A recent Babylon Bee article cleverly pokes fun at the phrase traveling mercies. The headline reads: Man From Year 2249 Asks God For Time-Traveling Mercies.
Until a few years ago I had never heard that phrase. The first time I heard it was when a group of us were preparing to depart for a retreat for young adults. An elder prayed and asked God to grant us “traveling mercies” there and back again. As the driver of a van full of teenagers, I was thankful for the petition.
Still, the humorous Babylon Bee makes sense. As the Dictionary of Christianese points out, such phrases can and do become cliché. We tend to abuse or misuse all kinds of things — even the good gifts handed down by our forefathers.
This weekend my wife and I took a quick trip to Mississippi to see our son who is stationed at Keesler AFB. At each pit stop I checked Facebook to see much ado about nothing. Force of habit. Along the way it struck me that several folks from our (tiny) church community were scattered all over the place — not just the Dallas area, but Tyler, San Antonio, Galveston, Kentucky, Tennessee, San Francisco — even Mexico. Earlier that same week, some of our guys had been in Chicago and Orlando and Tulsa. Collectively, we traveled thousands of miles by “planes, trains, and automobiles” without so much as a scratch! (Talk about traveling mercies!)
But do we really need traveling mercies?
For most of us, traveling is relatively safe. We plot our course, take our trip, and reach our destination. Traveling is so safe, in fact, that we practically take arriving safely for granted. But our forefathers knew better than to take ordinary things like food, lodging, and safe travel for granted. Not only did they give thanks for these ordinary gifts, they asked God to grant them such gifts day by day.
Here are two prayers for mercy upon travelers:
A prayer for Travelers:
O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Anglican Book of Common Prayer)
Prayers Before Travel
Lord Jesus Christ my God, be my Companion, guide and protector during my journey. Keep me from all danger, misfortune and temptation. By Your divine power grant me a peaceful and successful journey and safe arrival. In You I place my hope and trust and You I praise, honor and glorify, together with Your Father and Holy Spirit now and forever and ever. Amen. (Other Orthodox Prayers)
We still need traveling mercies as much as they did. And we would do well to echo such prayers as we travel to and fro upon the earth.
Still not convinced?
Remember the words of James, our Lord’s brother:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
These are sobering words.
The right thing to do here means walking humbly before the face of God even as we make plans to travel for business or pleasure.
“If the Lord wills, and we live, do this or that, then fade away.”
Praying for “traveling mercies” is a matter of perspective. For the one who prays, it’s a simple way of acknowledging his own personal limitations and his total dependence upon the Lord for everything.