Before Christians go on trips, they often ask for “traveling mercies.” What are these special prayers?
The New Testament books in general talk a lot about prayers and praying, and in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters there are a number of references to trips and traveling. But rarely in the Bible are the two topics of prayer and travel intentionally combined as is the case with the Christianese expression “traveling mercies.”
Traveling mercies are prayers that are made for someone who is about to undertake a big journey. When the term first started being used in the late 19th century, it meant prayers for missionaries who were going on long journeys to remote parts of the world. When you think about it, the late 19th century probably wasn’t so very different from the 1st century in terms of the dangers of travel. Delays, thefts, illnesses, unexpected expenses—such misfortunes plague long-distance travelers of every age and every part of the world.
The term “traveling mercies” caught on and started showing up in print quite a bit in missionary magazines and other kinds of Christian publications during the early part of the 20th century. It wasn’t long before non-missionaries wanted these special prayers too. After all, why should ordinary lay people settle for just hedges of protection when they can have traveling mercies too? And so by the mid-20th century, the expression “traveling mercies” was being used by pretty much anyone who wanted prayer for an upcoming trip, whether the trip was specifically religious in nature or not. The special connection between traveling mercies and missionary work had become a relic of a bygone time.
Do you still ask for traveling mercies? Is it a term you grew up with?
traveling mercies n. ‹Prayer› See various senses.
The term arose in the late 19th century and was used at first almost exclusively of church workers who were on a long journey for the purpose of ministry work (see sense 1), but by the mid-20th century the term was being used in a general way of any Christians who were on a journey for any reason (see sense 2).
1. God’s blessings and protection on missionaries, preachers, and other church workers who are traveling to or from a place of ministry, usually at some distance.
• 1893 Sakurai Minutes of the Second Bienniel Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union 17 : He has blessed me with traveling mercies and allowed me to come here to try to do something for him. 1894 The Interior XXV. 1721 : The Lord was good indeed, and gave us traveling mercies innumerable throughout our journeying in England, Scotland and the United States, and now we are thankful to be brought again in health and strength to our loved field of labor in the Holy City. 1903 The Advance XLV. 699 : She wrote of their comfortable journey while ships just before and after had suffered. This was spoken of as one of the “traveling mercies” which we often ask for our missionaries. 1907 The Nazarene Messenger XII. 64 : We had traveling mercies, and on arrival in this city were very warmly welcomed by the people of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. We were made comfortable by the kindness of the saints in a home of our own. 1910 Presbyterian Mag. XVI. 558 : The missionary, thankful for traveling mercies, reached Mejdel warm and dry, being clad in a complete suit of rubber. 1911 YMCA Association Men XXXVI. 426 : Pray for the thousands of delegates now enroute to the Triennial International Sunday School Convention at San Francisco. For traveling mercies, open-mindedness, spiritual vision, and obedient wills. 1913 Missionary Voice III. 449 : Pray for traveling mercies for them and for a great outpouring of blessings upon Brazil. 1923 Missions: An International Baptist Mag. XIV. 346 : Bon voyage to the delegates and friends bound for the Old World. May God give to all traveling mercies and a safe return! 1949 Miller Patty Lou in the Wilds of Central America 12 : She finished by saying, “And as we start on the final lap of the journey, give us traveling mercies. Keep Thy hand over us every moment of the voyage as we sail across the Gulf of Panama into the San Miguel Gulf and up the Tuira River to our headquarters.” 1954 The Moravian vols. 99–101 171 : Our thanks as a church are due for traveling mercies accorded to them all. They can be assured of the prayers of many, especially in the case of those who now undertake missionary responsibility for the first time. 1967 Huss Robert G. Lee: The Authorized Biography 204 : All of the men took turns praying that their pastor would be afforded traveling mercies, that he would be mightily used of God, and that he return to them safely. 1971 Hunter My Love Affair with Charles 65 : Please remember to pray for God’s traveling mercies as we drive on Thanksgiving Day to Clearwater for the Youth Convention, and then pray that God will make me a blessing to all the youth who will be attending.
2. God’s blessings and protection on any people who are traveling.
Eades They Did Not March Alone
2 : Then the two men in uniform, the enlisted man and the Chaplain stood for a short prayer, asking God to give the young soldier traveling mercies and to bless him and the bereaved loved ones back at home. 1961
North Carolina State AFL-CIO Proceedings of the Annual Convention
110 : We pray that you have your way in the rest of this convention here this afternoon and that we as delegates and visitors going to our respective homes, that You give us traveling mercies as we go on the highways, through the air or however we go, and may we arrive home safetly for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. 1975
Beardsley, Spry The Fulfilled Woman
23 : Always pray for traveling mercies and ask God to make your husband a safe, alert driver. a1997
Wimber Everyone Gets to Play
(2007) 83 : I’ve been in hundreds of prayer meetings and have heard all kinds of prayers from prayers for traveling mercies to unspoken requests. 2007
Kimball They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations
44 : We find ourselves regularly using Christian words and phrases and clichés, such as backsliding
, prayer warrior
, quiet time
, traveling mercies
Sinclair Branded: Sharing Jesus with a Consumer Culture
97 : I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but “traveling mercies” is one of my favorite Christianese phrases. Instead of praying for a safe trip to grandma’s house, we say, “Please pray for traveling mercies as we visit family this weekend.” 2011
Murrow Why Men Hate Going to Church
103 : Please pray traveling mercies for my son. He’s flying back to Harvard for the spring semester.