This article was originally published on October 2, 2018. It is fitting for St. Patrick’s Day.
Shortly after posting the recent article about the breastplate of righteousness, I began thinking about one of my favorite prayers: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.
This is an ancient prayer for divine protection. Although some scholars think it is more recent, tradition claims that St. Patrick wrote this prayer in the fourth or fifth century. As he was preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, he knew he needed God’s protection. According to one legend, the soldiers of a hostile king sought to ambush St. Patrick and his companions while they traveled through a forest. The men of God were transformed into deer while they prayed the Breastplate, thereby passing the soldiers unnoticed. Yes, it is a far-fetched tale, and St. Patrick himself never mentions this event in his writings. Still, it is a great story.
Some people pray this prayer in the morning to claim Christ’s presence and God’s protection for the coming day. I know other people who may have no rote traditional prayer, but while they pray in the morning, they claim each part of the whole armor of God onto themselves during the day. However you go about it, do not start a day without seeking God’s presence and protection to follow you.
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, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen” (a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, from The Book of Common Prayer).
As Lent approaches, millions of Christians, especially in traditional churches, are pondering what they can give up during Lent. Many give up a favorite food or hobby for 40 days. Such fasts are voluntary. Christians do this to remember our Lord’s fast in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and His sufferings for us, as well as to reflect on our sins and remember why we need a Savior.
Meanwhile, many Ukrainian citizens face the risk of non-voluntary suffering. The Russian army has invaded their country. Civilians have taken up arms to defend their homeland. Thousands have fled the country. Millions will face a lack of food and other resources, destruction of their homes, communities, and infrastructure, and even death. Suffering is not a choice for them; they cannot just take it easy if things get uncomfortable.
Those who will receive ashes on Ash Wednesday will hear the pastor say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent reminds us of our mortality. Millions are facing it every day: not only in Ukraine but also in Congo (where some of my denomination’s churches have been attacked in recent weeks) and in countless nations where the government leaders are more concerned about their power than about the needs and rights of their citizens.
As we fast, we will remember our sins. We will recall that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). We will remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). People in Ukraine are experiencing the full weight of sin now. They are suffering one of the most flagrant expressions of human sinfulness as one nation’s leaders seek to inflict death and despair upon the people of another country.
Many churches will encourage the faithful to take on a positive spiritual discipline to complement the Lenten fast. In addition to giving up cookies or coffee for 40 days, one might pray more or read more chapters in the Bible every day.
Perhaps we can go beyond that. Millions are crying out for peace in 2022. We want the war in Ukraine to end. We pray for peace throughout the world. We cry out for justice. We want to see a better world around us. Many Christians are praying for a spiritual revival in our churches and communities as more people turn to Jesus for salvation, healing, and hope.
We can take St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer above as our guide. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” We need to pray for peace: Few of us can make any direct impact on the situation in Kyiv at this time, but we worship a God who rules all of creation. We can bring the peace of God to our homes, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. We can take a stand against hatred only by bringing God’s love (1 Corinthians 13) to those we meet. We can share God’s mercy and pardon with those we meet.
Over the next 40 days—and beyond—let us be the answer to our prayers. God is sending us, His children, to bring His love, forgiveness, peace, and hope to this world. That will draw us closer to Him and bring more of His blessings into our lives than any fast we may choose to make.
How can you bring God’s mercy and peace to those around you? Do you have a plan to share God’s peace in the weeks to come? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Then Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you’” (1 Samuel 1:14; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
I attend a church that celebrates communion every Sunday. We include actual wine, not grape juice, which might trouble people from more conservative Christian traditions. After one service, my then-teenaged son joked about ways this could create trouble; for example, what if a young child grabbed the chalice out of the deacon’s hands and drank it all? This led us to a more serious discussion about the parallels and differences between alcohol and the Holy Spirit.
I grew up in an alcoholic home. For most of my youth, my father drank heavily; he became sober while I was in high school, and his life dramatically changed. I saw the impact of alcohol. If you drink a large amount of alcohol, it changes your behavior. If you stick with it, it changes your character. Alcohol becomes an obsession. It takes control of the alcoholic’s passions, desires, and goals. (This is true of many forms of addiction.) In this case, it is not a good thing.
However, when God comes into your life, He also changes you. He changes your behavior and character. Instead of performing the deeds of the flesh, we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19-23).
As this fruit grows, God can become an obsession that takes control of our passions, desires, and goals. Alcoholism is destructive, but the abundant life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are productive and life-giving.
However, such a passion for the Lord can look foolish to non-believers. Scripture tells several stories of people of faith whose zeal for God made them appear silly and drunk to observers.
First Samuel 1 introduces us to a woman named Hannah. In ancient Israel, polygamy was an accepted practice, and Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. The other wife had borne him several children, but Hannah was childless. Such barrenness was embarrassing in those days, and the other wife abused her about it. Driven to desperation, Hannah prayed at the doorpost of the temple. In her shame and agony, she did not speak out loud but just moved her lips as she expressed her burden to the Lord.
The priest, Eli, saw her quivering lips, assumed she was drunk, and scolded her. When she explained herself, he relented and pronounced a blessing: “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:17). God did answer her prayer; she bore a son, named him Samuel, and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. As a child, he ministered at the temple in Shiloh (a prominent place of worship before the temple was built in Jerusalem) and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets, bridging the gap between the rule of the judges and the reigns of Israel’s kings. He is considered the last judge, and he coronated the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.
Samuel’s birth came about because his mother was desperate enough to seek God’s blessing even if it made her look like a drunken fool to a leader of God’s people. Once a failure who looked like a fool, she became a role model for mothers everywhere.
I will share more about this subject from the New Testament next week. Stay tuned….
I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (First Thessalonians 5:16-18; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Praise God in all circumstances. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard these words of counsel. Maybe you have given this advice to others. It sounds like a few simple steps to become a spiritual giant.
That is not how Paul meant it. This was not advice for prosperous people with great health, social standing, high-paying jobs, and a comfortable lifestyle. This was written for people facing persecution. Some Thessalonians probably wondered if God had abandoned them. These were the people whom Paul urged to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance.
The Thessalonian church had a brief but colorful history before Paul wrote his two letters to it. It was formed when Paul visited the city, with his partner Silas, on his second missionary journey. Not long before, they had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). Their ministry in Thessalonica got off to a good start: Paul preached in the local synagogue, and several people received the good news. Soon thereafter, though, persecution broke out against the young church, and the new Christians persuaded Paul and Silas to flee for their lives to Berea (Acts 17:1-10).
The church continued to grow, but persecution continued. Furthermore, false teaching arose in the church as some preachers claimed that the second coming of Jesus had already occurred. Some scholars think they were teaching that Jesus was not literally coming back and that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was His “second coming.” It would be easy to lose heart.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Even when times are hard. Even when you are suffering. Even when tempted to think God has forgotten about you. Do not give up.
I recently published my wife’s healing testimony on this site. In that, she shared how she had developed a habit of “memorizing scripture about healing, spending time praising God, thanking Him, and praying.” While her church was having a prayer meeting devoted to her healing, she was at home “worshipping and praying while listening to praise music.”
We might be tempted to think that 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a message to act upon when life is going well. That is not correct. It is easy to be happy when life is going well; rejoicing takes effort when sickness controls your life. It is easy to pray regularly when God seems to be taking care of you; it is difficult when marital difficulties and financial problems linger for years. It is easy to give thanks when your refrigerator and bank account are overflowing; it takes a lot of effort when you do not know how you will get your next meal or feed your children.
Yet, this is when 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 becomes a power passage. This is when it becomes spiritual warfare. The real blessing and real spiritual power are when we follow these instructions when our circumstances and emotions tell us it is time to quit.
There are times when it is easy to get angry at God. Do not deny it. If you are angry, tell Him so. Feel free to yell at Him. Tell Him how furious you are. Tell Him how you really feel. Be honest. Be brutal. God knows how you feel. In fact, the Book of Psalms has several prayers/songs that are perfect for times like this. David and the other writers did not avoid expressing their anger, fear, or dismay in their songs and prayers. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). He probably recited the entire psalm, including its expression of faith at the end (Psalm 22:25-31). When we bring our burdens to God—even when we think He is the burden—He takes our cares from us and brings comfort, hope, and healing.
No matter what happens, do not avoid Him. No matter how angry you are, God is big enough to handle it. He is also merciful enough to forgive you.
When your life hits bottom, it may be at that point that you will realize that God is all you have to hold onto. No matter what you are going through, hold onto Him with all that is within you. He will hold onto you with all of His power.
Rejoice always, and soon your joy will not just be an act of the will; it will be genuine and unstoppable. Pray without ceasing, and eventually, it will flow as you see God turning your life around. In everything give thanks: Before you know it, you may realize that you have had reasons to be thankful all along.
Scripture often urges us to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 50:23). Sacrifices can hurt. True faith worships God not only when it is easy, but even more so when it is a sacrifice—when we choose to worship God when it would be easier to ignore Him.
I would like to hear from you. How do you worship God in hard times? What helps you to worship Him when it is not easy to do so? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia. (Book of Common Prayer)
The above prayer, named “Christ our Passover” or “Pascha Nostrum,” is based on three New Testament passages (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). The Book of Common Prayer includes it as part of the morning Daily Office of prayer every day during Easter week. One can also pray it on any mornings between Easter and the Feast of the Ascension (40 days after Easter; in 2021, it will be May 13). If you are interested in praying the Daily Office, you may familiarize yourself with it by following the daily prayers and readings at the website of the Mission of St. Clare.
Many Christians forget that the church calendar views Easter as an entire season. It begins on Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday in some churches) and ends seven weeks later on Pentecost. Easter is not just one day for bunnies, colored hard-boiled eggs, chocolate, new clothes, bonnets, etc. It is the fulcrum of our faith. The entire Christian life hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its assurance of our future resurrection. So, we can celebrate Easter every day. It does not matter whether it is April 4, May 2 (Eastern Orthodox Easter this year), December 25, or any other day. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Because He has risen, He has triumphed over death, and in Him, we can all be made alive forevermore.
Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the importance of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).