St. Patrick's Prayer

God's Host

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I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Over the next few weeks we will explore what exactly God’s host saves us from, but for now, let’s take a few moments to ask, what exactly is “God’s host?”

This is not a term we hear very often but it has a rich tradition throughout church history and in Scripture.

Most often this term refers to the angels or “angel armies” as the “Heavenly Hosts.” (Psalm 148:2, 1 Kings 22:19, Luke 2:13-14). The problem with angels is that we don’t always recognize them when we see them. The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). When the three visitors came to announce the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham welcomed them and showed them hospitality as strangers in his midst (Genesis 18:1-22). They appeared as ordinary men and had Abraham not shown hospitality, we do not know if they would have stuck around to deliver the message.

Similarly, Jesus himself walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus but they did not recognize him (Luke 24:13-35). He was going to continue on his way until they showed hospitality by inviting him to stay for dinner, and there around the table, their eyes were opened to the presence of God in their midst. Consistently throughout scripture we find that recognizing the presence of God’s host, or even of God’s personal and immediate presence, begins with an act of hospitality toward a stranger. How often have we missed the presence of God’s host among us because we ignored the stranger in our midst?

Traditionally the heavenly host has also expanded beyond angelic beings to include all of God’s creation, for God is enthroned in the heavens and “the earth is his footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). The point here is not that God treats us as lowly beings to be walked over, but rather that all of the created order is just that, something created or made by God. When the Psalmist declares, “Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!”, it is a reminder that even the sun and moon and stars bow before God (Psalm 148:3). In Jeremiah 31:35 the prophet reminds us of this truth and explicitly refers to the God who created these celestial bodies as the Lord of Hosts, implying in part that the sun, moon and stars may be among God’s host. Zephaniah 1:5 refers to these as the “starry host.” Rather than being gods themselves, as so many ancient people believed, they serve the purposes of the God who made them (Deuteronomy 4:19).

In some cases, even human beings can serve as God’s host. Consider 1 Samuel 7:45 where the “Lord of Hosts” commands Israel’s armies in battle. This is not to say that any human army is the Lord’s host, but those who surrender complete authority to God as their commander may indeed serve in such a role as they carry out God’s saving work in the world.

No matter how broadly or narrowly we define the Heavenly Host, we can say two things for certain. First, the host of God is many… myriad upon myriad. The word host literally means multitude and was often used in the ancient world to refer to massive and intimidating armies. Whether in the form of angels, celestial bodies, or even human beings called for a particular purpose, the host of God is many.

Host also hearkens us back to the image of hospitality. To be a good host is to show hospitality to others. The second thing we can know for certain about the Heavenly host then, is that they are servants of the Most High God, extending hospitality so that God’s presence may be welcome in their midst. Perhaps this is why some parts of the church refer to the bread in the Eucharist as the “Host”, for in this ordinary bread, the holy mystery of God’s presence his “hosted” or made welcome, so that God may enter into our bodies and make us His body for the sake of the world.

May we also serve as hosts of the Lord, always extending hospitality both to the Holy Spirit and to the strangers among us, so that God’s presence may always be welcome in our midst.

Reflections:

1. How do you understand the idea of God’s host?

2. What new insights is the Spirit speaking to you about the role of God’s host in your life?

3. Reflect on a time when God clearly showed up in an act of genuine hospitality toward a stranger.


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today, through God’s host to save me
from snares of devils…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Shield

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I arise today...
Through God’s shield to protect me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

The Lord is my strength and my shield.

My heart trusts him.

I was helped, my heart rejoiced,

and I thank him with my song.

- Psalm 28:7 (CEB)

In Genesis 15:1, God promises Abraham a great reward. The most literal translation of the Hebrew here reads: “I am a shield to you, your very great reward.”

The key here is not that God will provide some external source of protection or reward, but that God is Abraham’s shield and reward. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul describes the “shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The key here lies in the object of our faith. What or who do we trust for our security?

As humans, we regularly put our faith in any number of things to provide safety and security in our lives. We trust in our own strength. We trust in job security, education, health-care, retirement funds, our military or police, even our guns. Our currency says, “In God We Trust” but as some have said, a more accurate statement may be “In THIS god we trust”, because in many cases, money itself has become our shield and our god.

On Sundays we go to church to proclaim our trust in God, but the rest of the week we spend building bigger and stronger safety nets to protect us from any worst case scenario. We build our nets so wide that it almost wouldn’t matter if God was there for us or not. Like rebellious adolescents, we essentially say, “I can take care of myself.” It’s almost as if underneath it all, we are afraid that God might not come through and we must have a backup plan. If we truly believe God is the perfect shield, why do we need to arm and protect ourselves so well?

We talk a great deal about security, safety and protection, but in truth, we spend most of lives living in fear. Fear is not the absence of faith. Fear is putting our faith in the wrong things, in things that cannot truly save us.

We have insurance, security systems, weapons and defenses of all kinds. We have law enforcement and neighborhood watches to keep the streets safe. We have shelters that are more than capable of weathering almost any storm. Yet in all of this, we are still afraid. In fact, the industries who produce all of the “shields” we use to protect ourselves actually tell us to be afraid. Fear makes for a wonderful marketing strategy. If you want to sell a warranty, you have to make the customer afraid that the product may break within a certain amount of time. If you want to sell a home security system, you have to convince them their neighborhood is not safe. The great irony here is that all of the people who make a fortune trying to “protect us” are the very ones convincing us that we need protection in the first place.

God is different. God doesn’t promise safety and security the same way an insurance company or a gun dealer might. God doesn’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen.

But in almost every encounter with humanity, God’s first words are “Do not be afraid.”

In fact, this is exactly how God begins with Abraham.

“Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your very great reward.”

Genesis 15:1

Our act of faith in itself does not protect us from anything. God does. God is our shield and God alone protects us.

Reflections:

1. What are you most afraid of?

2. What safety nets do you have in place to protect ourselves? How much time, energy and resources do you invest in these compared to what you invest in our relationship with God?

3. Where have you seen God’s protection in your life?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s host to save me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Hand

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I arise today...
Through God’s hand to guard me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-29

I will never forget an illustration I heard once from a Southern Baptist evangelist about God’s hand. He was preaching on this text from John 10 where Jesus promises that no one can “snatch his sheep out of his Father’s hand.”

Even if the Devil managed to pry open the all powerful grip of God’s hand, he would still have to swim through the blood of Jesus, and even then he would still have to unravel the Holy Spirit from our heart and soul, and by the time the Devil did all of that, the evangelist concluded, you would end up with a saved devil.

Looking back, I recognize the illustration is far from perfect, but I have to give it credit for being thoroughly Trinitarian, recognizing the power of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our salvation and in guarding our lives from the snares of temptation. It also reminds us, as the classic song says, that God indeed has “You and me brother, in his hands. You and me sister, in his hands. He’s got the whole world in Hands.”

Scripture tells us that God will uphold us with his strong right hand and guard us like the shepherd guards his sheep so that we will not be led astray.

It is interesting, though, that in back to back lines of this prayer we see first God’s hand guarding us and then next week, God’s shield protecting us. Yes, these are parallel images that have many similarities, but as with our distinction between “rock” and “earth” earlier in the prayer, it is worth exploring the distinctions here. We will come back to the image of God’s shield next week, but at first glance, it would seem a shield would be far preferable to a hand when it comes to guarding us. A shield is more generally more resilient to attack. A shield will not bleed when struck by the arrows of enemy archers. I am reminded of a Christian comedian who once joked about the common prayer for God to “raise up a hedge of protection around us.” “Doesn’t the devil have a pair of hedge-clippers?” he asked. “How about a steel reinforced concrete wall of protection? Surely God can do better than a hedge.”

And indeed, a shield does sound safer than a hedge or a hand, but there is something more personal about a hand. Rather than a scene of battle with shields and barricades, God’s hand calls to mind a more relational and even emotional image. To guard with one’s hand is a more loving gesture than simply locking someone in a safe room. It requires direct presence. God’s hand to guard us implies that God is right there with us, in person. God is not an absentee boss, but is willing to “get his hands dirty” in the mess of our everyday lives.

I picture the image of a parent in the car reaching out their hand instinctively to guard their child in the passenger seat after a sudden stop or perhaps that same parent reaching out to grab a younger child before they run into the street. Whereas a shield protects from external attack, the loving hand of a parent guards us by holding us back. The parent’s hand keeps us from hitting our head on the dashboard or from running headlong into traffic. The hand is a warning that tells us there is danger ahead.

It may be true that nothing can pry us out of God’s hand, or as Paul puts it, that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38). Nevertheless, perhaps some of us do not need another image of being smothered in the grip of an overprotective parent who won’t let go. Instead, may we take comfort in the image of an open hand, outstretched in front of us as a warning so that we will stop and become more aware of the dangers and temptations in our path.

Reflections:

1. What images does the idea of God’s hand raise in your imagination?

2. Reflect on a time when you felt smothered by God’s hand, as if he was ruling over your life with an iron fist? Looking back, how do you see God at work in that instance?

3. How does it feel to imagine God’s hand as a warning or a safeguard keeping you from stepping into harm or wandering astray? What emotions does that image stir in your heart? How might you respond to the presence of God’s loving hand in your life?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s shield to protect me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Word

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I arise today...
Through God’s word to speak for me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Clearly we want God’s word to hold a central place in our lives, speaking to hearts and guiding us through whatever circumstances we may face. I am struck today, however, by what this particular line does not say about God’s word.

  1. It does not say: “God’s word to be read by me”

    Of course we must read and study and meditate on God’s word, but I think the writer of this prayer is getting at something a bit deeper. We must remember that the Word became flesh, not text. Even the pages of Scripture cannot fully contain the Living and breathing Word of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus our Lord. We may find God’s word primarily in the Bible, but reading the Bible alone is not sufficient. If we are not careful, the Bible itself may become an idol. We must not merely read the word with our eyes and process it with our minds. Rather, the Word of God is something that we must embody in our hearts and lives. Since it is God’s word which breathed life into us, every breath we take and every word we speak should flow forth from the Living Presence of God’s word dwelling within us.

  2. It does not say: “God’s word to be spoken by me”

    We are very good at quoting scripture verses when they suit our purposes. More often than not, we use them as ammunition in our political battles or to call someone out for a particular behavior we do not like. Yes, we are to proclaim the words of Scripture and preach the Good News of Christ wherever we are, but there is a big difference between “speaking the words” and having the word speak for us. In speaking the words, we tend to filter the words through our own lens, our own stories, and our own particular system of beliefs or ideologies. These lenses are conditioned by our families, our culture, our denominations, and countless other influences which can easily manipulate the word for their own purposes. Our lens is not always bad, but we must be aware that we have a particular way of interpreting and understanding that may not be the same as the way someone else sees it. They are not always wrong and we are not always right. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we may both be right, from different perspectives and in different circumstances. God’s word may indeed be a sword, but it is not ours to wield. When we allow God’s word to speak for us, we give up our agendas and remove our lenses so that others may encounter the Living Word for themselves. As Philip told Nathanael about Jesus, “Come and see” (John 1:46). The world doesn’t need our “opinions” about God’s word. They simply need to “come and see” God’s Living Word for themselves. #unfiltered.

  3. It does not even say: “God’s word to speak to me”

    God’s word speaks to us in many ways, but again, I think the prayer is getting at something a bit deeper. Often when we go to Scripture, we are looking to get “a word from God.” Even better if that word just happens to be a word for someone else and not for me, particularly if the word challenges our beliefs or behaviors. My preaching professor, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas, used to say that “If you do not know a passage or a topic well enough to sit down at a kitchen table and have a conversation about it, you do not yet know it well enough to preach.” This was his way of saying, in part, that we should preach without notes, as if we are simply having a conversation with the congregation. I think it speaks to all of us, however, in that God does not simply speak his word to us, in the moment of our devotional reading, and then allow us to close the book and walk away until next time. Instead, God’s word should go with us. It doesn’t just speak to us, but it becomes a part of us. The rhythms and melodies of Scripture become part of our everyday actions and conversation, not because we are always trying to quote what we read or what God spoke to us in our quiet time, but because they have become a part of us, like that song we can’t stop humming because it is stuck in our heads. “What comes out of the mouth flows from the heart,” Jesus says (Matthew 15:18). Likewise, James writes:

We praise our Lord and Father with our tongues. And we speak wrong words about people with our tongues, even though they were made like God. Praising and wrong words come out of the same mouth! My brothers, this should not be so. Do good water and bad water both come from the same place?

James 3:9-11

If God’s word is to speak “for us” and not merely “to us”, it must first become a part of us. It is Living Water that gushes from within us; the source of every word we speak. As we arise today, let us not seek to speak for God, but rather allow God’s word to speak for us.

Reflections:

1. Do my words sound like something Jesus would say? What specific words of Jesus are reflected in my everyday speech?

2. What lenses or filters influence my understanding of God’s word? How might I intentionally see God’s word through the lens of another so that together, our eyes may be opened even more?

3. Reflect on a circumstance when you could feel God’s word bubbling up from your heart like a fresh-water spring and you knew it was God, not you, who was speaking life into that situation.


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s hand to guard me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Ear

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I arise today...
Through God’s ear to hear me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Parents know the difference in a child’s cries. They can tell when an infant truly needs something and when she is simply soothing herself to sleep. They can tell when a toddler is truly hurt and when he is just pretending. They know the difference between genuine screams and pitching a fit for attention or because the child did not get his or her way.

If we as human parents can understand how to respond to our children’s cries in so many different circumstances, God must certainly know how to respond to the cries of His children. How many nights have we cried ourselves to sleep, not realizing God was listening patiently and prayerfully on the monitor, aware enough to respond if we truly needed while also giving us the space we need as we learn to soothe ourselves? How many temper tantrums have we thrown thinking God didn’t care when He was actually just waiting in the other room long enough for us to calm down and re-engage in the conversation? How often do we sound like the child begging to “be blessed” with every piece of candy or toy in the store?

Just like earthly parents, God hears all of these cries. God listens. God waits patiently, just like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Rather than forcing us to stay at the table kicking and screaming through the entire meal, God lets us get it out of our system and reminds us by His Spirit that we are welcome back whenever we are ready.

If we’re honest, there are simply times when children don’t know how to talk to their parents. Children are not always sure that parent’s will understand or even care about whatever seems so overwhelming in their little lives. We often wonder the same thing about God. Does God even want me around? Is He listening anymore? Have I run too far away for God to hear me?

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8:26-28 (The Message)

Romans 8:28 is often used to explain everything that happens in life as part of some Divine plan to do good for us, but the larger context shows us that this is really a passage about God hearing our cries. God even understands those times when we just need to scream and pitch a fit, when we don’t even know how to articulate what we really need. The Spirit even speaks for us, “making prayer out of our wordless sighs and our aching groans, for he knows us far better than we know ourselves and… he keeps us present before God.” That’s why Paul says God is working everything out for good.

God doesn’t always fix every problem in our lives, but God listens to us and even prays for us through every circumstance. When we feel like nobody is listening, we arise today trusting that God is a God who hears (John 5:14, Psalm 66:19, 1 John 5:15).

Shout. Scream. Cry. Argue. Question. Whisper. Be Silent.

Whatever you feel… whatever you need to express, do it openly before God. God hears.

Reflections:

1. Reflect on a time (perhaps even now), when it seems like your prayers are not getting through to God?

2. How do you feel about the idea that the Spirit is praying for you even when you don’t have the words? How might this change the way you pray and the way you experience God’s presence with you?

3. Pray along with Solomon as he dedicates the Temple is 2 Chronicles. Then worship and pray with the song below, “Hear us from heaven.” Envision God reaching out to invite you closer into his loving presence and know that you are being heard.

Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood? Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built. Even so, I’m bold to ask: Pay attention to these my prayers, both intercessory and personal, O God, my God. Listen to my prayers, energetic and devout, that I’m setting before you right now. Keep your eyes open to this Temple day and night, this place you promised to dignify with your Name. And listen to the prayers that I pray in this place. And listen to your people Israel when they pray at this place.

Listen from your home in heaven, and when you hear, forgive.

2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (The Message)


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s word to speak for me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Eye

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I arise today...
Through God’s eye to look before me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

Deuteronomy 1:32-33

Deuteronomy 1 tells the story of Israelite spies who looked ahead to the land God had promised them but in seeing the inhabitants there, they turned back and grumbled against God for leading them into an impossible situation. God’s eye had looked before them even as they cried out from slavery in Egypt, and God’s eye saw a future filled with hope and blessing for all the world through this people he had redeemed, but they could only see through the eyes of fear.

As we arise today through God’s eye to look before us, two questions come to mind.

First, Do we really trust that God’s eye is looking out before us?

God set his people free from Egypt and looked out for them day after day in the wilderness, providing for their every need. Still the people grumbled and did not trust that God was truly looking out for them. Over and over again in Scripture we find God’s people complaining that God has led them into a trap, that God has abandoned them, that God would not take care of them, that somehow God’s way was not good enough. Even in the gospels, we find Jesus looking ahead through God’s eyes at the suffering he would have to endure and his closest friend Peter challenges him.

Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Matthew 16:22-23

God sees the path more clearly than any of us, but sometimes it is difficult to trust. Like the famous “Leap of Faith” scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, sometimes we can’t even see the bridge God is asking us to cross. We’re not even sure there is anything there to step on. Where is God leading us?

That leads to our second question, “Do we really want God’s eye to look out before us, or would we rather just see for ourselves?”

Have you ever played “Follow the Leader” with your eyes closed or blindfolded. It’s a classic children’s game in church to teach lessons about faith and listening to the Spirit. The goal is to go wherever the leader tells you to go, trusting that they won’t lead you to walk into a wall or a chair. Sometimes there is an added layer of having everybody give directions so you have to listen more carefully for the leader’s voice to know which way to go in the midst of the chaos.

Honestly, I always hated those games. I don’t think I’ve ever completed one without peeking. Sometimes I didn’t trust the leader, but often times, I didn’t trust myself. What if I heard the direction wrong? What if he says left and he meant his left instead of mine? It’s one thing for kids to wander blindly around a classroom, but what if you tried to do the same thing while driving with only a voice over the phone to tell you when to turn, when to brake, etc. The stakes just got a lot higher and I imagine even the most faithful among us would not take on such a challenge.

Yet that’s often what it feels like to trust God’s eyes instead of our own. When all we see ahead is fog, do we really want to trust that God can still see the way, or would we rather just camp out for awhile until the fog clears and we can see for ourselves.

Here’s the irony. We naturally trust our own sight more than we trust what someone else sees, even if that someone is God. Yet whenever God’s people in Scripture rely on their own sight, they almost always take a wrong turn. Why? Because their vision, like ours, is clouded. Our vision is blurred by sin, by doubts, by pain, and most often by fear. We never see as clearly as we think we do.

Maybe this is why Jesus tells the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41).

This original song written in 2017 speaks to all of those moments when we either can't see or don't want to see the way God is leading us through the chaos of life.

Reflections:

1. How do you think you would score on a “spiritual vision test?” What “astigmatisms” keep you from seeing clearly? Fear? Doubt? Hurt? Sin? Something else?

2. Reflect on a time when you truly took a leap of faith and trusted God’s leading, even when it looked absurd or impossible to you? What was the outcome?

3. Read the story of the blind man in John 9:1-41. Where do you find yourself in the story? Who do you most identify with?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s ear to hear me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Wisdom

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I arise today...
Through God’s wisdom to guide me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

In an age where false information masquerades as fact and truth is mistaken as fiction, wisdom is perhaps more crucial than ever. Just as much of our news comes from social media headlines or tweets with no substance or nuance, so often our knowledge of scripture is limited to the few verses or catchy “Christian” sayings we read on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. I am reminded of one of my favorite 80’s movies, “Short Circuit.” As the robot, Number 5, increases in his own self awareness, he begins to consume as much information as he can. “Input… Need Input,” he says as he flies through the pages of every book in the house.

Like Number 5, we as human beings have an insatiable thirst for new information. We want to be “in the know” about everything, and we are often unwilling to admit just how much we don’t know about so many things. We need input.

There is nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge. I personally value education more than almost anything else in my life. The problem, however, is not our knowledge or lack of knowledge, but how we apply what knowledge we have. That is where wisdom comes in. As the old saying goes, “Knowledge may teach us that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom tells us not to put it in a fruit salad or a smoothie.”

Perhaps the most beautiful and yet sometimes frightening thing about wisdom is that it is no respecter of persons. It is possible for a child to say something more wise than a Nobel Prize winner. Wisdom does not depend on our level of education or how much knowledge we have. A person can have a photographic memory and store up more information than anyone else and still act foolishly. Likewise, a person who never went to school can be “wise beyond their years” in the way they treat others and in the way they use whatever resources they have. Wisdom is all about our ability to rightly apply what we know, regardless of how much or how little knowledge we have.

I say it’s a beautiful thing because anything that levels the playing field of our social hierarchies can result in greater humility, mutual respect, empathy and love. It is also frightening because those of us who have gained greater knowledge in our lives tend to be proud of what we know and it is not easy to follow the sage advice of someone who may not appear as “smart” or intelligent, at least on the surface.

Perhaps this is why wisdom is in such short supply. Where “knowledge is power,” wisdom often brings humility which in our culture may be interpreted as weakness. Scripture tells us that all Wisdom comes from God and that it is freely available to anyone.

But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

James 1:5

Some people have greater access to knowledge than others. Some people can afford higher levels of education or greater connectivity to the “information highway” as it were. But everyone has equal access to Wisdom if we only ask.

What would happen if we asked God for wisdom as readily as we seek out and consume new information? Instead of striving to read the entire Bible in a year, for example, what would happen if we took just a few verses and meditated on them day and night to consider how they shape our everyday lives. Here are just a few to consider:

  • 1 John 4:7-11

  • Mark 4:35-41

  • Matthew 5:1-10

  • Matthew 5:43-48

  • Romans 12:1-2

  • Psalm 23

  • Galatians 5:22-26

Consider choosing just one of these passages, or another that God lays on your heart, and sit with it for an entire week without reading anything else. Perhaps read the immediate context before and after these verses, but beyond that, simply ask God each day to examine your heart and show you specific ways to better apply these passages in your day to day life. Ask God for wisdom as you read and meditate on His Word. Read it over and over again. Sit with the words in silence for awhile. Jot down anything the Spirit of Wisdom may be speaking to your heart.

Wisdom is a slow process which is yet another reason we rarely ask for it. We want wisdom just like we want patience… right now. Knowledge gives us the instant gratification we crave, but it is only a shadow of the Wisdom God desires for us to have.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

- Isaiah 5:21

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.

- Proverbs 3:5-7

So let us seek the wisdom of the Lord, for “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Reflections:

1. How do you see the relationship between knowledge and wisdom play out in your own life?

2. Have you every explicitly asked God for wisdom as you read the scriptures? What was that experience like?

3. Choose one of the passages above, or another short passage of scripture God lays on your heart, and sit with it for at least a week (longer if the Spirit leads). One method to consider is the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. You can find more about how to approach scripture in this way at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/lectio-divina. Journal about the insights you gain and about your overall experience of reading scripture in this way.


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s eye to look before me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Might

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I arise today...
Through God’s might to uphold me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

- Psalm 54:4

I’ll be honest, this image of God is more challenging for me than it probably should be.

Human history has been plagued with the idea that “might makes right” and those in power are often the ones who will do almost anything to get there, no matter who they hurt or walk over in the process. As Lord Acton writes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I remember children’s songs in church like “What a mighty God we serve,” or “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” On one hand the idea that God is mightier and more powerful than any enemy we may face can be comforting, that is, so long as God is on our side. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine absolute power that does not corrupt. Such power and might, unchecked, is indeed a frightening thought.

In Revelation 15:4, the saints of God sing out the song of Moses saying,

Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? You alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you,for your acts of justice have been revealed.”

Who would not fear the Lord, indeed. “The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8). The King of Glory is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and no power or nation shall stand against him.

Such imagery, though absolutely true, gives me pause. History has shown us time and time again that absolute power cannot go unchecked. It is dangerous. And yet we know God has no equal. Nothing can stand against the Lord.

But we also find comfort throughout the scripture that God’s might is perfectly balanced by God’s love. We find the story in Genesis 18:16-33 where Abraham pleads with God on behalf of the people and God promises to relent for the sake of even 10 righteous people in city. Regardless of the final outcome, God demonstrates to Abraham that he is not some cosmic heartless monster out to destroy the world as so many other gods throughout history have been portrayed.

The difference between the all-powerful God of Scripture and so many other gods throughout ancient mythology is that the God of Scripture is Love. By his very nature, God cannot exercise power and might in any way that does not reflect his loving character.

Nearly every encounter a person has with God in Scripture pans out the same way. Consider the stories of Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John in Revelation, among others. The person is overwhelmed by God’s holiness, often falling down on their face as though dead. God’s first words in such terrifying moments almost always include the statement, “Do not fear.”

In Isaiah 41, we find God’s encouragement to Israel.

“You are my servant;
I chose you and didn’t reject you”:
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold you
with my righteous strong hand.

- Isaiah 41:9b-10

God’s might, rather than striking terror into our hearts, should fill us with hope and courage because God promises to uphold us in his righteous strong hand. Because of God’s might, we truly have nothing to fear.

Yet we must be careful, for unlike God, our sense of power often does lead to corruption. Centuries of ugly and violent religious history have shown us how easily we humans distort the power and might of God into a threat against our enemies, justifying countless wars in God’s name and condemning all who disagree with us to the fires of hell. We must remember Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and that God desires no one to perish but for all to come to repentance (Matthew 5:43-48, John 3:16). We must not try to manipulate God’s might for our own purposes. Our enemies are not God’s enemies, for even they are beloved and bear the image of God, their Creator.

God’s might will uphold us, but God’s love must prevent us from using his might to tear others down. Perhaps the mightiest act God ever demonstrated was the restraint he showed on the cross when he refused to send down his angel armies to destroy those who crucified his son. Might is not the power to tear down or lord over others. The greatest might of all is the power to sacrifice everything for the sake of love.

Reflections:

1. What is your gut reaction to the thought of a “Mighty God”?

2. In what ways have you experienced God’s might upholding you throughout your life?

3. How do you see God’s power at work in sacrificial acts of love? How might God be calling you to use His power in that way?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s wisdom to guide me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Pilot

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I arise today...
Through God’s strength to pilot me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Irv: You see Sanka, the driver has to work harder than anyone. He's the first to show up, and the last to leave. When his buddies are all out drinking beer, he's up in his room studying pictures of turns. You see, a driver must remain focused one hundred percent at all times. Not only is he responsible for knowing every inch of every course he races, he's also responsible for the lives of the other men in the sled. Now do you want that responsibility?

Sanka Coffie: I say we make Derice the driver.

Irv: So do I, Sanka. So do I.

— Irv Blitzer (John Candy) and Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), Cool Runnings

A pilot steers the ship. He or she is essentially “the driver”. In an age where nearly everyone drives a car and even aircraft fly on “automatic pilot”, we can easily take the pilot’s role for granted. After all, steering isn’t that hard. We do it every day. And just like a plane, sometimes we end up running on auto-pilot. Have you ever had that moment when you pull into the driveway at home and realize you don’t even remember making the last several turns? It’s easy to zone out somewhere along the all too familiar route.

We have the same problem when we try to steer, drive, or pilot our lives. We make a thousand choices a day in our familiar routines without a second thought. We react to input and circumstances almost involuntarily rather than pausing to intentionally consider our response.

The strength of a pilot is a mental strength, the strength of a disciplined and focused mind. Such single-minded focus does not come naturally in a world that turns our attention from one thing to the next at a pace that would give anyone whiplash. As Sanka learned in the movie, “Cool Runnings”, it is one thing to steer a push cart down a dirt hill, but it is entirely something else to steer a metal sled barreling through gut wrenching turns down an icy track.

Life is more like a bobsled track than a wide open downhill slope. We must constantly stay alert. The slightest missed turn can cause unintentional harm to ourselves and those riding closest to us in the sled. The ability to make such split second decisions does not come in the moment. It comes from all of those hours of training and study. Over time, we learn to respond with grace and truth as naturally as we navigate the familiar roads to our homes.

I know a bobsled driver is not exactly what the writer had in mind when he talks of a pilot, but there is one more parallel worth exploring. Unlike flying with an airline pilot, the “passengers” in a bobsled are not passive. They do not sit back sipping on sodas and eating pretzels while the driver or “pilot” does all the work. They must stay low and lean in with the pilot through every curve. Each person in the sled must be in sync with the drivers every move.

Likewise, those on an ancient sailing ship cannot sit back and wait until the pilot steers them safely into port. There is much work to be done. There are sails to be hoisted, ropes to be tied, decks to be cleaned, and a hundred other responsibilities which I know nothing about. The pilot may have the strength and focus to keep the ship on course, but the pilot doesn’t work alone. We must train and discipline ourselves with the strength and focus to follow the pilot’s lead.

To paraphrase Sanka , “I say we make God the driver.”

Reflections:

1. In what ways do you try to pilot your own life? How do you feel about the results?

2. What fears prevent you from giving God complete control of the wheel?

3. What habits or disciplines might God be calling you to strengthen in order to increase your focus and intentional response to the pilot’s every move?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s might to uphold me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Rock

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I arise today...
Through the firmness of rock...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)


We often describe the Christian life in terms of diving into deeper waters, allowing the wind and waves of the Spirit to take us where it will. This is an important truth, but it is not the whole truth. Yes, life in the Spirit can often seem like a mighty rushing river, but God is also our rock and our salvation, a mighty fortress and a bulwark never failing.

I’ve been to many mountain overlooks throughout North Carolina and Kentucky and most of the popular touristy ones are blocked off with man-made rails to keep people from falling over the edge. But my favorite places in the mountains are on the rocks beyond the rails, where they are accessible. There is one area of Grandfather Mountain past the bridge like this, and a few rock arches in Red River Gorge, Kentucky where I used to hike. But my favorite by far has been the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

It is the largest (in terms of land area) mountain top I have ever hiked and it’s views out over the ocean are awe-inspiring. I think that’s what I like most about it. Unlike the Smokey Mountains on my home turf, this mountain literally seems to rise right out of the sea. I sat on the edge of a rock overlooking the sea for well over an hour, on the far side of the mountain where most of the tourists did not wander. As I looked down at the inner city of Cape Town and to the harbor and sea beyond, I thought about the turmoil that nation had gone through, the suffering of Apartheid, the continual rises and falls of governments, the people on the margins who endure the brunt of the decisions made by those on top who are rarely affected. This kind of chaos exists in every nation of course, but the rock I sat upon reminded me that no matter how hard the waves crashed against the base of the mountain, the ground above it all remained solid.

I also remember standing on the Cliffs of Mohr on the Ireland coast. The fog was dense that day. I heard the rough surf below but could not see a things. We couldn’t even see the cliff walls below us. Yet somehow these invisible rocks jutting out of the sea had stood firm against centuries of crashing waves and winds.

When the winds of life throw me off balance and the waves crash hard against the foundations I thought were secure, these are the kinds of places I long to be. I remember standing on the edge of Chimney Rock in Kentucky one April afternoon. A random late year snow storm blew in out of nowhere, but as the wind pressed against me and the snow blinded my view, I became even more aware of the solid rock beneath my feet.

“Why do we run from the rain,” I wrote in a song that day. “Why do we hide from the storm?”

The rock is secure. There is nothing to fear. The ground is firm beneath our feet.

My prayer for the church and for all of us is that we will not only stand firm on the solid rock of Christ, but that we will become a place of stability where others can sit or stand secure even in the midst of their storms, far above the crashing waves of life.

It is one thing to take shelter inside where we cannot see or hear the waves and wind or feel the rain and snow. But sometimes I think we need to spend some time in the middle of the churning sea and feel the storm upon our skin as we sit or stand on the solid rock, on stable earth. The shelters we build to hide ourselves from the world will inevitably crumble, but the mountain stands secure.


Reflections:

1. Where do you need a firm rock to stand on in your life right now?

2. In response to storms, do you tend to retreat to a self-made shelter or stand strong on the mountain to face it? How do you sense God leading you to respond to the storms in your life today?

3. Would people describe you as a rock in their life, a safe and firm place where they can feel secure no matter what they are dealing with? Who might God be calling you to be a rock for this week? Who has God put in your life to be a rock for you?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s strength to pilot me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer