Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was a Scottish Presbyterian who served for thirty-eight years as a missionary among the degraded, savage tribes of Calabar (modern southern Nigeria), West Africa. She pioneered in remote, rugged regions that other missionaries and even traders avoided as too dangerous. Mary spread the Gospel of Christ and planted churches and schools in several previously-unreached areas. She influenced a number of tribes to stop their warring and to lay aside their ghastly, pagan practices (such as: killing twins who were commonly thought to be the offspring of demons; forcing suspected wrongdoers to drink poison to prove their innocence; mass killing the wives and slaves of chiefs who died so they could accompany them in the afterlife). Mary adopted and raised several orphan children who otherwise would have been killed or left to perish on their own. She served as a government-appointed judge for Calabar’s large Okoyong region, to help individuals and groups settle their disputes justly.
For Mary, personal prayer and Bible study were absolute necessities, not optional luxuries. Throughout her years of active, sacrificial service, she was strengthened and sustained through constant prayer and the regular study of Scripture.
Of the former she once testified: “My life is one long daily, hourly, record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer. I have proved during long decades while alone, as far as man’s help and presence are concerned, that God answers prayer. It is the very atmosphere in which I live and breathe and have my being, and it makes life glad and free and a million times worth living. … I am sitting alone here on a log among a company of natives. My children, whose very lives are a testimony that God answers prayer, are working round me. Food is scarce just now. We live from hand to mouth. We have not more than will be our breakfast today, but I know we shall be fed, for God answers prayer.”
She normally did her personal Bible reading first thing in the morning, as soon as there was enough daylight. Numerous times over the years she read carefully and patiently through the Bible. She would not move on to a new chapter until she was satisfied she had thoroughly considered the previous one; sometimes she spent three days in a single chapter before proceeding to the next. As she read she underlined key words and phrases. She packed the margins of nearly every page in her Bible with handwritten observations and applications from the text of Scripture: “God is never behind time”; “If you play with temptation do not expect God will deliver you”; “We must see and know Christ before we can teach”; “The smallest things are as absolutely necessary as the great things”; “Blessed the man or woman who is able to serve cheerfully in the second rank—a big test”.
The Gospel of John was her favorite Bible book. She also had a special interest in the opening books of Scripture because they depicted moral and social conditions similar to what she dealt with in Calabar. Notations such as “a chapter of Calabar history” or “this happens in Okoyong every day” were common in those books. Each time she read through God’s Word she did so using a different Bible. In this way she found that new thoughts came to her when, as the years passed, she returned repeatedly to previously-considered Scripture passages.
Sometimes we Christians who live and serve in more comfortable, less strenuous settings and circumstances fail to sense the need we have for ongoing, regular personal prayer and Bible study. We ignore Scripture’s many admonitions and encouraging examples to pray (Luke 5:16; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thes. 5:17) and study God’s Word (Josh. 1:8; Psa. 1:2; Acts 2:42; Eph. 6:17) regularly and diligently. We delude ourselves into thinking that we’re getting by alright without those routine disciplines. As a result, we rob ourselves of two primary sources of daily spiritual guidance, strength, encouragement and blessing that God has provided for us. In time we discover that we’re not getting along as well as we thought we were without them.
If we’ve become slack in those basic spiritual disciplines, let’s allow Mary Slessor’s example to motivate us to get back to practicing them regularly. You can learn much more about and from Mary Slessor in my book Women of Faith and Courage. And I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the benefits of regular prayer and Scripture study.
Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie