Three local farmers talked of the new preacher’s arrival earlier that morning while waiting for their orders at the livestock feed store in town. The three planters stood in a loose circle in the dirt lot outside the feed dispensary. They all looked the same, each garbed in denim overalls and an old straw hat. Above each hat’s rim was a wide brown band of ancient sweat and dead dust.
One was chewing bitter snuff, and spitting out thick brown lines of tobacco juice in periodic spurts. When his heavy spittle hit the dirt powder, it rolled along in a little soil-accumulating stream, which pooled up into a dust-coated oval. “New preacher coming nigh five weeks ya know,” said the first farmer.
“Baptist?” asked the second.
“Yup, course he’s a Baptist.”
“Reckon this one’s gonna stay long? They don’t pay em enough, to keep em long,” said the third farmer.
The other two farmers shrugged. They all three fell silent in contemplation of the new preacher. The snuff chewer snorted and spat.
One man wiggled his middle finger in an ear hole furiously, trying to get at an itch so he could think better. The second scratched himself crudely and shamelessly. The third cleared his head, using his index finger to blow his nose—one nostril at a time. The farmers processed their thoughts about the new preacher while they twisted their cracked leather boot tips into the dirt.
The first farmer then spoke up and said, “This be a great and holy man a’ coming to put the Baptist God’s goodness into us all.”
The second cropper nodded and added, “And he’ll be good to remind everybody of the evilness of drinking, n’ smoking, the dancing, and all the cussing, and wicked fighting. The good Lord blesses us with religin’ and holiness in his ten commandments.” He proclaimed, “Everything else but that what the preacher be bringing to us, it ain’t nothing but sin.” The first two farmers nodded in assent.
Then when the first two men had given God his dues, the Third farmer said with vehemence, “This ain’t no joke fella’s, this be somethin’ that applies to everybody. That means us too.
And that god damn preacher will come to us like a thief in the night and he will fire the peoples up, and the righteous ones will turn against us. This preacher a’ gonna spread the Baptist word plum all overs and that’s a’ gonna rob us of all these only things which truly make a man’s life worth living. They all became silent and slightly panicked. The first and the second farmer then mumbled in concurrence, protesting this injustice. This was a serious problem they realized.
Then there was a pang of guilt in the stomach of the third farmer. This prompted him to reassess the snags of what he said to the other two men. He felt a sense of responsibility. He interjected, “All right, look now. Maybe this ain’t all bad. We here fella’s, we all have been sinners. And we must be rememberin’ that our God is a wrathful God. And last preacher said nothing cleanses like fire. We need to decide what we gonna do here.”
And they all became silent and a little shocked in the understanding of this statement. There was a long pensive pause. Wide frightened eyes glanced at other searching for an answer, but found only other worried glances.
Soon the first farmer spoke up and offered to beseech God’s help for their struggle of opposing forces, that terrible inner pulling; the choice between “that of want” and “that of ought naught.”
All three of the men held their hats in their hands, bowed their heads to pray, and then closed their eyes. And the first farmer prayed for all of them.
“Lord, we thank thee for all of thy blessings oh. We beseech you, as we are divided and tortured with troubles. We have a great terror. We want to do bad things but we do not wanna go to Hell. So we’s a askin you to help us. First, forgive us our weaknesses for we are human. Forgive us that, O Lord, so might start anew as spotless lambs. We beg of you, Lord let us’n live a long life, grant us many more years of life, so we can learn to iron out things; give us that gift as we need time to get straight and undo our knots of sin, and be through before we lay on our death beds, on our deathbeds waiting for thy reward.” The other two nodded in relief with closed eyes.
The prayer continued, “We feel, oh Lord, that we need to learn to do this all alone, Lord an’ not because of only a preacher’s a’ proddin us. As your good book says ‘Lord loves a working man’, and ‘God helps the man who helps himself,’ so let us’n work and earn our own salvation dear Lord. Let us weak men help ourselves to become stronger men.” The second farmer assented with a soft. Let us tail the narrow path. Amen.
The third farmer made his case “And so Lord there ain’t no need for us to spect a preacher ta’ do what you’d rather us do on our own anyhow. I am sure that if we did thy Holy will, if’n we did it own our own—walking alone, and not limping tenderfoot using a crutch of a preacher’s help to get where we need to go–that would mean more to you and would also be more likely to stick.” One farmer murmured in concurrence of this insight of the third farmer.
“And Lord the drought here is going on 18 months and still running. If’n a preacher was to try to baptize someone he couldn’t cause the river is plain bone dry. And so these people wouldn’t get saved no how. But in the meantime, we three alone could help prime the pump for you to save those who could learn by our example.
Maybe when the rains come and the river is back up, we’ll have you lots a’ sinners lined up for you ready to be baptized by then. When the rivers are back up for proper saving baptizing then maybe you could send us a new preacher. But in the meantime, “Lord we pray thee waste not thy messenger. We implore you oh Lord, do not hamstring your own diving goodness by sending this new preacher to us. For that would just be harming many distant other souls in need–in places that got full, running rivers for proper baptizing. For these lost souls would have enough water so as to be saved with salvation that would stick.”
He paused to let God and the others consider this. The two farmers were very awe-struck by his wisdom.
“Thy will be done oh Lord. ” The prayer concluded, “we are thy tools oh Lord. And Lord, we aint the sharpest tool in the shed, but we aint afraid of hard work and blisters neither. Oh, and, in thy mercy if’n you have any time Lord, we could sure use some rain.”
The other two farmers nodded approvingly. “Thank you Lord,” said the first. “Hallowed by thy holy name, Lord,” said the second farmer
Words After Prayer
There was a long silence. They all felt much better. Moreover, they thought the prayer a pretty good one. And even if not, they each figured the prayer well worth a try. And they all resolved to do better. They opened their eyes and they reverentially put their hats back on.
The first farmer then said, “Dear brothers, we here have asked and we surely shall receive.” They all then nodded knowingly. The second farmer added, “Let the others not be a judgin’ us lest they be judged.” They all approved nodding and saying “yes, yes,” sagaciously.
Then the third farmer bound it all up saying in perfect sermon-like profundity, “May God, who is most high and also holy, with power that has no stops, use this power to succor us. And in doing so mayest he turneth all ourn water cups over, sit them back up, and make them always runneth over with wine.
There was a muted virtuous silence. There were tears welling in old sinful eyes.
Then all three men solemnly said together, “Amen.”