Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Peculiar Preacher

The Lord gives each of us a unique personality, and his choicest servants have sometimes been, well, peculiar. William Sheffey was chief among the oddball saints.

Sheffey was born on Independence Day, 1820 to a single mother. When his mother died, an aunt in Abingdon, Virginia, took him in. There, in her apartment over a general store, he was converted on January 9, 1839 at the age of 19. Unfortunately Sheffey’s “early dislike for books and an aversion for profound study,” made him a terrible student and the new believer soon dropped out of seminary. Feeling the unquenchable call to preach, he started through the Virginia hills and hollers as a Methodist circuit rider preaching the Gospel.

Robert Sheffey 

His ministry was an oddity. For example, one day he was called to a cabin on Wolfe Creek. He had previously tried to win this family to Christ, but without success. As he rode up this time, things were different. A member had been bitten by a rattlesnake. There seemed little hope. Entering the house, Sheffey sank to his knees and prayed, “O Lord, we do thank thee for rattlesnakes. If it had not been for a rattlesnake they would not have called on You. Send a rattlesnake to bite Bill, one to bite John, and send a great big one to bite the old man!”

He is well-remembered for prayers like that. An acquaintance said, “Preacher Sheffey was the most powerful man in prayer I ever heard, but he couldn’t preach a lick.” Once, encountering moonshiners in the mountains, he dismounted, knelt, and offered a long prayer for God to “smash the still into smithereens.” He rose, smoothed his trousers, and continued his journey. Later than week a terrific thunderstorm blew in and a heavy tree fell on the still, wrecking it. The owner rebuilt it, and Sheffey prayed again. This time a flash flood did the job.

Robert Sheffey’s unorthodox prayers and sermons ushered many mountaineers into the kingdom and earned him the title the Peculiar Preacher. Robert Sheffey went to be with the Lord on August 30, 1902, after having preached throughout Southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. His tombstone simply reads, “The poor were sorry when he died.”[1]

Sheffey’s unorthodox but powerful ministry reminded of what the Sadducees thought about Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Friend, God does not care about your age, ancestry, affluence, achievement or appearance. What He does care about it your availability. Peter and John were just simple fishermen. Preacher Scheffey was a college dropout. D.L. Moody was a shoe clerk and William Carey a cobbler. Despite their lowly backgrounds these men were used by God because they availed themselves to God. They were uneducated by worldly standards, but the difference maker was that they had spent time with Jesus. We will not become bold witnesses for Christ by accident. Nor does it happen by osmosis or by hanging around church and going through all the religious motions. Like a blacksmith heating up a piece of iron in a fire, the only way we can become red hot for the Gospel is by spending time with Christ. -DM   

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), January 9.

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