If we went for a coffee today, I’d tell you about this book. It’s in pieces, the paperback binding fell apart as I was reading it.
A few weeks ago, I was in Millbrook, Alabama helping clean out and sort some of my grandparents affects after they passed last year. On Wednesday night, my son and I walked up to their home church, Victory Baptist Church in Millbrook. After the prayer meeting and Bible Study, I had the opportunity to peruse their book shelves where they had this biography along with two others that I “borrowed.” There was no one there to receive my money for them. I saw the pastor, Brother Joey Byrd the next day and he didn’t seem to mind that I had helped myself to them.
If he sees this post, he might change his mind! In that case, I’d be happy to forward the $4.50 to the church.
In reading it, I deduced that it was written around 1950. I couldn’t find a publishing date printed anywhere on it. It was reprinted by Larry Harrison of the Christian Book Gallery in St. John, Indiana.
This wasn’t a well written book. I’d be surprised if it went past the desk of an editor. If it did, the editor didn’t read it, or hopefully found another line of work.
In spite of all that, the source material for the book was fascinating to me. It was the life of a man named Robert Sayers Sheffey as told by the letters he wrote and the people who knew him. Brother Sheffey lived from 1820-1902 in the hills of Virginia. He was a Methodist circuit rider, which means that he spent most of his life on the back of a horse visiting homes, villages and small towns scattered throughout 18 counties in rural Virginia and West Virginia. His life was spent with the aim of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with anyone in that geographic area.
Apparently, he wasn’t a very good preacher. At all. What he was known for was his prayer life. He wasn’t remembered because he prayed a lot, he was revered because his prayers were answered so consistently and yet in many peculiar ways.
Peculiar was the recurring word, because he was a peculiar man. There were many examples of it. He seems to have been a germaphobe and a neat freak, which is remarkable in the hills of Virginia. He was known to always be clean, and to prize clean sheets in the homes he stayed in. He would clean saucers and bowls and cups that were served to him, and talk about how being clean was important, and how water was so necessary for keeping things clean and good.
His prayers were peculiar. In fact, his prayers were sometimes offensive, as he would pray aloud exactly what was on his mind and affecting his heart.
For instance, in those days they had a lot of revivals and camp meetings where whole communities would come together for about a week of preaching and singing and praying and seeking the Lord for loved ones to become Christians. There were times that the meetings were dull and really couldn’t get going. Often in those meetings Brother Sheffey was there, but hadn’t been invited to speak or to pray, because he would sometimes say embarrassing things.
Eventually, they would ask him to pray, and he would say things like: “Lord, they have been ignoring me for a couple of days, haven’t invited me to do anything because they are ashamed of me. But, Lord, I pray that you would visit this meeting and bring revival and …” and the meeting would become full of life and vitality and many people would become Christians. The people loved him. His colleagues would sometimes struggle with him.
He would pray for insects and farm animals that were injured or weren’t acting properly. He would pray for lost objects to be found. He would pray for people to be healed.
He would also pray that the Lord would take some people home to heaven. That was when they kept continually falling back into temptation or the world, he would pray the Lord would take them after they repented “while the fur was good!”
He was well known for praying against the production of alcohol in the mountain “stills.” When it came to alcohol, seemingly whatever he prayed would come to pass. If he prayed for trees to fall on them and destroy them it would happen. If he would pray for them to be turned to pigsty’s or cow pens it would happen. If he would pray for them to be swept away by a flood it would happen. In one case, he prayed that the still and the lounge would close and be turned over to a preacher and his family and of course, a year later, it had happened.
He would pray these kinds of prayers when he saw a “still.” He would ride his horse up close to it, even when the men were working there, dismount, pull out a white sheepskin, lay it on the ground and then kneel on it and pray aloud. He was feared by people who established “stills,” lounges or bars.
He was also well known for his altar ministry. People in these revival meetings and camp meetings would come under conviction and become so troubled by the condition of their heart and soul and come forward to talk with a pastor and pray. Brother Sheffey was gifted in those moments as hundreds of people entered into peace with God through trusting Christ there at the altar under his gentle guidance.
He was known for shouting when the Lord would answer prayers, or anytime that he was just happy about what the Lord was doing.
And, he loved to have a mouthful of maple syrup, or honey, or something sweet as he would ride away to the next stop.
The book was difficult to read because it desperately needed an editor. However, the stories of Brother Sheffey’s life, and the window into what life was like over 150 years ago kept me riveted to the page, even though the page would fall out of the book!
The other thing that struck me in this book, was though he was a Methodist, and many Baptists would attend these meetings, they reported so many supernatural experiences: uncontrolled weeping and sorrow, inexpressible joy, the sound of angels singing, fainting (slain in the Spirit), but widespread return to religion that spread like a fire through communities, producing lasting change in lives, marriages, families and communities.
That was inspiring. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Lord, do it again! Raise up another Brother Sheffey for these times and these days.
Isn’t it time to seek the Lord?