By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
Every year on March 17th, people worldwide celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The day was inspired by the life of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick (385-461 AD). Many people have heard about Patrick as a man who boldly overcame all sorts of dangers to bring the Christian faith to the Irish, and he is often hailed as a legendary hero. But Patrick was just an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life because God’s power was at work through him. Why? Patrick loved to pray – and he prayed with great faith. If we approach prayer as Patrick did, we too can experience God’s power flowing through us.
Here are five ways that this beloved saint’s life shows the power of prayer:
1. Love for God is the best motivation to pray.
Patrick devoted himself to prayer because of his love for God. He once wrote: “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same... I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
It was love that fueled Patrick’s prayer life – not a desire to convince God to give him something, not a sense of obligation to fulfill, not an attempt to earn good standing with God, and not a plan to impress other people. Patrick simply wanted to spend time communicating with God because he loved being in God’s company.
What is it that really motivates us to pray? That’s an important question to ask ourselves regularly, since the Bible warns in James 4:3: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Since God’s essence is love, he always responds to prayers that are motivated by connecting with him in love.
2. It’s always a good time to pray.
Patrick incorporated prayer into every part of his life, praying in all sorts of situations, from the mundane (such as before going to sleep) to the dramatic (when he was in danger).
The Bible encourages us to pray continually. 1 Thessalonians advises “pray without ceasing” while Ephesians 6:18 urges us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
In the famous prayer Patrick wrote – called “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” – Patrick wrote about remembering Jesus Christ’s constant presence with him through prayer: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise…” he wrote. Since God is always with us, we can always connect with him through prayer. Taking advantage of that great gift is wise at all times.
3. Prayer empowers us to win spiritual warfare.
When Patrick courageously moved forward with his work for God’s kingdom, he was hit by intense opposition from evil. People tried to kill him several times because they saw the Gospel message he preached as a threat to their power as pagan leaders. Once, while Patrick was praying on top of a mountain, a large group of demons manifested in physical form around him. They appeared as a dense cloud of birds of prey that was trying to distract and intimidate him. But Patrick called on the Holy Spirit for help as he prayed, and eventually the demonic birds scattered and faded away.
Patrick wrote eloquently about spiritual warfare in “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate”: “I arise today/Through God’s strength to pilot me:/God’s might to uphold me,/God’s wisdom to guide me,/God’s eye to look before me,/God’s ear to hear me,/God’s word to speak for me,/God’s hand to guard me,/God’s way to lie before me,/God’s shield to protect me,/God’s host to save me/From snares of demons,/From temptations of vices,/From everyone who shall wish me ill,/Afar and near,/Alone and in multitude.”
Spiritual warfare is a fact of life in this fallen world. But Patrick followed the Bible’s advice to fight through prayer. If we do the same, we too can emerge victorious.
4. We can expect God to really answer our prayers.
When Patrick prayed, he didn’t just recite a list of requests and hope that maybe something good would happen afterward. Patrick really expected God to answer his prayers, so he prayed with real trust and excited anticipation. Sometimes God answered quietly in the midst of everyday life. At other times, God answered dramatically.
One day, while Patrick was praying outside in Ireland during time he was enslaved there (Irish raiders had kidnapped him in his home country of Britain and sent him to Ireland to work as a shepherd for an Irish chieftain), Patrick had a surprising encounter with one of God’s messengers: an angel. The angel, whom Patrick called Victor, appeared on a nearby rock and told Patrick that he was his guardian angel. “It is good that you've been fasting and praying,” Victor said, according to Patrick’s records of the encounter. “You will soon go to your own country; your ship is ready.” Victor then gave Patrick guidance about how to find the ship that would take him back to freedom in Britain.
Patrick had expected an answer to eventually come to the prayer he had prayed every day for the six years of his slavery – for the opportunity to return to Britain and reunite with his family. He didn’t know when the answer would come, but he kept asking with faith. When God chose to send the answer, it was through an angel who called his prayer efforts “good”!
5. We should be open to God’s answers, even if they’re surprising.
Patrick made a habit of searching for and listening to God’s messages, however, they came to him. He opened his mind up to be alert and receptive to whatever God wanted to communicate.
One of the ways Patrick heard from God was through dreams. In one key dream Patrick had, he wrote of hearing the voices of Irish people “crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart...”
Patrick was surprised that God was calling him to go back to Ireland – the place he had finally broken free from, after years of slavery. Yet, after God challenged Patrick to choose faith over fear, Patrick said “yes” to presenting the Gospel message to Irish.
This St. Patrick’s Day, let Patrick’s life inspire you to do more than just wear green or enjoy Irish music. Make Patrick a role model for your prayer life, and see how God responds by working in your life with power!
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Coordinator at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and has written for Crosswalk.com since 2001. She regularly blogs about well-being in body, mind, and spirit. Learn more on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages