Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
A lady named Joanna Flanders-Thomas was determined to make a difference and help others. Quite a noble ideal. But she was no ordinary woman. She lived and grew up in South Africa, of mixed race—part black, part white—known as a coloured person. Not a very nice description, but if you know the history of South Africa, you would know why.
As a student she strongly pushed for an end to apartheid and believed God was leading her in this troubled country. She started praying the Lord’s Prayer—especially the verses “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”. She realised It was not always true—God’s will was not being done in many places. She wanted to find a solution. One day she realised the most violent prison in South Africa, the Pollsmoor maximum security prison, was just a few minutes from her home. It had a brutal history—279 acts of violence in one year; severely crowded. Nelson Mandela spent a period of time locked up in this jail.
But Joanna made a promise to visit the prison each day. She felt it wasn’t right to treat men like this. She brought a simple message of forgiveness and reconciliation, and slowly she won inmates’ respect and started Bible study groups. The crime rate dropped to two per year. Her results were so impressive that the BBC sent a camera crew from London to produce two documentaries. She was asked what brought about the change? Very simply Joanna said, “God was already present in Pollsmoor prison. I just had to make Him visible”.
I thought this is a remarkable story. God is everywhere—even in the worst prison. It just needs someone with a heart of compassion to make him known.
The simple truth is this: God is already present, even in the most unexpected places. The word ‘omnipresent’ is sometimes used in religious books—and it’s a good word to describe God, who is present everywhere at all times with no exceptions. There is no place you can be that God is not also there. Even in a crowded prison cell. He is always everywhere in all places and at all times. He is omnipresent.
Our Mighty and Merciful God
Broadcaster and writer Sheridan Voysey tells the story of Ali who he met at a Friday-night Bible class. Ali loved visiting antique shops. One day while browsing one, she came across a beautiful old Singer-style sewing machine—the manual kind, mounted on a table with a foot pedal. When she saw it she whispered a simple prayer: “God, I’d love something like that for my place.” Ali wasn’t praying for food, safety, or even divine forgiveness. Her request was a child-like wish to a God she was just becoming acquainted with.
A couple of days later, Ali was walking out her front door on her way to work when she saw a pile of junk by the roadside. She stopped, stunned. There, in the rubbish. stood an old Singer-style sewing machine—the manual kind, mounted on a table with a foot pedal. On it hung a sign that said: ‘Perfect condition—please take’. That’s not just coincidence. God was there for her and supplied a lovely old sewing machine. God is not just interested in the big things of life. He knows about the smaller issues as well. It’s about finding the divine in everyday life. God cannot be separated.
I like Max Lucado’s comment about God not being contained:
Most people have small thoughts about God. In an effort to see God as our friend, we have lost his immensity. In our desire to understand him, we have sought to contain him. The God of the Bible cannot be contained. With a word he called Adam out of dust and Eve out of a bone. He consulted no committee. He sought no counsel. He has authority over the world and…He has authority over your world. He is never surprised. He has never, ever uttered the phrase, “How did that happen?”
God’s goodness is a major headline in the Bible. If He were only mighty, we would salute Him. But since He is merciful and mighty, we can approach Him. If God is at once Father and Creator, holy—unlike us—and high above us, then we at any point are only a prayer away from help!
There are God-moments happening all the time, every day. But our problem is we’re too busy to hear or feel God with us. The 1993 movie Alive tells the harrowing 1972 true story of a Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow-swept Andes. They are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash. Two months after the crash 16 passengers are finally rescued. One of the survivors had said, “I felt the presence of God”.
Even in the horror events like a plane crash, God’s presence can be felt. He is with us—no matter what happens.