(March 17, 2022), Alan Higgins brings a timely challenge…
It’s St Patrick’s Day today and I recall what our patron saint did with discipleship and mission.
The main scriptures – familiar to many – that I have chosen are Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 28:16-20 … scriptures, I believe, that must have been on Patrick’s heart.
What can we learn from them… and what do they tell us about Saint Patrick, the Irish legend?
1. Patrick’s life exemplifies Jesus’ command to reach the lost
The gospels give us the following messages from the heartbeat of Jesus, not just Patrick, on the importance of fulfilling the great commission.
Matthew 28:16-20 is what Patrick set out to do in Ireland – to make disciples in this nation. His life and ministry teach us to be open to the call of God in our lives.
- His beginning in Ireland did not dictate his future, but drew him into a love relationship with Jesus.
- His relationship with Jesus helped him to overcome adverse circumstances in both his teen and later years.
- His ability to draw close to God and forgive had a dramatic impact on the Irish people.
- His willingness to follow God’s call makes him a hero of the faith.
Let’s learn from this man of God and ask ourselves a few questions. Such as: ‘Am I willing to draw closer to God in turbulent times? Am I willing and able to forgive those who have caused pain in my life? Am I willing to follow the call of God and even give my life to those who enslaved me?’
If you do you too could become a hero of the faith just like Patrick!
Remember, your prayers, even faltering ones, make such a difference – for example: Continuing to remember the people of Ukraine and praying for a peaceful outcome to this terrible conflict.
2. Patrick’s role is a model for the Christian community to forgive others
Patrick forgave those who had kidnapped him as a child… as he did all who mistreated, misunderstood, him and his mission.
Ukrainian people have a need to forgive, and we too must be a forgiving people. If we don’t, then hatred will win our hearts and we will go down the slippery slope of wanting revenge on those who have offended and hurt us – but that is not God’s way.
Next month we celebrate all that Jesus has done for us… especially forgiving us.
And what did Jesus say about forgiveness? In Matthew 5:38-40 He said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.’
At first glance, we might think this scripture teaches that no matter what someone does to us, we are to look the other way, that we are not to take any actions against our aggressors. This could not be farther from the truth.
It is not saying that we are to let people do whatever they want to us. Rather, it is saying that we should let God handle it.
After all, God has the final say in everything. He’s still in charge!
3. Patrick’s example teaches us that we have to follow God’s calling
And why? Because it will make a difference in this world.
Patrick became a hero by –
- Boldly proclaiming the gospel and winning the Irish to Jesus.
- His radicalness in both discipleship and mission.
- Using visual aids (like the shamrock to explain the Trinity). As we use PowerPoint today, he followed Jesus’ use of parables!
4. Patrick’s desire was that the Irish people heard the good news about Jesus
He lived in the fifth century (a long time before PowerPoint!), and a time of rapid change and transition.
In many ways we might say that those times of turbulence and uncertainty were not unlike our own. The Roman Empire was beginning to break up, and Europe was about to enter the so-called Dark Ages. Rome fell to barbarian invaders in 410. Within ten years its forces began to leave Britain to return to Rome to defend positions back home.
Life, once so orderly and predictable under Roman domination, now became chaotic and uncertain. Patrick entered the world of that time.
- He was born Patricius somewhere in Roman Britain to a relatively wealthy family.
- Not religious as a youth he claimed to have practically renounced the faith of his family.
- While in his teens, Patrick was kidnapped in a raid and transported to Ireland.
- Enslaved to a local warlord he worked hard as a shepherd until he escaped six years later.
- Returning home, he eventually undertook studies for the priesthood.
- His intention was to return to Ireland as a missionary to his former captors!
- There he would minister for many years. Indeed, his permanent commitment was clearly to Ireland… he even intended to die there.
- By the time he wrote The Confession and Letter to Coroticus, Patrick was recognised by both Irish natives and the church hierarchy as the bishop of Ireland.
- His life not only touched Ireland but, in time, other nations too.
- Patrick followed Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’
5. Patrick’s determination to trust God is an encouragement to us all
That other scripture I mentioned above – Jeremiah 29:11 – says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
Would Patrick have been thinking those thoughts when kidnapped and taken as a slave? I believe he certainly did know that God would indeed have plans for his life and that those plans were good plans.
Do we believe that Bible truth when we are going through hard times, and there doesn’t seem to be any hope or future?
We too need to believe that God has plans for us, that those plans are the best for us and will help us just as they helped Patrick (and others who also have been, are, missions-minded!) The plans God has for each one of us will help us to live as radical disciples and radical missionaries.
Thinking outside the proverbial box!
Today we need to be radical in our discipleship, in our mission and in our teaching. Today we live in a world a lot different to what it was like in Jesus’ day and St Patrick’s, even 30 or 40 years ago.
Our churches today have needs and we must think outside the box. Are we really going to attract new people into the church if we continue as we have been doing for the past number of years?
The answer to that question is no – and at my home church we have come to that conclusion that we need to do something urgently to see new families not just attend church but become radical disciples of Jesus as well.
- It will be a long hard struggle but if we don’t do something now then the church as we know it now will be dead in the next few years.
- We all need to be like Patrick – radical disciples and radical missionaries – to show people around us that Jesus loves them.
- Let’s remember that Jesus cares for them and wants only the best for them – just as Patrick did to the Irish people all those years ago.
What about you?
So, what about you? What about me? Are we up for this task… as Patrick was?
I pray we all are. It is going to be a challenging task but with God’s help we can do it.
Matthew 5:13-16ESV is an appropriate scripture… ‘We are called to be salt and light in the place where God has called us to serve Him.’
Father God, we thank you for Patrick and how he brought your good news to the people of Ireland all those years ago. Help us to be people who also bring your message of love and hope to a needy people and to show them that Jesus is the answer to all their needs. Amen!
Alan Higgins served at Willowfield Parish Church, East Belfast, Northern Ireland, for 17 years. Now retired, he ministers around as God leads. Link: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com