Lately I’ve been reading about prayer. What has been wonderful is that the direction of the author I’ve read is not primarily a theological treatise on prayer. It has been more of the practical work of walking with and seeking God. The reading I did today touched on the life of George Washington Carver. Carver did not have an easy life. He was born toward the end of the Civil War to a family of slaves on the Moses Carver farm. He, his sister, and mother were kidnapped by the Kentucky night raiders. George was rescued and returned to the Carvers who raised him and his brother James. George lived in a deeply segregated south where it was very difficult for a black child to receive an education. Yet through perseverance He not only graduated from high school, but also graduated from what is now known as Iowa State University. He studied botany there as their first black student, and eventually became their first black faculty member. His thirst for learning eventually led him to receive a Master’s degree in botany where he became well-known for his work in plant pathology and mycology. After receiving his Master’s degree he joined Booker T. Washington at what would become Tuskegee University in Alabama.
There was another side to Carver. He was a very godly man who know the Lord. At age 10 he had the following conversation with his foster father when he asked him about grapes.
“Why are grapes purple?” George asked.
“Nobody knows.” his foster father replied.
“Does God know?” George asked.
“Of course he does.”
“Then I’ll ask him,” George responded, and left the room.
That was the simple faith of George Washington Carver. His foster father was amazed. He said, "George shouldn’t talk that way. He sounded as if he were going to meet God out there – around the house.”
Fortunately for him - and for us - George didn’t think that way. He developed a lifestyle of prayer that stayed with him throughout his entire life. Those who knew him said he would rise at 4 or 5 a.m and pray to start his day. And George kept on praying like he could go around the house and meet God.
Alabama and the surrounding southern states were experiencing hard times because they were farming the ground too hard. Dr. Carver taught farmers how to rotate crops. He introduced planting peanuts as an alternative crop to help with this problem. The only difficulty was that there was not a market for all the peanuts that were grown. Dr. Carver began praying about this. One of his favorite Bible verses was from the book of Job.
But ask the animal, and they will teach you,
Or the birds of the sky and they will tell you;
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
Or let the fish in the sea inform you.
He was certain that if he prayed and sought God, that God would give him wisdom to develop ways to use the peanut. In his own wonderfully humble words Dr. Carver related his conversation with God.
I asked God, “Why did you make the universe, Lord?
“Ask for something more in proportion to that little mind of yours,” God replied.
“Why did you make the earth, Lord?” I asked.
“Your little mind still wants to know far too much. ask for something more in proportion to that little mind of yours,” replied God.
“Why did you make man, Lord?” I asked.
“Far too much. Far too much. Ask again.” replied God.
“Explain to me why you made plants, Lord?” I asked.
“Your little mind still wants to know far too much,” the Lord replied.
“The peanut?” I asked meekly.
“Yes! For your modest proportions, I will grant you the master of the peanut. Take it inside your laboratory and separate it into water, fats, oils, gums, resins, sugars, starches, and amino acids. Then recombine these under my three laws of compatibility, temperature, and pressure. Then you will know why I made the peanut.” God said.
God was true to His promise, and Dr. Carver was true to his work. He eventually found 300 uses for the peanut. The “National Peanut Board” reported that Dr. Carver’s labors revealed that food products from peanuts involved such things as peanut lemon punch, chili sauce, caramel, peanut sausage, mayonnaise and coffee. Then he experimented and learned that cosmetics could be derived from peanuts. The cosmetics included face powder, shampoo, shaving cream and hand lotion. Not satisfied there he also learned that insecticides, glue, charcoal, rubber, nitroglycerine, plastics and axle grease were a few of the many valuable products derived from peanuts. Peanuts, once a non-cash crop, by 1938 became a $200 million industry and one of the chief products of Alabama.
One of my favorite stories about Dr. Carver is when he was allowed to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the United Peanut Association of America. He was informed by chairman Joseph Fordney that he would receive 10 minutes to testify. Dr. Carver enthralled the committee for an hour and 45 minutes about all that God had taught him about the lowly peanut. He spoke of shaving cream and soap, of cosmetics and wood stains, of glue and linoleum. He even shared with the committee about Worcestershire sauce! When he finished, chairman Fordney told Dr. Carver he could come back whenever he wanted and have as much time as he wanted.
All this from one humble man who turned to God for help about how he could use the little ole peanut. This godly man, who turned to the Lord early each morning, was willing to listen to God as He spoke through the earth and the plants to teach him. And what a glorious set of lessons God gave him. Dr. Carver didn’t seek patents for all of his ideas. He simply said if God gave them to him, he wanted to give them freely to others. Oh, and by the way, he also learned from the glamorous sweet potato as well, sharing over 100 different uses for it as well.
Dr. Carver faced a huge, God-sized problem. He had a multitude of peanuts - but no real profitable use for them. Dr. Carver knew from a lifetime of walking with and praying to God - that God had a wonderful answer if he would just seek God.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and mighty things which you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3, NASB
Dr. Carver called. God answered and told him. Dr. Carver then used every last ounce of his learning and ability to follow God. Amazing things happened. Kind of astounding what the peanut-sized prayers of a godly man produced? So - what is it that you need to take to God and humbly ask for His help with today?