DEVOTIONAL: Life Lessons From Saint Patrick

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.  Psalm 119:71 (NLT)

Think “Saint Patrick’s Day,” and wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage, and maybe heavy drinking come to mind. But did you know Saint Patrick was a real historical figure, and why was he so famous?

Even though most believe him to be from Ireland, Patrick was actually from England, when it was a Roman colony. As recounted in his life story, Confessions, he grew up in a Christian home, but as a teenager was kidnapped by marauding Irish raiders and taken to the Emerald Isle as a slave to watch sheep.

Patrick describes it this way: “I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.” (Confessions 1)

During his six years of enslavement, suffering from loneliness, fear, hunger, homesickness, and the terrible weather, he had time to pray and for the first time in his life, earnestly seek God.

Patrick continues: “It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. 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.” (2)

Suffering, and why it strikes some more than others, is a mystery. One whole book of the Bible is devoted to the topic: Job.  But the Bible also tells us, God often uses suffering to refine us and accomplish His purposes and bring us where we need to be. Joseph was nearly murdered by his brothers, sold into slavery, then unjustly thrown into prison, but those were all just stepping-stones to get him to become Second-in-Command in Egypt. (Genesis 37, 39-41)

We will soon celebrate the joy of Easter, but that was possible only by the gruesome suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.

None of us like suffering, but God can use it to refine us. Most of us desire smooth and easy lives, but as one preacher put it, “A life without hardship would make us just like the artificial sweetener — Sweet’N Low.

Author G. Michael Hopf put it this way: “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”

Back to Patrick. Miraculously, God spoke to him in a vision, told him to risk his life to escape slavery, and go back to England. Patrick obeyed, and managed to get home. Some time later, though, God spoke to him once more to again risk his life by going back to pagan Ireland, to preach to the Irish the Gospel of Jesus and teach the Bible. He obeyed again, and the rest is history.

Think about it. If Patrick had had an easy, safe life at home, he world would never have heard of him, and Ireland would have missed its patron saint and missionary of Christianity. Plus, some scholars credit the later Irish monks and monasteries for saving Western Civilization and scholarship during the collapses of the dark Middle Ages.

Though painful, what benefit might suffering be doing in your life?  In an oyster, it takes the annoyance of a grain of sand to make a pearl.

Patrick claimed, “So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation.” (34)  Can you say the same?

Go Deeper: Read Patrick’s primary source Confessions here.

Read more about Saint Patrick here.

S.D.G./S.G.D.

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