As a kid I wore around my neck a small, sterling silver disc with an engraving of St Christopher piggy-backing a youthful Jesus. It brought me comfort to know that the patron saint of journeys was vigilant for my mobile safety needs. After my conversion to Evangelicalism I dutifully replaced reformed my reliance on the amulet, and instead invoke the sacred Protestant privilege of praying directly to God for “journey mercies.”
As legend has it, the presciently named Christopher (as in Christ-bearer) was an unusually tall and muscular guy who worked as a human ferry carrying people across a fast-flowing river. One day, in I’m guessing 6 or 7AD, he bore a small boy on his back whose weight became heavier and heavier with each laborious step. As the current swelled to dangerous levels the two exchanged some clever repartee about the weight of the world while Christopher resolved to keep the child safe or die trying. You guessed it, the kid was Jesus. And Christopher was rewarded for his service with a halo and a line of jewellery that has remained in fashion to this day.
The popular practice of wearing St Christopher charms is still clung to by many Coptics, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox commuters, fuelling the haughty derision of iconoclastic Evangelicals who tut-tut at the superstitious silliness of trusting a talisman for protection. And yet, I fear many of us ride our prayers into a parallel groove of error with our prayers for travellers to enjoy journey mercies.
Am I saying it is wrong to pray for travellers? May it never be. As a motorcyclist and frequent flier on budget airlines I am grateful for God’s physical protection in any situation where asphalt, human judgment, and combustible fuel are involved. But I wonder if my prayers aren’t sometimes less concerned with survival and tend more toward the vein of convenience.
For people who have not experienced real danger, travel is not as frequently life-threatening as it is stressful. Lost luggage, delayed flights, flat tires, and speeding tickets are these days more common that plane crashes and masked highwaymen.
So how, exactly, are we to pray when we boldly go where our itinerary takes us?
Here are three guidelines when praying for journey mercies…
1) Acknowledge that God is present everywhere you may go anyway.
Psalm 139:8 “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”
Yes, travels are attended by exotic types of trials, but the same promises of God that apply to your home county also cover freeways, airports, and customs desks. Pray for the same mercy and help you pray for every day.
2) Remember that comfort and convenience (or even safety) isn’t a prerequisite perk of those travelling for missions.
You know what Paul’s middle name was, right?
2 Corinthians 11:25-26 “Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers…”
3) Pray for the same protection, grace under pressure, and perseverance to endure trials that you would pray for at home.
There isn’t a special class of prayer that needs to be employed for the unique inconveniences that beset travellers. It’s not as if the Starship Enterprise would have had plain sailing if Captain Kirk had paused to tap into God’s soft spot for voyages of discovery.
We live on a sin-cursed planet and so life is fraught with danger and difficulty, travelling only makes it worse. Case in point, Paul’s ill-fated cruise that ended in shipwreck…
Acts 27:7-9 “We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous …”
So, next time I hear someone is travelling I will be reminded that we all need God’s constant grace and protection, but those between A and B will need an extra dose, not to avoid trouble but to handle it in a way that brings glory to God.
For more on the biblical priorities of Short-Term Missions, see Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact.