Written by Kailynn Nelson
On March 17th cities all over America will look a little greener than they usually do. There will be parades in many cities and the water in the Chicago River will be dyed green, all to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For most of us, St. Patrick’s Day is just another fun holiday. It is a day for us to get a little goofy. As Dr. Megan Devore, my church history professor from Colorado Christian University, says in her video on the history of St. Patrick’s Day (which I would encourage you to watch), “we often think of St. Patrick’s Day as a day of silliness.” For most of my life I thought St. Patrick’s Day was just a random holiday somebody made up. It was a day to have fun, but never really seemed to be very significant. Then, I learned the story behind it and now it is one of my favorite holidays. The story of St. Patrick is completely rooted in the gospel. Behind all the green and the “silliness” is a beautiful, powerful story of how God can completely change someone’s life. I really believe there is a lot we, as Christians, can learn from Patrick and his life. I’d like to take some time in this blog to share Patrick’s story with you, as well as a few personal reflections on it. I’ve included some links at the bottom of the post and would encourage you to read and do some research/reflecting on your own. I would also recommend checking out the Dr. Devore’s video that I referenced above and take some time to reflect on what she says. As you read and as you learn more for yourselves, I would love to hear anything that stood out to you or any reflections you had from this post or anything else you’ve read.
Patrick was the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest in Britain. Although he grew up in a religious family, Patrick, by his own admission, did not know the true God as a child. When he was 16, Patrick was taken captive by the Irish and forced to work as a slave. While he was a slave, Patrick worked as a shepherd. During the long days tending his master’s sheep, Patrick found his need, and love, for God. He “prayed frequently during the day” (Confessio, 16) and his faith grew. Patrick wrote in his Confessio, that he would easily pray up to a hundred times in just one day. As the years went on, Patrick’s faith and relationship with God grew stronger. About 6 years after he was taken captive, Patrick had a dream which told him he would be going home soon. A few days later, in the middle of his work, Patrick heard a voice say, “Look- your ship is ready” (17). When retelling his story Patrick writes, “It was in the strength of God that I went – God who turned the direction of my life to good; I feared nothing while I was on the journey to that ship” (17). It was God who led Patrick out of his slavery. God took the darkness Patrick found himself in and turned it around for good.
When he returned home to Britain, Patrick’s family begged him never to leave them again. But Patrick felt a strong calling to return to Ireland. When Patrick had been living in Ireland as a slave, he had come to see how few people there knew Jesus. At the time, Ireland was dominated by pagan religion. Patrick himself said, “Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things” (41). God broke Patrick’s heart for the people who had enslaved him. So, Patrick spent years being discipled, and eventually became a bishop, all because he wanted to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel.
In Patrick’s story we see the radical forgiveness and love that only comes from being forgiven and loved by God. Many years after he had returned to serve God in Ireland Patrick wrote his Confessio, which is referenced above. Confessio contains his testimony of being a slave in Ireland, finally coming to faith in Jesus, and eventually returning to preach the gospel in Ireland. (As a side note, if you have the time I would highly recommend reading it. It is pretty short and simple to read through, and it’s something I personally was encouraged by while I was doing research for this post). In Confessio, Patrick wrote: “Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I am really like, so that they can see what inspires my life” (6).
So, what exactly inspired his life? What drove him to choose to return to Ireland and share the gospel with people who had enslaved him? I think if you read through Patrick’s writings and really study his story you’ll see the thing that inspired him is nothing more and nothing less than the radical love of God. Patrick was inspired by the gospel.
Patrick’s experience of the gospel in Ireland radically changed his life. As he said, he did not know the true God until he became a slave in Ireland. During his captivity, Patrick came to see the depth of his sin. But, even as he became aware of his sin, he found forgiveness in Jesus. Through Jesus, God led Patrick out of his slavery to sin.
As Patrick experienced the mercy of God, the radical love He shows to sinners, he was moved to share the gospel in Ireland. Personally, this is the part of the story I am most amazed by. He returned to people who did not necessarily show him love first. He showed the radical love and forgiveness God had shown him. I think Patrick’s decision to share the gospel with the Irish shows how much he was impacted by his own experience of the gospel. Patrick was not just sharing a new religion with them. He was not simply showing them a new moral code. He was not bringing them another deity to add to their list of idols. He was extending the same grace God had lavished on him. He was moved to share the gospel, not out of some religious obligation, but out of the love of God. God broke his heart for the people in Ireland. Even though they had harmed him, Patrick forgave them and showed them the greatest love of all, the love of God.
In Dr. Devore’s video she says, Patrick’s story should help us remember the people who shared the gospel with us. We can look to Patrick’s story and thank God for inspiring those who showed us His love and mercy. It is a beautiful thing to think about how much being loved by God will move us to show love to others. Whoever has shared the gospel with you or has poured into your life since you became a Christian experienced the same love Patrick experienced in Ireland. Somehow God brought them to a knowledge of their sin and how desperately they needed forgiveness. And then, He graciously forgave them and showed them His great love. That love and forgiveness, inspired them to share it with you. Just as the Irish experienced the love and grace of God through Patrick, those of us who have faith in Jesus have experienced that same grace of God through other people.
This is what the Great Commission looks like. In Matthew 28, Jesus tells His disciples to go into the world and make more disciples. As I’ve been reflecting on this, I keep stopping to think about the kind of domino-effect experiencing God’s grace has. All the way back when Jesus first stepped on the earth, His disciples experienced the love of God. And they shared it with other people. And then those people shared it with other people. And eventually, it spread around the world and through so many years to reach you and me. God has stirred the hearts of men and women throughout history to continue to show His love and mercy to those around them.
It’s even more amazing to think about how this was God’s plan. God knew exactly when and how you would be saved because He planned it that way. In Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul said that, in Jesus, God “makes known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ, for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things on heaven and things on earth.” God wants to love people. He wants to show grace, to forgive. He wants to bring people into a relationship with Him. And He tends to use other people to do it. That’s what it means to be the body of Christ. As His body, we show God’s grace to people in our lives. That’s what it means to be the church.
The gospel inspired Patrick’s life. The gospel changed Patrick’s life. It changed his perspective. Instead of seeing the Irish as his captors, God changed his heart to see them as sinners in need of grace. Jeremy talked a few weeks ago about how when Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man in John 9, the man’s perspective started to change. He saw things differently than those around him. His head knowledge of Jesus turned into belief. His belief changed his heart and changed how he saw things. His life became inspired by his faith in Jesus. Jeremy talked during his sermon about how when he goes to work, his perspective is different than those around him. His life is inspired by the gospel, by the love and mercy God has shown him. That changes how and why he does things. I’ve seen the same thing in my own life. When I finally understood the gospel, when I finally understood what it means for God to love and forgive me, I started to see things differently. I noticed that how I view other people has changed. God has softened my heart toward people, even people who are difficult to get along with (or perhaps especially with those people). This is the same change Patrick found when he experienced God’s grace in Jesus. Jesus opened his eyes, and his perspective changed. He saw things differently than he had before. This perspective change inspired the rest of his life.
I think remembering Patrick’s story can help us remember what should be inspiring us as well. Sharing the gospel isn’t just sharing another religion. It isn’t something we should do out of some moral obligation or to check something off a list. Our motivation shouldn’t be out of what we should do, but rather rooted in . Patrick’s story can help us look back on how Jesus first opened our eyes. What inspired Patrick’s radical life, is what inspired the people who shared the gospel with you, as well as the lives of those who continue to disciple and pour into your life. And hopefully, it inspires you to go out and share the gospel with others. Hopefully, the grace God showed you is what drives you to love the people in your life. It is what should inspire how we do things at Heritage as whole congregation, as well as individuals. The love of God displayed in Jesus is what should inspire us to gather on Sundays. The forgiveness of God should inspire us as we go out each week to our workplaces, schools, and everywhere else we go. We don’t gather or “do church” to check something off a list or to make ourselves feel better. We don’t share the gospel with other people because we have to or because we should. We aren’t just trying to get more people to come to our church. We are trying to show them the same mercy God showed us. We are trying to show them what, and who, inspires our lives.
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