This article was originally published in Edition (2) of Prayer Magazine, Spring 2005.

St Patrick and Prayer  -  …The Lord our advocate asketh for us…

by Richard Treacy

Placed on my desk I have a candle and a cross, two constant reminders to me of the faith I cherish and hold onto by my fingernails at these times. Every time I light the candle I encourage myself with the phrase, ‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’

The disaster in Asia has given us all an opportunity to light candles, to become part of a global relief effort. I am sure that we have all given something to the effort, by the time you read this, the headlines may be different but the suffering will still be there. My small wooden cross will not allow me to forget pain and suffering, and at the same time fills me with hope, a hope that transcends my feelings of anger, inadequacy, confusion and numbness. The cross is a call to radical action; it drives us to pray like Apostle Paul did, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings…’ We all have an opportunity to share in the suffering of Christ as we enter into the sufferings of others.

Over 1500 years ago the message of the cross came to the island of Ireland. Its chief carrier was a young man called Patrick. He too, was a victim of forced displacement and led a precarious existence. He was a man of prayer and faith while committed to action as well. On 17th March each year there is an opportunity for all who live on the island of Ireland, those who count themselves part of the Diaspora community and those who love this tiny piece of ground to unite and pray. Details can be found on :-  www.prayeronstpatricksday.com

Right now, the vision of the Global Day of Prayer, www.globaldayofprayer.co.uk , has gripped the hearts of many on the island. This day started out as a regional gathering inCape Town facilitated by a businessman and has grown to encompass the whole globe. Joining with millions of Christians globally on the 15th May is a wonderful opportunity to stand in the unity of the Spirit in prayer. Christians from all over the island of Ireland will gather to pray in the grounds of Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

Prayer for Connacht consists of an annual prayer walk in the early summer covering 40-50 miles of the island’s most western province. The aim is to encircle all of Connacht with prayer. Areas covered include from Loop Head all up the West coast as far as Bundoran and then inland to Manorhamilton. Each year there has been an increasing the level of evangelism to follow the prayer walk and with new Alpha courses set up in a number of venues. Also prayer, a prayer watch for County Mayo has been established and plans are underway to establish a prayer watch for County Roscommon also.

These things and many others are being built on a strong foundation of prayer that has been laid over many centuries which transcends denominational affiliation and preference. Indeed, without prayer, many believe that the problems of the island of Ireland would have been so much worse especially over the last thirty years.

There have been numerous prayer gatherings, prayer journeys that have taken place against the backdrop of terror and mayhem. From north, south east and west, God’s people have interceded for the future of this island. March for Jesus, The Christian Renewal Centre, Divine Healing Ministries, Lydia Prayer fellowship and others too numerous to mention, have all played a part in facilitating where we are today in prayer. There are numerous town and regional prayer gatherings from Coleraine to Cork, Bangor to Bray.

This article has highlighted the ‘big’ things, but I know that right across this island, there are hundreds of prayer meetings in local churches every week; thank God for those who pray so faithfully. That must continue, but we must embrace prayer as a lifestyle as well that it is not confined to meetings. St Patrick is a glowing example of this and I hope the article on his lifestyle of prayer will inspire you.

This year has been made a pivotal year by those campaigning for debt forgiveness in the continent of Africa. Bono, the lead singer of U2 reminded the Labour Party Conference that 6,500 people there die every day from treatable diseases, ‘that is a Tsunami disaster every month…’

We pray that debts are cancelled, that injustice is removed from these nations and oppression stops; sounds like the first sermon of Jesus!

St Patrick is quite unique among the Celtic saints as we are fortunate to have writings which are directly attributed to him. I hope the following will not only inspire and teach you to pray, but that on each St Patrick’s Day you will pray for the island which was radically touched by the message of the gospel over 1500 years ago.

Patrick has a lot to say about prayer in his Confession. One could almost say that the Confession is a prayer, as he is writing it; it seems that as well as defending his ministry to his critics, he is reminding God of everything he is and has done. The Confession has many references to prayer but to understand and appreciate those, it is important to grasp what kind of person Patrick was.

Patrick’s humility and sense of being a frail broken person comes across in his opening remarks, ‘I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful and utterly despised by many.’ This is not the comment of a proud man!

In closing, Patrick says, ‘I pray those who believe and fear God, whosoever deigns to look at or receive this writing which Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, has composed in Ireland, that no-one should ever say that it was mu ignorance if I did or showed forth anything however small, according to God’s good pleasure; but let this be your conclusion and let it so be though, that… as is the perfect truth … it was the gift of God. This is my confession before I die.’

In his closing remarks which are a prayer, Patrick alludes to the fact that any positive impact that he has had, was a gift from God; he doesn’t draw any attention to himself, his dependency on God shines through.

How does this humble dependant servant of God pray?

Patrick enjoyed a life of fervent prayer, Patrick attributes his capacity to pray, “Because the spirit in me was fervent.” He recounts, ‘But after I came to Ireland … every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed …’

He goes on to say that he prayed as many as 100 prayers every day and even as many at night! Patrick seemed to have an understanding of what it meant to ‘Pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.’ Ephesians 6v18.

Patrick’s prayers were related to his everyday life, he prayed while he did his job. We don’t know how long his prayers were!!!! – Maybe he prayed 100 times a day, ‘God, please help me.’  I wonder, did he pray about his job. I wonder, did he pray for his family. I wonder, did he pray for the island he found himself on.

His prayer was so fervent because he had experienced God’s love at a profound level, it’s almost like his prayer life was a response to that love. It seems like he knew God’s perfect love and that he didn’t allow his experiences to distort that, however hard that they were.

Remember, this is a young man who has been separated from his family, who hasn’t been well treated by those who have captured him.

Patrick’s relationship with God deepened as a result of his prayer life and his faith was strengthened – ‘the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.’

He believed in relationship with God so much that he expected God to speak with him, his prayer experience wasn’t all one way traffic. This relationship had been deepened and matured over a six year period.

He recognised God’s voice, ‘And there was one night I heard in my sleep, a voice saying to me: ‘It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.’ And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: ‘See, your ship is ready.’ Patrick responded to God’s voice and left, this was a person who had known the faithfulness and contentment of God over a long, trying period.

Patrick is a believer in practical prayer and wants to inspire his readers in this area. To that end, he records specific prayers with their tangible answers. He shares his experience of trying to get on board the ship of his escape from Ireland, ‘And the day that I arrived, the ship was set afloat, and I said that I was able to pay for my passage with them. But the captain was not pleased, and with indignation he answered harshly: ‘It is of no use for you to ask us to go along with us. ’And when I heard this, I left them in order to return to the hut where I was staying. And as I went, I began to pray; and before I had ended my prayer, I heard one of them shouting behind me, ‘Come, hurry, we shall take you on in good faith…’

Patrick did not give up, he prayed, when the odds were stacked against him, he prayed, and the odds were overcome.

God uses a prayer situation to help Patrick reach out with his faith to his travelling companions. Obviously, his companions know that he is a Christian. ‘And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days we travelled through deserted country. And they lacked food, and hunger overcame them; and the next day, the captain said to me:

“Tell me, Christian: you say that your God is great and all-powerful; why then, do you not pray for us? As you can see, we are suffering from hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see a human being again.”

 I said to them, full of confidence: ‘Be truly converted with all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you be satisfied; for He has abundance everywhere.’

And, with the help of God, so it came to pass: suddenly a herd of pigs appeared before our eyes and they killed many of them; and there they stopped for two nights and fully recovered their strength, and their hounds received their fill for many had grown weak and were half-dead along the way. And from that day they had plenty of food.

Patrick is not afraid to pray for this practical issue. The situation is used by God to convince others of the faith that Patrick has in Him. Patrick says that he is full of confidence, he relies on the promises of God, that nothing is impossible for him. I am sure this incident changed the outlook of those who had had this experience for ever! God calls to pray so that He may demonstrate to others who know Him as well as us, who He is and what He is capable of!

Patrick is very open to what some might term as ‘unusual’ spiritual experiences. Because of his prayer life, he seems to have been very sensitive to spiritual things. It has already been mentioned that he had an ability to hear God in a very clear way. In the Confession he records, ‘That same night, when I was asleep, Satan assailed me violently, a thing I shall remember as long as I shall be in this body. And he fell upon me like a huge rock, and I could not stir a limb. But whence came it into my mind, ignorant as I am, to call upon Helias?

And meanwhile I saw the sun rise in the sky, and while I was shouting “Helias! Helias” with all my might, suddenly the splendour of that sun fell on me and immediately freed me of all misery. And I believe I was sustained by Christ my Lord, and that His Spirit was even then crying out on my behalf, and I hope it will be so on the day of my tribulation, as is written in the Gospel: On that day, the Lord declares, it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your father that speaketh in you.’ Patrick was aware of the presence of evil in the form of Satan and that evil could assail him! Through the recording of this incident, we gain another insight into the prayer life of the saint. When Patrick was in a situation where he couldn’t muster the energy to have a fine flowing prayer, he experienced to Holy Spirit praying on his behalf. This is encouraging because there are situations in life when we find it hard to pray, when our prayers seem empty, these are the time when we have to allow the Holy Spirit to pray through us.

He goes on to say, ‘And again I saw Him praying in me, and I was as it were within my body, and I heard Him above me, that is, over the inward man, and there He prayed mightily with groanings. And all the time I was astonished, and wondered, and thought with myself who it could be that prayed in me. But at the end of the prayer He spoke, saying that He was the Spirit; and so I woke up, and remembered the Apostle saying: The Spirit helpeth the infirmities of our prayer. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings, which cannot be expressed in words; and again: The Lord our advocate asketh for us.’

Patrick had such a sense of his own fraility in prayer, we can take encouragement from this, we may not feel that we are great prayer warriors, but God can literally take us and pray through us.

Patrick was sustained by the fact that God had answered his prayer and given him the strength and ability to undertake the mission to which he was he called. His coming back to Ireland in response to the vision was soaked in prayer. Patrick came to a place where he was able to say with the apostle Paul, that he was able to give thanks despite the circumstances he faced. This ability to pray despite circumstances and to trust to God even when things are going horribly wrong and we face hardship, is so difficult; and yet its key.

Patrick says, ‘So indeed I must accept with equanimity whatever befalls me, be it good or evil, and always give thanks to God, who taught me to trust in Him always without hesitation, and who must have heard my prayer so that I, however ignorant I was, in the last days dared to undertake such a holy and wonderful work.’

Patrick’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit also manifested itself in dreams and visions, ‘And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the opening words of the letter, which were, ‘The voice of the Irish’; and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at the same moment I heard their voice --- they were those beside the Wood of Voclut, which is near the Western sea --- and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: ‘We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.’

This was the vision that brought Patrick back to Ireland. It is probable that Patrick’s sensitivity to such experiences was heightened because of his prayer life.

Patrick also experienced God warn him of impending danger in prayer, ‘Let me tell you briefly how the merciful God often freed me from slavery and from twelve dangers in which my life was at stake --- not to mention numerous plots, which I cannot express in words; for I do not want to bore my readers. But God is my witness, who knows all things even before they come to pass, as He used to forewarn even me, poor wretch that I am, of many things by a divine message.

Patrick was a victim of prayer as well. It was God’s response to the prayers people of Ireland that brought Patrick back. Patrick recognises this when he says after he has the vision of the man calling him, ’Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord gave to them according to their cry.’

There is a suggestion here that it was persistent, longsuffering faithful prayer that brought the young evangelist back and changed the course of history.

Patrick was a man of prayer, he knew its power, he knew it was necessary, he enjoyed it and yet someone who was a realist about prayer as well, someone who saw prayer in a very practical way.

Richard Treacy

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