We can learn much from the heroes of the faith that have gone before us. One such hero is a man named Patrick, later to be called Saint Patrick. Here’s his story, and the real reason behind Saint Patrick’s Day.
Around 380 – 390 AD, Patrick was a young boy growing up in England. He came from an upper class, Christian family. His grandfather was a priest. So, Patrick grew up knowing the stories of the Bible, but in time he wandered from God, and would crack jokes about those in ministry. He started hanging around the wrong crowd, living a wild life.
When he was 16 a band of Celtic pirates invaded his town and kidnapped him. They took him by ship to Ireland. There the pirates sold Patrick as a slave to a tribal chief and druid named Miliuc.
Ireland at this time wasn’t like the Ireland you and I see on TV. It was a land of barbarians. Think Braveheart. Why were they called barbarians? The Romans called them barbarians because they couldn’t read or write, and had no desire to learn. They were very emotional and explosive. For instance, in battle the Celtic barbarians in Ireland would strip in battle and run naked toward the enemy carrying only their sword and shield. Talk about surprise attack! They also enjoyed decapitating their enemies, and practiced human sacrifice. Ireland at this time was a barbarian hangout. In all, about 150 different barbarian tribes populated the countryside.
You need to know everyone had given up on reaching the barbarians. They were too uncivilized to hear and appreciate the Christian message – too uncouth to appreciate its traditions. So, they were forgotten.
What a change for young, upper class Patrick! Well, Miliuc, his new master, put Patrick to work herding cattle. Far from family, and friends, and out in the open country of Ireland, Patrick had a lot of time to think. He began to notice the beauty of God’s glorious creation. All this brought back what he had learned as a child in his Christian home. Out in those fields as a slave, he began to call on God in prayer. Soon he was praying hundreds of times throughout the day, and a great love for God began to grow inside. Not only did he begin to love God, he began to learn more about the Celtic barbarians, their language, and culture. In time he began to love the very people that had enslaved him, and he began to pray for their salvation.
After about 6 years of captivity, a voice spoke to him one night in a dream, “You are going home. Look! Your ship is ready!” Patrick got up and walked to the shore, where he saw a ship. He was able to get aboard and the ship carried him back to his home in England.
You would think Patrick would never think of Ireland and the Celtic barbarians again, but he thought and prayed for them often. He would eventually enroll in seminary, and become a priest. He served faithfully in a church for a number of years. Then, when he was 48 years old, past his prime at this time in history, he had another dream that would change his life again. He heard the voices of the Celtic barbarians in Ireland calling him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
When he awoke he knew it was God’s call. The British church made Patrick the first missionary bishop and sent him to Ireland. Patrick would spend the next 28 years in Ireland among the barbarians who had kidnapped him as a boy. It’s estimated that his mission would go on to plant about 700 churches, 1,000 priests were ordained, and 30 to 40 of the 150 barbarian tribes in Ireland embraced Christianity.
This is the real reason for Saint Patricks Day, after he died, his followers continued and expanded the work. All of Ireland was changed. Soon these converted Celtic Christians left Ireland to reach other barbarian hordes. That’s who they were! They went out to share the Gospel with the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, the Huns, and the Vikings in Europe. It was a time called the Dark Ages. Barbarians were roaming around Europe burning things like art, libraries, and nice buildings.
These Celtic Christians began to share the gospel. They didn’t say, “Stop breaking things you morons!” They told them about Jesus and his love in a way they could understand. A great movement began for Christ. In time, they pulled all of western Europe out of the Dark Ages. The Celtic Christians in the end rescued the west, but it all started with Patrick.
We’re living in a kind of “Dark Ages.”
It’s funny how history repeats itself. Many are lost and forgotten about. They’re roaming through life broken. I’m talking about a spiritual dark age. In a way, we are living around a new kind of barbarian.
They don’t know how to use their Bible, and couldn’t find a passage if their life depended on it. They don’t know the stories, and don’t care to learn them. They are biblically illiterate.
They don’t know the songs we sing – don’t know when to stand or sit. They don’t know where the children’s ministry is, the coffee, or what to say to the pastor. For some if you get into a conversation a cruse word will come out. Some are bound in addictions like alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling. Others simply have no peace, and are hungry for God. Though they seem to have it all together, their lives are out of control inside.
Like in Patricks day, we can conclude these new barbarians are unreachable, and become content and settled with our little Christian conclave.
God help us to hear the call and obey in our day. The truth is the lost are not uncreachable. They just need to be engaged, befriended, helped, served, and loved. God is able to open the hardest heart.
May we have Paul’s heart found in 1 Cor. 9:19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
(Source – George Hunter’s book – The Celtic Way of Evangelism)