Sometimes it takes a Squirrel

A Ray Stevens inspired devotion

Sometimes it takes a Squirrel…

By Sam B. Sears

A revival story centered on a squirrel is a dead giveaway the pastor is a hillbilly, but most of you already knew that, so here goes. For some reason, while Heather and I were recently marveling over the surprising ways God can foster growth through change, I made a casual reference to “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival.” The puzzled look on my wife’s face immediately clued me to the fact this hadn’t been part of her “spiritual journey,” which was even more of a puzzler to me, since we had lived in Mississippi.


Older readers will certainly recall comic Christian country musician, Ray Stevens, who is still performing every Saturday night in Nashville at the age of 84. He is probably best known for comedy novelty songs like The Streak, but he also won a Grammy in 1971 for Everything is Beautiful, which he both wrote and performed.“


In 1984, the year I was born, he released “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” which I heard multiple times throughout my childhood, but never with as much enjoyment as when laughing with Heather recently when she heard it for the first time. In the song, Ray claims to be remembering a summer trip to Granny’s, the highlight of which was catching a squirrel, taking it to church in a shoebox, and The Lord using that varmint as an instrument for revival when it escaped in the process of showing it off to a friend.


“What happened next was hard to tell. Some thought it was heaven and some thought it was hell.” “The first self-righteous church of Pascagoula” turned sideways when that Squirrel went “berserk…As the choir sang ‘I Surrender All,’ the squirrel ran up Harv Newlan's coveralls, Harv leaped to his feet and said, "Something’s got a hold on me", Yeow!” 

The congregation wasn’t aware of the squirrel but was aware of its impact on different individuals. Stevens sings, “It was a fight for survival that broke out in revival. They were jumpin' pews and shoutin' Hallelujah!”


Under the impetus of that squirrel “jumpin’ her garters and crossin’ her thighs,” Sister Bertha, “in the Amen pew (better than you)” begins to confess her sins including her love life, and “she started naming names.” The end result was that “seven deacons and the pastor got saved, twenty-five thousand dollars was raised and fifty volunteered for missions in the Congo on the spot. Even without an invitation, there were at least five hundred rededications, and we all got baptized whether we needed it or not.” 


Despite being the instigator, the singer credits God, “Oh the miracles God has wrought in this old world, But the one I'll remember 'til my dyin' day, is how he put that Church back on the narrow way, with a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel.”


Though naturally trying to avoid blame, we can appreciate the boy (fictional though he might have been) recognized God’s hand behind the scenes, a reality we see all through Scripture. When encountering his brothers, who threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery, Joseph tells them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  (Genesis 50:20) God used the evil intentions of the jealous brothers as a turning point in Joseph’s journey to becoming second in command of Egypt, where he was able to prepare for a famine and ultimately save many lives. Joseph’s position provided him opportunity to Glorify the one true God, YHWH, before countless pagans, revealing the inadequacy, uselessness, of their false gods and idols. All could not help but recognize it was YHWH who knew the future and, through his servant Joseph, had arranged for them to be provided for. 

That evangelical squirrel has been stuck in my head for the past several weeks, providing many additional smiles. It also furthered my ongoing reflection on the events of the year and my desire for revival. Changes, both expected and very unexpected, have shaken things up, but I feel the Lord is working, and asking us all to pitch in. 

I hope all Christians would recoil at the name “First Self-Righteous Church” as we are to lean on Jesus’s righteousness, not our own. One of the greatest obstacles to truly serving God is pride, with the attribute of Jesus we most need to follow being humility, remembering His will is far more important than our own. 

I’m sure a real instance of public confession like sister Bertha’s would cause a lot of chaos initially. Like some medicines, truth can be very bitter and difficult to take. But truth, coupled with love, cooperation, and the recognition we all need forgiveness is so much healthier and more productive than keeping resentment, bitterness, guilt, and shame bottled up in the dark.

The songwriter indicates the truth also sparked a spirit of generosity in that Pascagoula church. Like it or not, ministry work requires funding as well as volunteers. We find ourselves with a huge mission field around us. Rather than go to the Congo, I would love to see 50 more folks on mission right here in Visalia. Hopefully, the humor of the song will help us examine ourselves to test whether we really are on “the straight and narrow,” serving our Lord with our whole hearts. 

Whether it is the inspiration of a squirrel or whatever, I pray that God moves to bring us all to revival, repentance, and re-engagement with our mission. He can use whatever means He likes; it’s His church after all. 

(Thanks to my editor, Robbie Rouch for helping this hillbilly communicate more effectively, and thanks to my wife, Heather, who, no doubt, would wisely prevent me from bringing an actual squirrel to church to use as a sermon illustration.) 

Check out the song here