Travelling mercies

Before Christians go on trips, they often ask for “traveling mercies.” What are these special prayers?

The New Testament books in general talk a lot about prayers and praying, and in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters there are a number of references to trips and traveling. But rarely in the Bible are the two topics of prayer and travel intentionally combined as is the case with the Christianese expression “traveling mercies.”

Traveling mercies are prayers that are made for someone who is about to undertake a big journey. When the term first started being used in the late 19th century, it meant prayers for missionaries who were going on long journeys to remote parts of the world. When you think about it, the late 19th century probably wasn’t so very different from the 1st century in terms of the dangers of travel. Delays, thefts, illnesses, unexpected expenses—such misfortunes plague long-distance travelers of every age and every part of the world.

The term “traveling mercies” caught on and started showing up in print quite a bit in missionary magazines and other kinds of Christian publications during the early part of the 20th century. It wasn’t long before non-missionaries wanted these special prayers too. After all, why should ordinary lay people settle for just hedges of protection when they can have traveling mercies too? And so by the mid-20th century, the expression “traveling mercies” was being used by pretty much anyone who wanted prayer for an upcoming trip, whether the trip was specifically religious in nature or not. The special connection between traveling mercies and missionary work had become a relic of a bygone time.

traveling mercies n.Prayer› See various senses.

The term arose in the late 19th century and was used at first almost exclusively of church workers who were on a long journey for the purpose of ministry work (see sense 1), but by the mid-20th century the term was being used in a general way of any Christians who were on a journey for any reason (see sense 2).

1. God’s blessings and protection on missionaries, preachers, and other church workers who are traveling to or from a place of ministry, usually at some distance.

• Sakurai Minutes of the Second Bienniel Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union 17 : He has blessed me with traveling mercies and allowed me to come here to try to do something for him. The Interior XXV. 1721 : The Lord was good indeed, and gave us traveling mercies innumerable throughout our journeying in England, Scotland and the United States, and now we are thankful to be brought again in health and strength to our loved field of labor in the Holy City. The Advance XLV. 699 : She wrote of their comfortable journey while ships just before and after had suffered. This was spoken of as one of the “traveling mercies” which we often ask for our missionaries. The Nazarene Messenger XII. 64 : We had traveling mercies, and on arrival in this city were very warmly welcomed by the people of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. We were made comfortable by the kindness of the saints in a home of our own. Presbyterian Mag. XVI. 558 : The missionary, thankful for traveling mercies, reached Mejdel warm and dry, being clad in a complete suit of rubber. YMCA Association Men XXXVI. 426 : Pray for the thousands of delegates now enroute to the Triennial International Sunday School Convention at San Francisco. For traveling mercies, open-mindedness, spiritual vision, and obedient wills. Missionary Voice III. 449 : Pray for traveling mercies for them and for a great outpouring of blessings upon Brazil. Missions: An International Baptist Mag. XIV. 346 : Bon voyage to the delegates and friends bound for the Old World. May God give to all traveling mercies and a safe return! Miller Patty Lou in the Wilds of Central America 12 : She finished by saying, “And as we start on the final lap of the journey, give us traveling mercies. Keep Thy hand over us every moment of the voyage as we sail across the Gulf of Panama into the San Miguel Gulf and up the Tuira River to our headquarters.” The Moravian vols. 99–101 171 : Our thanks as a church are due for traveling mercies accorded to them all. They can be assured of the prayers of many, especially in the case of those who now undertake missionary responsibility for the first time. Huss Robert G. Lee: The Authorized Biography 204 : All of the men took turns praying that their pastor would be afforded traveling mercies, that he would be mightily used of God, and that he return to them safely. Hunter My Love Affair with Charles 65 : Please remember to pray for God’s traveling mercies as we drive on Thanksgiving Day to Clearwater for the Youth Convention, and then pray that God will make me a blessing to all the youth who will be attending.

2. God’s blessings and protection on any people who are traveling.

Eades

They Did Not March Alone 2 : Then the two men in uniform, the enlisted man and the Chaplain stood for a short prayer, asking God to give the young soldier traveling mercies and to bless him and the bereaved loved ones back at home.

North Carolina State AFL-CIO

Proceedings of the Annual Convention 110 : We pray that you have your way in the rest of this convention here this afternoon and that we as delegates and visitors going to our respective homes, that You give us traveling mercies as we go on the highways, through the air or however we go, and may we arrive home safetly for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Beardsley, Spry

The Fulfilled Woman 23 : Always pray for traveling mercies and ask God to make your husband a safe, alert driver.

a1997 Wimber

Everyone Gets to Play (2007) 83 : I’ve been in hundreds of prayer meetings and have heard all kinds of prayers from prayers for traveling mercies to unspoken requests.

Kimball

They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations 44 : We find ourselves regularly using Christian words and phrases and clichés, such as

backsliding ,

prayer warrior ,

fellowship ,

quiet time ,

traveling mercies .

Sinclair

Branded: Sharing Jesus with a Consumer Culture 97 : I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but “traveling mercies” is one of my favorite Christianese phrases. Instead of praying for a safe trip to grandma’s house, we say, “Please pray for traveling mercies as we visit family this weekend.”

Murrow

Why Men Hate Going to Church 103 : Please pray traveling mercies for my son. He’s flying back to Harvard for the spring semester.

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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

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Traveling Mercies Quotes (showing 1-30 of 99)

“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“It turned out this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And she said gently-that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born-and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“It is unearned love–the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“…music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“ work taught me that you could be all the traditional feminine things — a mother, a lover, a listener, a nurturer — and you could also be critically astute and radical and have a minority opinion that was profoundly moral.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“I don’t know why life isn’t constructed to be seamless and safe, why we make such glaring mistakes, things fall so short of our expectations, and our hearts get broken and out kids do scary things and our parents get old and don’t always remember to put pants on before they go out for a stroll. I don’t know why it’s not more like it is in the movies, why things don’t come out neatly and lessons can’t be learned when you’re in the mood for learning them, why love and grace often come in such motley packaging.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“I think that is why we stay close to our families, no matter how neurotic the members, how deeply annoying or dull- because when people have seen you at your worst, you don’t have to put on the mask as much.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“And my fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do- and I think my parents may have accidentally given me this idea- and you do poorly, what then? It’s over; you’re wiped out. All those prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a schmendrick you are, what a fraud.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

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Mohembo travelled a lot.
He travelled before he was born, and he was on the road within a week of his birth. And he moved a lot too. By the time he was 7, he had lived in 6 places, in three countries and two continents. Most of his travel was by car, on roads that we often nothing more than tracks and in remote wilderness. He was well acquainted with mechanical breakdowns, flat tires, broken fan belts, “over-cooked” radiators, dirty gasoline, and even one occurrence of the engine “falling out!”. He has been stopped by flooded roads, washed out bridges, landslides on mountain tracks, fallen trees, deep mud, military road blocks, and at times herds of elephants. There was also travel by motor cycle, dugout canoe, airplanes (from 4-seaters to jumbo jets), ocean liners, and traditional south Pacific outriggers, to say nothing of trains and buses.

Through all of this coming and going, Mohembo remembers one recurring habit. Whenever the family started a trip, they began with prayer, either alone or with the people they had stayed with. And in those prayers there was always a request for “travelling mercies.” As a child Mohembo had only a dim understanding of what this meant. Mostly it seemed to him to be a prayer to God to protect them from an accident or a serious crash.

During his young years, Mohembo attended a boarding school. It took 3 long days of travel by road/track to get there, and 18 weeks later to get back home. These trips were tremendous adventures, because no one ever knew in advance what would happen. The route was through dense tropical forest, open savanna like plains, marshlands and wide rivers. One of the parents’ challenges was how to keep the children occupied during the long and monotonous, always slow, hours. One trick was to get them singing – “singing through the alphabet”- or just never-ending nonsense songs. Another playing “geography” – each person in turn naming a country that began with the last letter of the previous named country. A break in the middle of the day and in middle of the forest for some packed sandwiches and a banana was a relief, but only until the incredible swarms of flies and gnats attacked. With time, it became apparent that, for both parents and children, “travelling mercies” covered more than mechanical or road-related problems, but included even frayed nerves and tempers.

As an adult Mohembo was required to do a lot of field work in remote areas, often in wildlife areas. He has had elephants in his camping site, a black bear joining him for breakfast, lions prowling 20 m. from his tentless sleeping spot, poisonous snakes in his resthouse bedroom, and more. Through it all, God has kept him safe and out of harm’s way.

As he looks back now over close to 70 years of world-wide travelling, he realises just how gracious God has been in answering those prayers for travelling mercies. Whether it has been difficulties with immigration and customs personnel demanding bribes or simply wanting to show their power, narrowly avoiding a fatal crash in a small Cessna in the high mountains of Papua New Guinea, slowly losing the outrigger of a traditional Manus canoe in a storm out to sea, or avoiding a truck purposely wanting to drive his motorbike off the road in Nigeria, Mohembo looks back on a record of remarkably accident-free travel.

In the more metaphorical sense of all of life being a journey, the same is true. Mohembo is conscious of and very grateful for “travelling mercies.” Of many kinds – God’s mercy in showing him so much of this wonderful world, of the amazing diversity of cultures built around essentially similar people, opening his eyes to the variety of forms of praise and worship, the multitude of ways in which God’s people can demonstrate love and support, his protection during serious illness, and so much more.

Sirach 34:9-11 says

A travelled man knows many things,
and one with much experience will speak with understanding.
He that is inexperienced knows few things,
but he that has traveled acquires much cleverness.
I have seen many things in my travels,
and I understand more than I can express.​

But the Scriptures Mohembo thinks most of is

Psalm 91:9-13

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.​

God’s faithfulness is new every morning, and his travelling mercies without end.

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Prayer isn’t a religious thing; it’s a legal thing. We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and that includes praying over our traveling! God watches over His Word, so let’s give Him something to work with by praying.

Psalm 37:4-7 Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. (KJV)

Deuteronomy 28:6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Matthew 21:21-22 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you shall say to this mountain ‘be removed and cast into the sea’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

(Know Prayer, Know Power Resource.)

Right place at the right time

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; and he delights in his way.

Psalms 119:133 Direct my footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over me.

Proverbs 3:6 In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths.

Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him Who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.

 

Favor with those around us

Psalms 5:12 The Lord surrounds the righteous with favor as a shield.

Proverbs 3:4 I find favor, good understanding and high esteem in the sight of God and man.

Wisdom and guidance

Proverbs 2:6-9 For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. (NLT)

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.

(Learn about raising a wise child.)

Divine protection and appointment 

Psalm 91:10-11 Then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Psalm 121:7-8 The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Walking in health 

Ephesians 2:10 I am God’s workmanship and a new person in Jesus Christ so that I can do the good things He planned for me long ago.

1 Peter 2:24 By His wounds you have been healed.

Isaiah 58:11 The Lord will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a well-watered garden like an ever-flowing spring.

To be an ambassador for Christ

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. (NIV)

Colossians 4:6 … Let your speech always be gracious, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer everyone.

Psalm 5:12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

(Find MP3s to enjoy on your next trip in the Semi-Annual Digital Sale. Expires August 15th)

travelling mercies

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