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While My Preacher Was Prayin’

No matter what additions, electronic infusions, drama, videos, or various kinds and sound of music, the services in churches have the same elements….singing, greeting the crowd, praying, preaching, and fellowship.  For those of us reared in church, we retain the fond memories of special events, times with our childhood friends playing “chase” in the parking lot, or perhaps church camps or picnics.  Rarely do adults today remember “great sermons or prayers” of their preachers when they were young.

Church services, no matter whether old or young, can have moments that seem to be “eternal” in length.  In most every case where some aspect is too long, it is something that the preacher is doing…praying, preaching, announcing, or preparing for the offering.  Because preachers talk so often and so much, we tend to talk “too long” when we are on our feet.  Because we are really caught up in whatever we are doing, we feel that the whole congregation is just as passionate and engaged as we are about the sermon or the prayers.  Alas, such is not the case.

People are pulled in so many directions before ever getting to church that they are relieved in many cases just to be “in the room”, seated in an “adult setting” without a child drooling on them; no one is pulling on young parents asking them for immediate help with a drink of water, cookie, or a cry of “hold me”; and for lots of attendees, unlike their job, no one is cursing or fussing about a task that was not completed on time.  Many a person has found that even when they are trying to concentrate on the sermon or truly pray during those times in a service, their minds may be drifting freely in another world.

It was Sunday morning at Monument Street Methodist Church in Baltimore in 1865.  Reverend George Schrick was droning on in a lengthy prayer while, up in the choir loft, Elvina Hall’s mind was wandering.  She could not focus on prayer.  In her restlessness, words began to come to mind about the love and sacrifice of Jesus.  She wanted to write down the words, but had no paper.  Since she did have her hymnal, she turned to the flyleaf and began to write the words that were filling her mind while the preacher continued to pray aloud. Over the next few minutes, these words came to her. 

I hear my Savior say / Thy strength indeed is small

Thou has naught My debt to pay / Find in Me thy all in all.

Yea, nothing good have I / whereby thy grace to claim;

I’ll wash my garments white / in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.

Jesus paid it all! / All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain / He washed it white as snow!

Amazingly, God had placed a tune on the mind of the church organist, John T. Grape that served in her church, but he had no lyrics for his melody.  He was a coal merchant by profession and church organist by giftedness.  The pastor saw the poem of Elvina Hall and remembered that Mr. Grape had played a melody for him recently that had been placed on the heart of the organist.  The pastor gave Mr. Grape the lyrics. He was overjoyed that the meter of the lyrics matched the melody God had put in his heart.  And, that is how one of the church’s most memorable and popular hymns was birthed.  (Copied).    Even when one’s mind is wandering in church, it can be wandering near to the heart of God.  I hope that will be the case next time you feel the need to day dream in church!