So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, ...
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I did not intend on writing about St Patrick for two days in a row, however, as I was reading and researching about Patrick’s life I found that I was challenged and encouraged by his story. I find there are many similarities between Patrick’s life and the Biblical story of Daniel we have been looking at. Both of their stories begin in the teenage years, both were deeply devoted and surrendered to God, both lived their lives with a knowledge and faith in the sovereignty of God. What I find with Patrick’s story is what I find in Daniel’s story, that their experiences, the ups and downs, the twist and turns, are all signs that point to God, not to themselves. Daniel may have a book in the Bible named after him, but the content of that Book is all about God. Patrick’s life reveals the same, God did it.
I want to touch on a few things that I found helpful and a challenge to me about Patrick’s story.
Saint Patrick was a huge success where other missionaries were not. Because of his time in slavery, Patrick was intimately familiar with the Irish culture: the Celtic language, the pagan Druid practices and beliefs, and the extensive clan system. Because of this, he devised a new strategy to share the Gospel. He approached the clan chiefs first, including his former abusive master, who was a high Druidic priest. He knew that if the chiefs chose to listen to the Good News of God’s love and came to believe, the rest of their clan would trust the message and quickly follow suit. It worked, and—in large part thanks to Saint Patrick’s approach—Ireland soon became one of the most fervent Christian nations in the world and even sent missionaries from Ireland to other areas in Europe and the Roman Empire.
Learning about his life and ministry in the fifth century continues to inform us today. Notice that out of what must have been a traumatic experience in slavery, God used the experience later in Patrick’s life to make him a blessing. We also see in this part of Patrick’s story the importance of knowing your culture, community, and neighbors.
I find that we are living in a world where we tend to demonize those who disagree with us and therefore struggle to connect with those who live and believe differently. Just look at what happens in politics in North America, notice this as well among members of the body of Christ, not everyone would agree with me on this, but I am deeply grieved when I read about “cancel culture” within the community of Jesus. Don’t listen to this preacher, don’t support this ministry, don’t sing songs from these churches.
I find several attitudes in Patrick that can guide our lives in as followers of Jesus. Here are a few:
Love God and love your enemies.
In his autobiography, Confession, Patrick described how his faith grew during captivity as a young adult. “More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day and in the night nearly as often.” This wasn’t simply a private love for God; it produced a love for his enemies as well. One biographer writes of Patrick that he “came to love his captors, to identify with them and to hope for their reconciliation to God.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Patrick embodied Jesus’ command in Matthew 5 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It is easy to go online in groups and "shout" down those who disagree with us, Patrick shows us the impact we can make when we love those who are against us.
Follow your calling.
At age 48 (which was past the life expectancy then), Patrick had a vision which he describes in his autobiography. I did mention this yesterday but I believe it bears repeating.
“And I read the beginning of the letter containing ‘The voice of the Irish.’ And while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letters, I myself thought indeed in my mind that I heard the voice of those who were near the wood of Foclut, which is close by the Western Sea. And they cried out thus as if with one voice, ‘We entreat thee, holy youth, that thou come, and henceforth walk among us.’ And I was deeply moved in my heart, and could read no further; and so I woke.”
Each of us has a calling. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, we are God’s masterpieces “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God created us on purpose for a purpose. Once we discover our calling, we ought to be deeply moved in our hearts, as Patrick was, unable to do anything else but follow God’s call.
Look for ways to draw out the best in others.
Thomas Cahill wrote, “Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination—making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”
In our world that is characterized by outrage and propelled by controversy, it is counter-cultural to look for ways to draw out the best in others. We rarely look for the best in those we dislike, much less work on drawing the best out of those who think and act differently. Yet, Patrick did this very thing. He returned to those who enslaved him, served them, loved them, and sought to help them be the best peoplenthey could be through Christ.
Integrate your faith into your whole life.
Patrick's belief was that all the world belonged to God and this became part of his strength. Patrick's wrote a Letter to Coroticus, who was a King in Patrick’s time, Patrick described believers taken into slavery, with the sign of the cross still fresh on their foreheads. Patrick pleaded for their safe return. We noted yesterday his concern for what women were experiencing, and their suffering in slavery.
His protests against slavery eventually paid off with a successful outcome. During Patrick's lifetime (or shortly after), the slave trade in Ireland stopped.
I realize slavery seems far from the modern world, but a modern equivalent still exists: human trafficking. The statistics from our various world areas are staggering. Analysts suggest that more human beings experience slavery today, in the form of human trafficking, then at any other time in human history.
St. Patrick's Letter pleaded with the King for such as these: "Hence the Church mourns and laments her sons and daughters whom the sword has not yet slain, but who were removed and carried off to faraway lands, where sin abounds openly, grossly, impudently. There people who were freeborn have, been sold, Christians made slaves, and that, too, in the service of the abominable, wicked, and apostate [unbelievers]."
("Letter to Coroticus." http://www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1166.htm)
From Patrick’s story these truths are underscored for us:
We can trust God with our days. “My times are in your hands…” Ps. 31:15
We can trust that He will bring purpose through even the darkest of times. "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." Rom. 8:28
We can be assured God's presence is always with us and His plans for us are good. "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." Ps. 84:11
History attributes a lengthy prayer to Patrick, now known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate. One section in particular conveys a Christ-centered, view of life. The words combine faith into every moment of the day, every interaction with people.
Christ be with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.