To battle it every day. And I’d win some of those battles and I’d lose some of them too, but over time, I learned how to rely on God more.
I learned how to combat temptation. I learned how to find healthier ways to cope with stress. I learned how to be the person God wanted me to be.
It was a hard season in my life, but it was one that was necessary, because I’m a better person today for it. And if I never had to live with the consequences of my actions, I know I would still be slave to my addiction. Still making mistakes.
No one expects to get caught. If that were the case, we’d never sin. We think that we can get away with anything, and that only gets reinforced when we actually do seem to get away with it for a while.
But God knew we’d act this way. And He warned us:
For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
-Luke 8:17 NLT
And though I called it a warning, I actually see it more as a loving promise, being on the far side of failure. Because he’s not saying that he’s out to expose us, to ruin us, to embarrass us, or anything like that. He’s saying that he’s going to do whatever it takes to fix us, even if that means drastic measures.
Us Christians should always be striving to be more and more Christ-like, but we can’t do that when we are slave to habitual sin. So, God, who gives us chance after chance after chance, will sometimes give us what we deserve, to open our eyes.
We come to our senses. We see things clearly. We ask ourselves, “What have I done?” We suffer a little while. But we grow, we change, we become better.
I am so grateful for my time of punishment, for the consequences I’ve had to suffer, because I’m finally FREE! I’m ashamed of my past mistakes, but I’m proud to be where God has brought me since.
So, if you are still stuck in the consequences, or still stuck in your habitual sin, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone who desires to be who God’s wants them to be. And though the journey will not be an easy one, it’ll be worth it.
Matthew Coker is a Media Director at a church in his hometown, where he also is a leader at a Celebrate Recovery program. He’s a huge comic book nerd, Whovian, and Funko Pop Collector. Matthew and his wife live in New Mexico.