For some reason, I’ve always pictured St. Patrick as a leprechaun. In my mind, he had a fiery red beard and a rainbow that followed him wherever he went. I figured he maybe carried a pot full of gold coins that he handed out all across Ireland while gathering with locals over delicious beer at different pubs. I’ve always known that my understanding of St. Patrick and his day might be slightly off, but I assumed the real story was far less exciting and decided to stick to my own version.
To my surprise, after learning the real version of St. Patrick’s story, I found that I like it better. He lived a life full of adventure and hardship, and he impacted thousands of people’s lives. There are three major lessons we can learn from St. Patrick’s life:
- Making your faith stick starts with prayer (Romans 5:3–4)
Patrick grew up in Roman Britain during the 5th century. As a 16-year-old boy, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates. For six years Patrick was enslaved as a shepherd, herding sheep and pigs. While shepherding, Patrick spent a great deal of his time praying. According to The Confession of St. Patrick, he credits this prayer time to be what made his faith in God real. In his writing, he professed that he believed his captivity was God having mercy on the ignorance of his youth. It was during that time of hardship and dependence on God that he converted to Christianity, despite having been unreligious up to that point.
Without the time spent alone with his thoughts, it’s easy to wonder if Patrick would have ever considered his need for God. Let’s hope it won’t take kidnapping and slavery for us to realize our same need.
- We make plans, but God leads our steps (Proverbs 16:9)
After six years of captivity, Patrick claims to have heard a voice telling him to make an escape and sail home to Britain. After traveling over 200 miles to find a ship able to take him, he set sail towards home. Upon landing in Britain, he and the crew wandered for 28 days in the wilderness. The story is told that it was St. Patrick’s prayer that finally led the group to food.
After the long-awaited reunion with his family, Patrick soon found himself feeling out of place. Patrick began studying to be ordained as a Christian missionary. He felt God calling him to go back to the people of Ireland. After several years of study, Patrick sailed back to Ireland. He was greeted by threats on his life and began wandering the coast looking for a safe place to land.
No doubt, Patrick probably expected his “spiritually guided” journey home would be far easier. Wasn’t God done allowing his life to be hard? Why wasn’t his return home more fulfilling? Why wasn’t his return to Ireland more welcoming? If we follow God’s “plan,” doesn’t that mean things are supposed to go smoothly? Patrick’s journey is a reminder that God, in His mercy, allows suffering and hardship to continue to shape us and build our hope in Him. Our footsteps are not meant to lead to our own kingdoms, but His.
- Being a Saint means living sacrificially (Matthew 10:39)
St. Patrick’s story isn’t over just yet. After finding a “safe” place to begin his missionary work, he soon found himself imprisoned on multiple occasions by local pagan chiefs, beaten nearly to death, incredibly lonely and missing home. Even so, he stayed on mission despite the suffering and embraced a sacrificial lifestyle. Being a Saint means pointing others towards the good news of Jesus, no matter the cost. As a result of St. Patrick’s ministry, thousands of Irish people professed their faith in Christ and were baptized.
St. Patrick is remembered for his great impact on Ireland and his success in spreading the Christian faith. Looking deeper, we find hope in his struggle and the narrative that God is still with us, even when things don’t make sense and don’t go our way. So as we celebrate on March 17, let’s take some time to talk to God, depend on Him as we go, and give up whatever we must for the sake of spreading Good News.
In the spirit of St. Patrick, check these out:
Partner with modern-day missionaries to Northern Ireland here
Read more about “St. Patrick: The Great Missionary”
Watch a three-minute video about St. Patrick
Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Christian Glisson | northcentral.org