Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sent into the Wild

A few days ago I quoted this prayer from St. Patrick, the first Christian missionary to Ireland.

Prayer for the Faithful
May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.


For several days I struggled with the sentiments of this prayer. In my mind, the prayer seemed rather selfish: guide us, protect us, direct us, defend us - the faithful. Yesterday, I read some of George G. Hunter III's amazing book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West. . . Again. I realized that I needed to understand the context from which this prayer was written. Patrick was indeed asking for protection, care, and guidance from God. But he was not asking for protection while he sat in the safety of his home. Patrick was the first missionary to conclude that God loved the 'barbarians' and that missions should be launched to show the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of this place now known as Ireland. Hunter describes these people as warring tribes and
"emotional people, volatile personalities known for letting the full range of human emotions get out of control. In warfare, 'all the Celts . . . stripped before battle and rushed their enemy naked, carrying sword and shield but wearing only sandals and torc - a twisted, golden neck ornament . . . [while] howling and, it seemed, possessed by demons!'"
These are the people who had kidnapped Patrick from his family when he was young and with whom he had been a slave for many years. No wonder he prayed for protection.

After his escape from slavery, Patrick was trained as a priest before sensing a call to return to these wild barbarians. Patrick asks the triune God for protection as he willingly walks into certain danger. He travelled with a small band of faithful Christians who worked hard to get to know and to love the people to whom they were called. This is the context of his "Prayer For the Faithful." May my life be marked by a similar willingness to go where God leads, to take the risks necessary, and to ask for God's protection in the midst of the mission.

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