My times are in your hands…
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
1 Corinthian 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!
Today March 17, Irish culture enthusiasts around the world will dress in Kelly green and drink over 17 million pints of Guinness. However, Saint Patrick’s Day was primarily a “dry” holiday until the 1960s, when the day was first observed as a National holiday. Prior to the change, even the bars were closed on March 17th! Indeed, from its earliest celebrations, most who observed the seriousness of Saint Patrick's life chose to abstain from alcohol; it was a way for the faithful to honor and remember Saint Patrick’s sacrifices as an evangelist for the greater good of the nation and their own lives.
Today, most of those celebrating may not care too much about who Saint Patrick was, I spent most of my life celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for parties, and Irish food, wearing green and even being impressed by pictures of rivers and fountains that run green. What’s not to love about Ol’ St. Paddy? Like most people the story of his conversion and devotion to the gospel that impacted not just Ireland, but many parts of world, was of little interest to me.
Yet the story of St. Patrick’s life is a powerful story that ought to be celebrated, not because of Patrick but because his story, like all our stories, is the story of what can happen when our sovereign God is at work in an individual’s life that is surrendered to him. So let’s take a “wee little” look at Patrick and his story.
When he was a teenager, Patrick’s home, was attacked and he was abducted by Irish raiders. Patrick was taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to an Irish king, where he served as a shepherd.
Although his father was a clergyman, Patrick did not yet have a strong faith. In the despair of his isolated existence as a slave-shepherd, he began reaching out to God.
Patrick’s Confessions tells us:
“So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.”
After six years of slavery, one night Patrick heard God speak to him: “…very soon you will return to your native country…Look – your ship is ready.” Patrick ran away and traveled over 200 miles to the coast where, providentially, he was able to find passage on a ship about to depart for Britain.
Patrick was forever changed by the experience of his captivity, conversion, and escape to freedom. He believed God was leading him to the priesthood, and he eventually entered a monastery; ultimately, he would become a bishop in the church. And 30 years after he had escaped slavery, Patrick felt God calling him to carry the gospel back to Ireland.
Patrick knew his task would not be easy, but he had heard the people of Ireland calling to him in visions soon after he returned to Britain:
“They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply…I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.”
God blessed Patrick’s work in Ireland, bringing thousands to put their trust in Jesus, in a context of significant opposition from those he came to serve. Knowing and having a heart for the people, Patrick was the right man at the right time to bring the gospel to Ireland. Patrick fulfilled God’s call by serving the community where God had placed him. He spent more than thirty years proclaiming the Gospel and building schools and churches across Ireland.
“So I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned,” he says. “I do not know how to provide for the future. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then He who is powerful came and in His mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of His, here and now and forever.” (St. Patrick)
Patrick was one of the first Christian opponents of slavery. He was particularly concerned about how Christian women suffered in slavery:
Patrick was to write, “In addition, there are the widows…Of all these, those held in slavery work hardest – they bear even terror and threats, but the Lord gives grace to so many of the women who serve him. Even when it is forbidden, they bravely follow his example.”
Patrick’s response to God’s call on his life is what we should be thinking about on St. Patrick’s Day. Today we need more women and men like St. Patrick who love God and, in response, are committed to living out God’s calling in their lives. A special people who, because of their love for God, demonstrate a real love for people. A people who stand up for what is right and advocate in both prayer and deed for the cause of those who cannot defend themselves.
The life of St. Patrick is an example to us still today, that even in the darkest of times, God’s Sovereignty shines over His people. God comes to our aid, comes to bless us and let His favor surround our lives. Because He’s a good and loving God. And nothing escapes His notice. He watches over all, and we can trust that our lives and circumstances are held securely in His hands.
In 433 A.D., history tells us that St. Patrick was praying for God’s divine protection in his work and ministry in Ireland while facing powerful oppostion. He wrote this prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which is still widely known and recited today. Let us pray this prayer today.