The Christian History of Saint Patrick

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Even though today is mostly known for big parades, green beer, and four leaf clovers, St. Patrick's Day is actually supposed to celebrate Ireland's greatest Christian missionaries. (We also don't know how that "getting rid of snakes" thing got in there either.)

But it didn't start out that way.

What can we learn about St. Patrick's history, upbringing, and style of evangelism? How can it help us today?


A little history about St. Patrick

Patrick grew up in Scotland with a deeply religious family. His grandfather was a priest. His father was a civic leader. He was raised to serve his community and God, but he rejected Jesus as a teenager.

Shortly after his 16th birthday, Patrick was captured in a raid and became a slave to Irish pagans. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. He was forced into servitude, spending his days looking after his master's sheep and praying. After many years, he escaped at the suggestion of a dream and returned home to Scotland.


St. Patrick in Ireland

Patrick was an adult by the time he was called back to Ireland. Palladius, the actual first missionary to Ireland, wasn't successful.

Patrick, familiar with Irish culture and the tribal clan system that was central to their way of life, decided on a new strategy—start with the chiefs first. Patrick knew that once the leaders were converted, they would naturally convert their clans. His former slavemaster, Milchu, was reportedly one of his first converts.


What can we learn from St. Patrick today?

There's a lot we can learn from St. Patrick!

Forgiveness is the first (and biggest) lesson. Patrick had to be thinking everyday about how he could harm his captors. These were his enemies, but also enemies of his home country of Scotland, and they took everything away from him. But he didn't. He escaped and wasn't content to live a quiet life—Patrick returned to Ireland years later and had forgiven his enemies so totally that his slavemaster was one of the first people he helped lead to Christ.

Hopeful perseverance is important. As a young slave in Ireland, he consistently returned to prayer and found hope in Christ. He had to stand strong in the face of oppression and cruelty. He spent years of his life unsure if he'd ever see his family again. But he refused to back down, and eventually made the round trip home and then back to Ireland.

Teamwork makes the dream work. One of the reasons Patrick was so successful and his ministry was so fruitful was because of how he approached evangelism. Patrick enlisted the help of powerful and influential leaders, who in turn helped him form missionary teams. Patrick chose to build teams of homegrown Irish men and women because he knew they'd be the most effective in leading others to Christ. Rather than take a lone wolf approach, he partnered with others and made a real difference.


The Prayer of St. Patrick

As you go about the rest of your St. Patrick's Day, try and keep this prayer in mind. It's The Prayer of St. Patrick, a prayer he would use over the course of his life, and it reminded him to always draw strength from God.

May the Strength of God pilot 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 Host of God guard us
Against the snares of the evil ones,
Against temptations of the world.
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Salvation, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and evermore. Amen.