The preacher bounced along in his camper truck, eyes glued to the road, heart set on his destination, unaware of the discomfort of his two weary passengers. Sam Patterson was fully focused on his next meeting.
“It was a 12-hour trip, and the seat was uncomfortably hard,” says Dudley Barnes, remembering the trip years later. “I don’t see how he took long trips in that truck! But that wasn’t the worst part. The seat was not large enough for three people, so [my wife] Claire and I took turns sitting on the driveshaft hump behind it, hunched over to keep from banging our heads on the roof.”
Their discomfort was oblivious to their driver. “Yet,” Dudley continues, “being with Sam was worth every bit of discomfort. … He kept us in stitches with his tales, and on more serious subjects, every word that came out of his mouth was like opening the Book of Proverbs.”
We all need a Sam in our lives, a man whose every word is like opening the Book of Proverbs, even if his wisdom sometimes comes with a bump on the head. In a lifetime devoted to advancing the kingdom of Christ, Sam Patterson (1916-1987) distinguished himself as a man of God, a central spiritual leader in both French Camp Academy (Mississippi) and Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Mississippi), a mentor and friend to throngs of people, an energetic evangelist, and a prayer warrior extraordinaire.
It is that last item that draws my attention today. In How Big is Your God?, Rebecca B. Hobbs’ biography of Patterson, the author mines a wealth of wisdom from this great man of God. Hobbs says that during his years teaching at RTS, Sam made sure every four years to peach again a sermon titled “Turning Over Problems: The Counsel of Psalm 37.” In preparing for prayer, he challenged students to move through these steps and expect God’s peace to follow.
First, Sam said, comes trust – “Trust in the Lord and do good” (v. 3). Believe that God is both able and willing to take care of our problems. Then, we should delight ourselves in Him (v. 4). Practice enjoying His presence. Verse 5 challenges us to commit our way to the Lord. Finally, verse 7 tells us to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.
I confess, I started thinking, Yeah, Sam, but you were preaching in the 1980s. You didn’t know today’s culture and the pressure we’d be under. Waiting for God to act is impossible in this day and time.
And then I’m reminded that the Word of God has not changed. Sometimes, wait I must.
Finally, in that same sermon, Sam offered these keys to effective prayer:
- Rise early regularly. Not an easy thing for most of us, but Sam simply pointed to Jesus’ example.
- Let God talk. “A good way to begin your prayer time,” he said, “is to let God start the conversation. Open His Word and believe that He can speak to you.”
- Look to God for guidance. Specifically, Sam practiced these principles in his own life: be neutral, open to whatever God says; don’t be anxious; weigh the pros and cons; ask God to let one verse grip you; when in doubt, don’t act. Then, peace will come if your decision is according to God’s will.
- Put people before prayer. Again, Sam looked to the example of Jesus, who gave priority to the needs of people and prayed to the Father for those needs.
There’s a lot of meaty, practical wisdom in those steps. After reading Sam’s biography, I understand Dudley’s observation – “like opening the Book of Proverbs.” I wish I had known Sam Patterson, but I’m grateful his life of faith has been faithfully recorded so that his legacy continues to intersect with more and more lives. Especially mine.
How Big is Your God? is available through French Camp Academy, a Christian boarding school in French Camp, Mississippi, at frenchcamp.org.