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Under God

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
Released: October 2004
ISBN 0764200098

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Kettle Prayers: Lake Providence, Louisiana (1860s)

By Toby Mac and Michael Tait – Mattie knew what it meant when all the slaves were called to the barnyard like this. Someone was going to be whipped — as an example to the rest. How she dreaded these times! The twelve-year-old slave girl always cried for the one being whipped — and she hoped she would never do anything wrong to upset the master.

All the slaves waited silently in the yard. Finally Master came out with the one to be punished. It was her uncle Charlie! Mattie could not believe it. Uncle Charlie was a strong Christian — he would never lie or steal or slack off from his work. As Master chained him to the post, he told the slaves, "Charlie here was caught praying. Slaves are not allowed to pray on my plantation. Let this be a lesson to y'all."

Finally the whipping was over and the slaves went quietly back to their work. Mattie, the oldest daughter in her family, was still too small to work in the fields with her mother and father. Her job was to watch the younger children and help her grandmother with the cooking and cleaning.

Once they were back in the safety of their cabin, Mattie had a lot of questions. "Gramma," she whispered, "why does Master say it's wrong to pray?"

Gramma whispered back, "'Cuz he thinks the only thing we ever pray about is to get free from him!"

"But why does he let us go to church?"

"'Cuz it makes us better workers. The preachers he hires always say the same thing, ‘Obey your master, or you won't go to heaven.' Child, that's enough talk about this, now. You don't want Master to whip you, do you?"

No more was said about the matter for a year. Then, late one night after the younger children were asleep, her parents said, "Mattie, we're gonna tell you a secret. We have secret prayer meetin's whenever we can, an' you're now old enough to come. But never, ever talk 'bout our meetin's to anyone, anywhere. Not even one of us here at home. You never know when someone might hear an' tell Master."

Mattie was excited. "When do we go? Tonight?"

"No, not tonight. We never know much ahead of time — it's safer that way. Now go to sleep. No more questions."

Mattie was so excited she couldn't sleep. Just thinking about being invited made her feel proud. It meant everyone thought she was growing up — you would never tell little kids secrets this important. If someone found out, everyone would get whipped. She suddenly realized . . . she could get whipped! Did she really want to do this? Mattie argued back and forth with herself, tossing and turning until finally she dozed off.

The next afternoon the chores seemed to go slower than ever — she kept thinking about the secret prayer meeting. She had decided she would go, no matter what. It was wash day, so as always, she helped by carrying water from the well — bucket after bucket, trip after trip — until the family's big cast-iron kettle was full. Mattie and her grandmother then worked together — soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing the clothes. After that, Mattie would hang them on bushes to dry.

By then it was time for supper, and Mattie had to hurry to rinse the big kettle clean so her grandmother could use it to cook the family meal. As Mattie cut up vegetables for the stew, she couldn't stop thinking about the prayer meeting.

Just then a group of slaves walked past, returning from a long day in the fields. They were singing a song Mattie had heard many times: "Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus." Gramma caught Mattie's eye and then winked. Mattie had never seen her grandmother wink before — at first she wondered what it could mean. Then Gramma started singing, still looking intently at Mattie, watching for her response. "Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus."

In a flash of insight, Mattie realized that particular song was the secret invitation to a prayer meeting that night.

As they were washing up the supper dishes, Gramma told her, "Mattie, be sure an' clean the smoke off the outside real good. We'll be takin' the kettle with us tonight."

"Gramma," Mattie asked, "how does our secret prayer meetin' have anything to do with our big ol' kettle?"

Her grandmother looked up at her sharply. She whispered, "Hush, girl!" then nodded toward Mattie's little sister.

Oops! Mattie thought to herself. I've gotta get better at keepin' secrets, or they won't let me come for 'nother year!

Mattie looked over at Gramma. Gramma started singing again softly, "Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus." And again she winked at Mattie. Now Mattie knew that Gramma still believed she was big enough to be trusted and still wanted to include her. She joined in singing and winked back at Gramma.

Finally it was dark, and Mattie helped put the younger children to bed. She tried to stay awake but kept dozing off. Sometime in the middle of the night, her father whispered, "It's time!"

Silently, they opened the door to their cabin. By the moonlight, Mattie could see small groups of two or three adults stealing away to the barn. Mattie's father and one of the other men carried the large iron kettle. Others carried large rocks.

So they do use the kettle! Mattie thought to herself. But what does a kettle have to do with prayin'? Will we need water? And what are the big rocks for? Mattie was full of questions, but this time, she knew better than to ask.

The men carefully opened the big barn door, moving it so slowly that it made no sound. They slipped into the barn carrying the kettle and shut the door behind them. Once inside, they turned the kettle upside down so the rim of the kettle was on the dirt floor of the barn, then placed four rocks under the rim to prop it up and create an opening.

One by one, Mattie's family and neighbors lay on the ground around the kettle, their mouths close to the opening. Gramma motioned for Mattie to come lie beside her. Soon Mattie's father began to pray softly, the kettle muffling his voice. Taking turns, others joined in. They prayed and sang softly long into the night.

As Mattie watched, her questions were answered — except for one. Whenever she prayed, Mattie asked God for help with something she faced that day. But as she listened, she noticed her family and neighbors were not praying for themselves. They didn't think they would see freedom in their time, so they prayed for the freedom of their children and their children's children. Mattie realized they were risking their lives to pray for her freedom and for children who would one day be born to her. She now had new questions: How long do prayers keep? Do they last forever? Where does God keep them?

Mattie dozed off wondering how many prayers it would take to fill the big kettle. She woke as the big folks were quietly getting up off the dirt floor. She was quickly alert, knowing that this would be her only chance to ask about all that she had seen.

Just then her favorite uncle, Robert, came over and gave her a hug. He whispered, "I betcha got a lotta questions. I did! Like, how does this thing work?"

Mattie nodded. "Yeah, how does it work?"

"I asked a lotta folks, and I got a lotta answers," Robert said. "Folks say God catches the sound of the prayin' and the singin' and keeps it in the kettle so the white folk can't hear us.

"You know, some families don't get down on the floor like we do. They just put the kettle on the doorstep to keep the sounds from escapin' out the door. They say that works just as well.

"Some say it don't matter where you put the kettle, 'cause the kettle is just a sign that shows God we're trustin' Him to be with us and protect us."

Mattie nodded. "Gramma says God can do anythin' if we trust Him."

At that moment Gramma joined them. Uncle Robert asked, "Mama, where did folks learn about prayin' into the kettle?"

"I don't know where they learned it," Gramma answered. "I kinda think the Lord put these things in their minds to do for themselves, just like He helps us Christians in other ways." She paused. "Don't ya think so?"

Robert smiled. "All I know is it works! I talk with folks from other plantations, and I never heard tell of anyone caught prayin' since our people started using them kettles."

Mattie noticed that most of the folks had left already. "Gramma, I got some more questions," she said. "How long do prayers keep? Do they last forever? Where does God keep 'em?"

The old woman smiled. "I heard a preacher once tell that in heaven there was bowls full of the prayers of the saints. Them bowls sit right in front of the throne of God where He can see them all the time."

Mattie watched as her father and his friend picked up the big family kettle. "And our kettle is like our own secret bowl of prayers for our family forever."

Gramma reached out to hug Mattie. "I'm so proud of you, Mattie. Someday you'll be free, an' you will be able to pray wherever and whenever you want. Be sure to keep prayin' for your children. And be sure to tell your children how we prayed for them under the kettle."

Gramma noticed the men were waiting for them to leave so they could close the big barn big door. "Now hush, Mattie. No more questions about prayin' until next meetin'!"


Intercessor and author William Ford III owns the prayer kettle used by his ancestors to pray for his freedom. He writes:

One day, freedom did come. While many of those who prayed did not live to see freedom, their prayers were answered for the next generation. The young girl ["Mattie" in the above story] who passed down these stories attended these prayer meetings until slavery was abolished. . . . As a young teenager, she was set free. Can you imagine being that one that freedom fell upon, having listened to others pray for your freedom for many years?

I believe this teenage girl saw fit to pass down this kettle because she knew that not only was she standing on the sacrifice of others' devotion to Christ, but so was everyone born after her in our family. She was careful to preserve and pass on both the kettle and its history. She passed it to her daughter, Harriet Locket, who passed it to Nora Locket, who passed it to William Ford, Sr., who passed it to William Ford, Jr., who gave it to me, William Ford III. It has been in our family for 200 years.

As Will continued to study generational prayer, he came to realize:

I could agree with the prayers made under our family's kettle by those who had gone before me. I thought, "Lord, I can agree with the prayers of my ancestors for the freedom of today's and the future generations in America." God was showing me in a new way that He is powerful, yesterday, today, and forever.

In his book, History Makers (Regal Books, 2004), which he coauthored with Dutch Sheets, Will speaks of the "synergy of the ages." He writes:

In God's kingdom, the prayers of Abraham are as immediate and relevant today as they were the day he prayed them. And so with the prayers of our forefathers. In other words, God is bringing together all the prayers of the saints to bear on the condition of America today. Connecting with this heritage can strengthen our prayers and heal our land, bringing revival and great societal change. No prayer is wasted. Our prayers count.

Will then includes the following prayer:

Father, John Quincy Adams said it best when he wrote, "Posterity — you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you make good use of it." Help us to make good use of what You started in America. Thank You for those who sacrificed yesterday so that we can have freedom today. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son, Who died and rose again and Who ever lives to make intercession for us. We thank You that the same God who broke the power of slavery, can break the power of every stronghold in our day. Connect us with the past revival power that moves the chain forward for future generations. Unite Your Church! Make us repairers of the breach, the restorers of many generations. Teach us to pray. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Excerpted from:
Under God by tobyMac and Michael Tait (with WallBuilders)
Copyright © 2004; ISBN 0764200098
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.


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