Devotional

I summon today

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I summon today...
all these powers between me and those evils,
against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul…

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

“I summon today…”

In this new stanza, the Breastplate Prayer moves us in part toward a summary or collection of everything we have prayed so far while also inviting us to personally claim “all these powers” as our own, that through all these means God would stand between us and every evil, cruel or merciless power that may oppose our bodies and souls.

What are “these powers” which we may summon or call upon so boldly? Such a small word, “these”, draws our attention back to the mighty strength of Triune God made manifest in countless ways.

Today we not only arise in, but we actively summon strength, obedience, service, hope, prayers, predictions, preaching, faith, innocence, righteous deeds, light, radiance, splendor, speed, swiftness, depth, stability, firmness, might, wisdom, God’s eye, God’s ear, God’s word, God’s hand, God’s shield, and God’s host.

Talk about calling down angel armies. In his discussion of our suffering and weakness in Romans 8, Paul writes,

So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?

- Romans 8:31-32 (CEB)

Indeed, if God freely gave up the life of his own son for our redemption, is there anything God would withhold? That is why we not only arise with an awareness of these truths, but also boldly summon these powers in prayer so that we might stand against the forces of evil in our world. We don’t simply believe that God will strengthen us, hear us, or protect us. We actively call upon God to step in and intervene in our lives with all these powers at God’s disposal.

This is not a “name it, claim it” kind of theology. We are not saying that in summoning these powers we will be spared from all pain or suffering in our lives. We are not claiming a guaranteed victory over all of the things that stand in our way. It may be, in fact, that some things which stand in our way are necessary for our own spiritual growth and humility.

All of these powers, however, do give us strength, hope and wisdom in the midst of whatever we may face in life. God also calls us to summon these powers on behalf of others who suffer oppression in many forms, that we may stand in the gap for them as Moses does when he pleads for the people of Israel (Exodus 32-33).

The remainder of this stanza unpacks the nature of the various evils which may oppose us, but for now, let us take some time to read back through the prayer and reflect on these gifts of strength and power which God so freely offers to us as we seek to live in obedience and faithfulness to our Creator.

Reflections:

1. As you reflect on the list of powers throughout this prayer, which one do you need to summon most today and why?

2. What, if any difference do you see between “arising” in these powers and actually “summoning” them to stand between you and evil?

3. Which of these powers may God be calling you to summon on behalf of someone else in your life and how will you do that this week?


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

... I summon today all these powers…
…Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul

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

Everyone who shall wish me ill

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I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me
from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar or near...

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

Paranoia and fear blaze through our culture like a raging forest fire. Everywhere we turn it seems there is someone who wishes us ill, both far and near. They may be as distant as refugees on the border or politicians in Washington or as close as the person sitting on the next pew in church or even across the dinner table in our home. More often than not, such fears are rooted in our perceptions rather than in real threats to our being. The people we are most certain are “out to get us” likely don’t view us as significant enough to bother with.

In some ways, our fear of being harmed flows out of our own sense of pride and our inclination to think of ourselves as more important than we are. I once knew a family who had turned their trailer home on a small rural street into a bunker with an arsenal of assault weapons lined up along hatches they had cut in the outside wall facing the street. They said when ISIS came marching through town to mutilate their daughters and granddaughters that those terrorists wouldn’t get anywhere near their house. Clearly ISIS would not be interested in this tiny little rural crossroads in the middle of nowhere, but the perception made this family feel like they were going to be the saviors of their community. It was as much a delusion of grandeur as it was a delusion of terror that did not actually pose an imminent threat.

It is true that we have enemies. St. Patrick spent his childhood in slavery and in his world the threat of death may have indeed been a real possibility. This portion of the prayer may be particularly valuable for those who are serving in war or on the front lines of local law enforcement or security. It may echo the prayers of powerful people who have made many enemies in their lives. It may even be a prayer on the lips of terrorists or drug lords who are always looking over their shoulder despite the fact that they have put themselves in that situation.

For most of us, however, it may just be that in saving us from those who wish us ill, God must first save us from our illusion that we are such a central target to whoever we may view as our enemies. What if being “saved from our enemies” actually involves being “reconciled with our enemies” through love and forgiveness. An enemy turned friend through the love of Christ is no longer a threat. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was onto something when he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43-44

I do not want to diminish in any way that there are some who truly do need salvation from dangerous situations. For those suffering from abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, or any other form of intentional harm against your body or soul, this prayer is for you. May God’s host indeed save you from all who wish you ill, afar and near, and may God place in your paths people who will stand with you against such evil.

But for those who simply see enemies everywhere you look, every time you turn on the news, or every time you see someone who looks or thinks differently than you, maybe God wants to save you from your own fear and paranoia. Maybe God is inviting you to turn an enemy into a friend. Maybe, just maybe, hate and fear could actually be defeated by the power of love.

Could it be that we are truly our own worst enemies?

Reflections:

1. Who is it that you feel you may need saving from? Is the threat legitimate or only perceived? If the threat is legitimate, who might God have placed in your path to help?

2. What triggers your feeling of being threatened? What steps will you take to listen more to the voice of God than the voices of fear in our world?

3. Pray for an “enemy” every day this week by name. If you do not know someone personally, find someone in a news story who you might consider to be “against you” or your beliefs and pray for them. Perhaps a criminal, a terrorist, a politician from “the other party,” etc. Reflect on how God may be changing your view of them as you pray and how God may be calling you to respond.


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

... I summon today
all these powers between me and those evils, against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul…

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

Temptation of Vices

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I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me
from temptation of vices...

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

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it…

1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV

Paul does not say that we will never be overwhelmed by difficult circumstances or suffering, but he does say that we will not be overcome by temptation. When we talk about salvation we often think of God’s forgiveness and mercy. We imagine being saved “from the fires of hell” by the grace of Jesus given freely through the sacrifice of his blood. While this may be true, salvation implies a lot more than a “free ticket” to heaven. God not only saves us from the “punishment” for sin, at least in an eternal sense, but from the “power of sin.” We read over and over again throughout the New Testament that in Christ we are new creations, that we are no longer slaves to sin, and that God gives us the strength to resist temptation in any form (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6, 8, and 12; Ephesians 6:10-12; Galatians 2:20; James 4:7; etc.)

There are some who find themselves in various recovery programs because of addictions and other such vices that have taken a significant and painful toll on their lives, but for many of us, the temptation of vices is not so clear. A vice doesn’t have to be an extremely harmful addiction. It may simply be a habitual failing or shortcoming which we easily overlook because, after all, we are only human. Just because we do not participate in what we would consider moral depravity or wickedness does not mean that there are not faults and even idols in our lives which turn our attention away from God.

I confess that it is much easier in the morning to open my e-mail or social media feed than my Bible app. It feels more productive to jump straight into the workday than to set aside intentional time for prayer. Would I rather relax in the evening with a good TV show to unwind or sit down with my journal and the Daily Examen to reflect on how I responded or failed to respond to God’s presence throughout the day? Again, I think the answer is obvious.

What makes vices so tempting is that they are not always “bad things.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary notes that vices may be trivial, using the example, “suffering from the vice of curiosity.” Curiosity may indeed be a strength until it leads us into places we don’t belong. It is not the severity or immorality of the vice that makes it so harmful. It is the habitual way in which such vices, no matter how small, begin to consume our lives and distract us from that which is most important.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul this way when he talks about the failures of God’s children throughout the Hebrew Scriptures:

These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

1 Corinthians 10:11-12, The Message

The NIV translates verse 12 this way:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!

Reflections:

1. Name the three most common temptations, no matter how small, that distract you from keeping God central in your life.

2. How have you tried to be self-reliant rather than relying on God to overcome these vices?

3. What steps will you take to daily put yourself in the path of God’s grace so that you may have the strength to resist such temptations?


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

... I arise today, through God’s host to save me
from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near…

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

Snares of Devils

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I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me
from snares of devils...

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

I arise today through God’s host to save me…

… from snares of devils,
… from temptation of vices,
… from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near

These next three lines of our prayer seem to fit nicely together. Essentially they summarize what we have been talking about over the past few weeks, that God guards, protects, and saves us. Plain and simple.

It is one thing, however, to say that God saves, and quite another thing to wrestle with what exactly we need saving from. In general, we feel pretty good about ourselves. Most people don’t think they need saving. Even Christians, who believe in Jesus to forgive their sins and save them for heaven, do not always recognize that God’s saving work goes much deeper than handing out golden tickets for Saint Peter to collect at the pearly gates.

Patrick’s prayer says specifically that God’s host saves us from the snares of devils, from temptation of vices, and from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.

Today, let’s zero in on those “snares of devils.”

In the C.S. Lewis classic, Screwtape Letters, uncle Screwtape trains his nephew on how to be more effective as a demon leading his “patient” away from God. In one letter, Screwtape writes:

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,...Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

Snares are generally hidden. If they were clearly marked, they would not serve their purpose for no one would willingly walk into a trap. Often we don’t even realize that we have been caught by a snare. Last spring my daughter and I took a “Lobster Boat” cruise off the coast of Portland, Maine. As we pulled up the traps I realized the genius of their design. The lobster can crawl right in to get the bait without even noticing. The only problem is, they cannot get out. There is plenty of room in the trap for them to crawl around. They can live comfortably in their cage without realizing anything is wrong until they suddenly find themselves out of the water.

Granted, I doubt the lobster has much awareness of such details, but as humans we often find ourselves resting comfortably in traps we never knew we had crawled into. Paul warns Timothy of such snares when he says:

Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap [or snare], where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.

- 2 Timothy 2:22-26 (The Message)

I am particularly struck by the reference to inane discussions that end up in fights and the call not to be argumentative, even with those who “refuse to obey.” This is perhaps one of the most common snares we have fallen into as Christians. We always want to win the argument, and we are even more determined because we believe that “being right” is literally a matter of eternal life or death, heaven or hell. Yet Paul seems to imply that such methods will only drive others away. “You never know,” he says, “when God may change their heart.” The method God uses to change their hearts, it would seem, will not be our arguments, but rather our gentleness, patience, and love.

We may not visibly stumble into the Devil’s fiery pit, but how often have we found ourselves falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of our twisted logic and desperation to convince everyone else how right we are and in turn, how wrong they are? Are we more concerned about loving others or about winning them over to our way of thinking? This argumentative way of being is increasingly common among Christians, but we must call it what it is, a snare of the devil and a trap that we don’t even realize we have entered.

Perhaps it is “we”, not “them”, who need to pray for a change of heart that we might escape the snares that have so subtly captured us into lives and purposes that are far too small.

Reflections:

1. What kinds of snares have distracted you from God throughout your life?

2. How have you personally experienced the futility of arguments?

3. What truth is God speaking to you that may help you escape the snares that keep you feeling stuck or trapped?


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

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

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

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

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

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

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