Johnny Cash And The Captive Audience
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Hebrews 13:3 (NIV UK)
I want to tell you about a concert Johnny Cash gave in 1969. It was like any other even 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 moralise 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. And finally, after all that, he unpacked what the Gospel had done for him. As far as Cash was concerned, he was living that verse in Hebrews quoted above.
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.
Merciful Father, it is always so easy to look at others and hold them as less than ourselves. Yet we are all sinners before you, in need of the sacrifice of your Son. It’s also so easy to forget those out of our immediate sight. Help us to remember and to empathise with those less fortunate then ourselves, because that’s what Jesus Christ did and does for us.
Study by Joseph Tkach
About the Author:
Joseph Tkach is the President of Grace Communion International (the Denominational name of The Worldwide Church of God UK), and resides in California, USA. You are welcome to attend one of our local Church congregations located throughout the UK and Ireland. For details of your nearest local congregation, check on our website, www.gracecom.org.uk under the ‘Churches’ tab, or ring +44 (0)1858 437099.