The Lord gives each of us a unique personality, and his choicest servants have sometimes been, well, peculiar. “Uncle” Bob Sheffey was among them.

Sheffey was born on Independence Day, 1820. When his mother died, an aunt in Abingdon, Virginia, took him in. There, over Greenway’s Store, he was converted on January 9, 1839. He was 19. Feeling the call to preach, he dropped out of college and started through the Virginia hills as a Methodist circuit rider preaching the gospel.

He did it oddly. For example, one day he was called to a cabin on Wolfe Creek. He had previously tried to win this family to Christ, but without success. As he rode up this time, things were different. A member had been bitten by a rattlesnake. There seemed little hope. Entering the house, Sheffey sank to his knees and prayed, “O Lord, we do thank thee for rattlesnakes. If it had not been for a rattlesnake they would not have called on You. Send a rattlesnake to bite Bill, one to bite John, and send a great big one to bite the old man!”

He is well-remembered for prayers like that. An acquaintance said, “Brother Sheffey was the most powerful man in prayer I ever heard, but he couldn’t preach a lick.” Once, encountering moonshiners in the mountains, he dismounted, knelt, and offered a long prayer for God to “smash the still into smithereens.” He rose, smoothed his trousers, and continued his journey. A heavy tree fell on the still, wrecking it. The owner rebuilt it, and Sheffey prayed again. This time a flash flood did the job.

His prayers were honest, down-to-earth, and plain-spoken—even routine prayers like grace at meals. Once, being entertained in a neighborhood home, he was asked to offer thanks. Sheffey, who loved chicken-and-dumplings, said, “Lord, we thank Thee for this good woman; we thank Thee for this good dinner—but it would have been better if the chicken had dumplings in it. Amen.”

Robert Sheffey’s unorthodox prayers and sermons ushered many mountaineers into the kingdom and earned him the title the Peculiar Preacher.

Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well. If you have the gift of speaking, preach God’s message. If you have the gift of helping others, do it with the strength that God supplies. (1 Peter 4:10-11

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 9.

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