About Chaplain Downs

Pursued by Hope

by John Downs

Without Hope

At age 24, I stood in a courtroom facing my eighth felony charge. I stared at the floor as the judge recommended that I receive a 20-year prison sentence for forging thousands of prescriptions to obtain drugs. I had grown up in a home with alcoholic parents that was darkened by severe violence and horrific abuse. I started using inhalants when I was 10 years old, turned to alcohol at 12, began experimenting with LSD and other hallucinogens at 14, and was shooting heroin by 16. I had come to believe the lie that the only way of escape from my pain was the use of mind-altering substances. I truly “had no hope and was without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12).

I remember waking up in a hospital bed only to be told that I had been found with no pulse in the hospital parking lot where I had been dumped by “friends” after a heroin overdose. I re­call a shotgun going off so close to my head that it burned the side of my face and blew out my eardrum. One time when be­ing arrested and loaded into a police car, I still had a pistol hidden in my pants. I was so insane, confused, and angry that I could have easily taken the life of that police officer.

I stood before the judge as a desperate 24-year-old, over­whelmed by the consequences of my life choices. I felt com­pletely defeated by addiction, and the word “hope” had no meaning in my life. All of society’s efforts to reform me had failed. The countless secular treatment models and religious activities had not changed me, and I was out of options. I should have been long dead by then, given the many overdoses and near-death situations my heroin addiction had placed me in. But I was still alive—my life had been spared for a divine purpose. God had a plan to open my eyes to the only true Source of hope (Romans 5:2Psalm 42:5).

That day, I was court-ordered to a program with a Bible-based approach. If I did not complete two years, I would receive a twenty-year sentence. This program had been created by a jail-house preacher named Lester Roloff. He only took the worst cases, and I certainly qualified! He was filled by the love of God and believed that no one was beyond the grace of God. I was given my first copy of the Bible and taught the importance of reading and memorizing it. I came to realize I had a spiritual problem, not just a drug problem. Reading and understanding the Bible changed my life for time and eternity.

Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Jeremiah 31:3

The Beginning of Hope

I soon learned that the Bible is ultimately a book about salva­tion. I read about how my sin separated me from a relation­ship with God (Isaiah 59:2) and about how God had made one way to have a restored relationship with Him (I Timothy 2:5). I read about how God sent His Son Jesus to earth to pay the penalty for my sin that I deserved to pay (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus served my death sentence and restored my relationship with my Creator. This good news is what Scripture calls the Gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-4). I want you to understand how the Gos­pel has transformed my life! The Lord used the verse below to break me and bring me to repentance.

For godly sorrow worketh repentence to salvation…but the sorrow of the world worketh death. II Corinthians 7:10

I was brought to a “godly sorrow” when I realized how much God loved me and had pursued me through the wasted years. God shined the light of truth into my darkened soul and brought me to full repentance. God gave me a new heart and a new mind. That was the beginning of hope for me. It was not just my human decision. I was not changed by just saying a prayer, but by what God did in my heart. After many wasted years of searching, I finally found my hope in a Person, not a program. This was not turning over a new leaf, but receiving new life.

God ultimately put me back in the same jail where I was locked up, but now as one of the lead chaplains! I never want to forget what it was like to have no hope and no God. I be­lieve the primary reason that God allowed me to live through the many years of heroin addiction and crime was to one day bring me back to jail with the only message of hope.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appear­ing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13

Abiding in Hope

To abide means to remain, to dwell, or to continue. Abiding is the key to victory and peace.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. John 15:5

There is no pill, powder, or position that can give us peace. But there is a Person, and His name is Jesus! My “higher power” is the Highest Power—the Creator of the Universe.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. II Corinthians 5:17

My victory over addiction came from a good understanding of what the Bible has to say about God and His plan to rescue us from His wrath on our sin. The Bible is essential for victory (II Timothy 3:16-17). Make it your authority. Immerse yourself in it. Let God’s Word define your identity. Let God’s Word define your struggle. When Scripture defines a problem as sin, there is always a solution! Be willing to do things God’s way. Com­mit to His way of change. A worn-out Bible is a good sign of a brand-new life. Meditate on His Word. Memorize His Word. Pray His Word. Apply His Word. Share His Word.

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

Lust is attraction to anything more than God. Attractions can become addictions, and addictions reveal the idols of the heart. An idol is anything that we worship in the place of God, and we make decisions everyday about what to worship. The key to conquering addictive behavior is to walk in God’s Spirit every moment of every day. We are all vulnerable to false wor­ship, and I am so weak that I scare myself!

We cannot live the Christian life in our own strength. We need Jesus in our growth just as much as in our salvation. God wants us to focus on Him! Jesus is not only our example, but He is also our focus. He is our hope. When we keep our focus on Him, we will have hope!

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. Lamentations 3:24


Abiding in Hope

To abound in hope means to have hope that is constantly in­creasing and overflowing—to have hope in abundance.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Romans 15:13

God is an endless fountain of hope for those He has pursued and saved! It is humanly impossible to be found and freed by hope. It is humanly impossible to find the kind of joy and peace that can transform your attitudes and actions. It is hu­manly impossible to change from the inside out. But the God of hope sent His Son to this world to do the impossible on our behalf (Acts 16:31John 3:16).

When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus… said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:25-26

If you are struggling, please know that this is your time to turn to God. True hope from God can change any life and free you from any bondage. It is no accident you are reading this. These words were written for you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today. My life is proof that “WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!”


Transformed by Hope

Your eternal destination is secure! The question is not whether you can lose your salvation, but whether you were saved to begin with (John 10:28-30).

Your heart will become a battleground. Our problems in life come from within us—from our hearts. If you are born again (John 3), then God has done a work in your heart that will slowly begin to change the rest of you. A heart under God’s control will produce daily choices under God’s control (II Corinthians 7:10). You will face immense spiritual opposition, so welcome to the war!

You will experience trials. No matter what you are fac­ing today, you can have joy by focusing on eternal things rather than temporary things (Hebrews 4:15-16I Peter 5:6-11II Corinthians 4:16-18).

You will experience feelings of failure. The Christian journey is made of daily choices to obey even when you feel like a failure. God will never give up on those par­doned by Christ’s blood (James 4:7-10Micah 7:7-9).

You will find freedom. In Christ, there is freedom. God has provided all that you need to experience victory (II Peter 1:3-4Philippians 1:6I Corinthians 10:13).

You will have a new message! I am a walking testi­mony of the life-changing power of the Gospel. There is no greater privilege or responsibility than sharing hope from your broken life with other broken people. I would have never dreamed that my horrific past would become my greatest asset in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (I John 1:5).

You will have a new family. Fellowship together in Christ is a critical part of God’s plan for our spiritual health and growth. Church is not a building, program, or scheduled service. We are God’s church. My favorite church service is a concrete room packed wall-to-wall with broken people (Hebrews 10:25I John 1:7).

You will fulfill your purpose! Your greatest accom­plishment in life is to glorify God. This is the purpose for which you were created. He is worthy of our worship in every area of our lives—whether big or small (I Cor­inthians 10:31).


John serves full time in jails and prisons in Texas and speaks in churches and ministries across the nation.