St. Patrick's Prayer

Christ In Me

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Christ in me…

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

Three simple words, and yet when it comes to the presence of Christ, perhaps this is the most complicated line of all. I mentioned the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit in the previous reflection, but this is the time to dig a bit deeper into that mystery.

There is a reason God put on flesh and walked among us. We needed to see a God with skin on. We needed a God we could identify with. We needed a God who “walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are his own” (Charles Austin Miles, “In the Garden”, 1913).

If we’re really honest, there is a part of us that would be OK waiting on the whole “Spirit thing” until we get to heaven if we could just ask Jesus a few questions now, in person. We live in the physical world. It would be nice to talk to a physical God, even if only for a few hours or a day. As we said on Day 5 when we talked about the Ascension, Jesus in the flesh could only be in one place at a time and he could only dwell among so many people. But God desires to dwell with all people of all times. And so Christ sends the Spirit who does not merely dwell with certain people in a certain place or certain time, but who dwells “in” every person in every place for all time.

We find ourselves with an incomprehensible mystery, for we cannot explain or conceive of a relationship that intimate. Every human relationship, no matter how close, functions with clear physical boundaries and personal space. For the Holy Spirit, there is no such thing as “personal space” or physical boundaries. What does it mean for a living being to dwell “in” us. It just doesn’t feel right. Such intimacy makes us deeply uncomfortable. We cry out with the Psalmist, “Where can I go from your presence O God?” because part of us still lives with the shame of Eden and we do not want God to see that we are naked (Psalm 139, Genesis 3:7-11). We believe God sees everything, but we are very good at pretending to hide. Like little children, we cover our eyes and think we are invisible because we can’t see.

“Christ in me” can be truly freeing, if we embrace what it means to be fully known and yet fully loved. But this is a difficult truth to accept because we know our sin all to well. We all have things we want to hide. This is why we so often live as if Christ is not present at all. “If I can’t see the Holy Spirit,” we reason, “maybe the Spirit can’t see me.” It may not be a conscious thought, but our feelings of shame before God are all too real and our futile efforts to hide only prevent us from experiencing the joy and freedom of the presence of Christ in us.

If Christ is in us, there is truly no reason to hide. Our fig leaves only keep us from knowing the love of our Father.

My life is hidden with Christ, wrapped up in the covering of my Father
My life is hidden with Christ, no more use in running away.
No more use in hiding my face. No more use in hiding. There is nothing to hide.

No more sons and daughters hiding in the closet of fear…

- Andrew Ehrenezeller, “Naked”, 2011 (http://andrewehrenzeller.com/)

Reflections:

1. What first thoughts come to mind when you think about “Christ in you”?

2. Is the thought of God being so close and intimate comforting, frightening, or somewhere in between? Why?

3. How have you tried to hide from God’s presence in you? Are you presently hiding and if so, is it time to come out of hiding?

* All song rights belong to Andrew Ehrenzeller


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

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me…


If you are enjoying this series on St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer and would like to share it with others, I’ve got great news. I’m publishing this entire year long series as a 40-Day Devotional Book through Amazon sometime before December 1. Stay tuned for release details and be sure to invite others to subscribe for regular blog updates.

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Coming Soon

I Arise Today:
A 40 Day Journey through St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

Available in paperback and Kindle e-book through Amazon.




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

Christ Before Me, Christ Behind Me

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Christ before me,
Christ behind me…

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

Christ is with us indeed, but not only as an abstract object of faith or a historical figure we remember learning about in Sunday School. Jesus, the Christ, is the Word Made Flesh, the Living Word of God who speaks all things into existence. The Word was there in the beginning and the Word is already present at the end of days. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Christ has been with you on every step of your journey and Christ has already walked the path ahead.

Christ before me. This is what I mean when I say Christ has already walked the path ahead. This is what we mean when we say Christ is the Omega, the end, the consummation of all things. Christ before us cuts much deeper than the old cliche preachers use when they shout, “I’ve read the back of the book and we win.” It’s not just about some final victory in heaven. Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, but Christ before us is also much more immediate.

Sometimes it feels like we are playing follow the leader with Jesus through the gospels, trying desperately to keep up with all he is trying to teach us, and then all of the sudden we hit the beginning of Acts and whoosh, he’s off in the clouds like Mary Poppins when the wind changes. Of course we know that is not the end of the story. God continues to be present with the disciples and later with the church through the Holy Spirit, but if we’re honest, most of us would prefer a “Jesus with skin on.” We’ll come back to that Holy Spirit issue in the next line of our prayer, but for now, how do we follow Christ up into those clouds?

Answer: We don’t. At least not yet. This is the problem we find in Acts 1:10-11 when the angels find the disciples staring dumbfounded into the sky when Jesus clearly told them to go and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s power and then to go into all the earth to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom on earth.

This is where the “Christ behind me” part comes in. There are days when it seems like Christ has gotten just a little too far ahead. We were following along just fine and then we hit a fork in the road and we’re not sure which way he turned. We choose a path and after awhile we have made so many turns we don’t even know if we’re still going the same direction.

Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us and in one sense, Christ is so far ahead we cannot see clearly the trail he has blazed. But just when it seems all hope is lost, we turn around and look back to discover that the very Christ we were chasing aimlessly through the wilderness of life is standing right behind us. We look back over our journey and realize he was with us every step of the way and we didn’t even know it. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we ask, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us along the road and explained the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). Something deep within us knew we could not possibly have been alone. Jesus would not have abandoned us. And yet we felt alone and abandoned. We didn’t know which way to go and we felt lost and afraid.

Maybe you’re in that place right now, feeling lost, alone and afraid. You know Christ has gone ahead of you and is calling you to something greater, but you have no idea what. This is a far more common experience than we would like. Running ahead in a state of panic rarely gets us where we need to go. It only creates more panic. Maybe we need to stop, take a breath, and turn around. We’re not turning around to go back to the way things were or to wallow in the nostalgia of the good old days when everything seemed more clear. No, we’re simply glancing back to get our bearings, to see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

And there we will see Christ, who has been right behind us the whole time encouraging us along the way. We will realize we were never alone and we were never really lost.

Christ before us. Christ behind us. It’s always both. He is never too far away.

Reflections:

1. Reflect on a time when you felt lost and couldn’t see the path God had for you. How did you feel and how did you respond?

2. Reflect on a time when you turned back to see the ways Christ had been present all along.

3. Where do you most need to see Christ right now, before you or behind you, and why?


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

Christ in me…


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

Christ With Me

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Christ with me…

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

Christ with me…

Today we come to the most famous stanza of the Breastplate Prayer. These 15 lines are often used by themselves and they offer a powerful reminder of God’s continual presence in our lives. Let us take a moment to pray this segment together, slowly, line by line, breathing deeply between each line.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

How do you feel?

For some, this may be a comforting prayer knowing that Christ is truly present in us and around us at every turn. For others, it may be a bit unsettling. We don’t mind going to God’s house for a weekly visit, but do we really want God hanging out in our house? It’s one thing to clean things up for an occasional guest, but we can’t keep everything straight all the time. What if Jesus sees how I really live? What will he say about the mess in the house of my life?

“Christ with me…”

Honestly, this is a summary of the next 14 lines. We could simply pray, “Christ with me” and everything that follows would already be implied. But there is a reason the writer broke it out in such detail. So rather than glossing over these feelings, whether comforting or worrisome, let’s take some time to really unpack each line and what it looks like for Christ to be present in all these ways.

It’s such a small and seemingly insignificant preposition, easy to read past without much thought. We see the word “with” and we immediately know there is a connection between two or more things or people. “I would like mashed potatoes with gravy” or “She is with her mom”. We wouldn’t bother taking time to analyze the meaning of such statements. It simply means that the two things or two people are together. We get it. Move on.

But what does it really mean for you to be “with” someone?

Am I “with” my daughter when she is watching a favorite show while I am on the couch reading? Well, yes… sort of. Are we “with” our friends when we are all sitting around the table at a restaurant on our phones while barely speaking to one another? Again, yes… sort of.

Technically we are with each other because we are “together” in the same place. If someone asked where I was, I would say I was in the living room with my daughter. If asked what we did last night, we might say we were out with some friends. And these would be honest answers.

But were we really “with” them? Physically, yes. But being together physically in the same space is not the same as being present with one another. In our world of constant distractions, being fully present in any moment is not easy. There are a million concerns that turn our thoughts away from whatever we are doing and whoever we are with in a given moment. We are not even good at being present in conversations because we tend to think more about what we are going to say or do next than about what the other person is actually saying.

And so when we pray, “Christ with me”, here is the question?

Are we simply aware that Christ is with us because, as the Psalmist writes, there is nowhere we can hide from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7-12)? Do we just live our lives with the Spirit hanging out in the same room without acknowledging Christ’s presence or do we live fully present “with” Christ who by the Spirit, chooses to be fully present “with” us?

Reflections:

  1. Is the thought of Christ being “with you” more comforting or discomforting and why? Is the feeling different in different times, places or situations? Are there some places in your life you would rather Christ was not “with” you?

  2. Reflect on a time when you knew God was “with you” but you were not fully present “with” God.

  3. What steps will you take this week to be fully present “with” Christ?


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

Christ before me,
Christ behind me…


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

Poison, Burning, Drowning, Wounding...

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Christ to shield me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward....

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

The Breastplate prayer, while often used in the mornings as a way of arising each day in the light of Christ’s glory, is also and perhaps primarily a prayer of protection. In the previous section we asked God to protect us from the invisible powers of evil. Now we turn to far more tangible concerns; poison, burning, drowning, and wounding.

We must admit to some cultural barriers in fully applying this prayer, as things like poison and burning do not generally pose a threat to us. On the other hand, there are perhaps ways that each of these threats still show up in our supposedly “more civilized culture.” Let us look for a moment at each of the four specific threats and what they might mean for us today.

Against poison…

While most of us do not need a royal food taster to make sure we are not poisoned by our enemies, the truth is we still face poison in many forms today. People struggle with the more obvious poisons of alcohol or drugs, especially given the present crisis of opioid abuse in our culture. In truth, any addictive behavior can become like a poison to our bodies and souls. Sin, in any form, functions like a poison that destroys us from the inside out. I was once part of an accountability group where we regularly prayed, “Lord, make my sin taste like the poison it truly is.” It was a way of remembering that even those seemingly small or insignificant acts of selfish desire would eat away at our souls perhaps even more than some major moral failing.

Against burning…

Burning is a little tougher. There is not a clear spiritual parallel and though some families lose everything in house fires and other similar disasters, I don’t know anyone who faces the threat of being intentionally burned at the stake. In some ways, however, our corporate sin of greed and selfishness is “burning the earth” as we continue to burn fossil fuels and do harm to our environment and to future generations who will suffer the increasing effects. This is not the place for a political argument about climate change, but suffice it to say that caring for God’s creation is first a social, a moral, and a spiritual issue. Politics only distract us from our God-given responsibilities as stewards and caregivers of the earth. The “burning of the earth” through global warming due to our own neglect, apathy and even abuse of natural resources inordinately impacts the poor and those who are unable to escape or do not have the infrastructure to withstand the “natural disasters” that are increasing in frequency and intensity at an alarming rate. At the end of this reflection I will offer a few resources if you are interested in digging deeper into the moral dimensions of climate change and what we can do about it.

Against drowning…

There are certainly parallels between drowning and the climate change issued I mentioned above. Science has shown without question that as glaciers melt, sea levels continue to rise and coastal regions throughout the world are suffering disastrous consequences even now. There are of course spiritual dimensions to this danger as well. The Good News Translation of Psalm 38:4 says, “I am drowning in the flood of my sins; they are a burden too heavy to bear.” We do not need a cataclysmic weather event like Noah’s flood to take seriously the ways our sin, both individual and as a society, can easily overwhelm us.

Against wounding…

Wounding comes in all forms. We may pray for protection against physical harm, but we must also take seriously the ways our hearts our wounded. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.” In other words, if we do not deal with our own wounds or hurt, whether emotional, physical, spiritual, mental or in any other form, we will inevitably wound or hurt others out of a sense of self-preservation. Many of those we condemn for doing harm to others have been so deeply wounded themselves that they react violently out of utter desperation and hopelessness. We must consistently pray to protect our hearts and souls from being wounded and perhaps even more, we must pray against the ways we wound or inflict harm upon others, no matter how unintentional.

Reflections:

  1. Of the four specific dangers mentioned in this passage, which one resonates the most with you and why?

  2. What other ways can you see these dangers impacting your life?

  3. Beyond the reward of eternal life, what rewards might you experience in your everyday life by praying against and overcoming these dangers to your mind, body and soul?

Here are a few great resources regarding the moral dimensions of climate change:

Christianity Today - “Climate change: The moral case for Christian action”

Ted Talk with Katharine Hayhoe - “What if climate change is real?”

Ted Talk with Katharine Hayhoe - “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it.”

Katharine Hayhoe on CBS This Morning - “Why we need to talk about climate change”


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

Christ with me…


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

Against Every Knowledge that Corrupts

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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

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

I must confess, at first glance I feel like I just stepped fully into the Middle Ages or stumbled onto Platform 9 3/4 into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Incantations, black laws, spells, and the like in our day tend to remain safely tucked away in fantasy novels, movies, or Renaissance Festivals. So why not just include these specific and seemingly outdated examples of evil in our previous section so we could gloss over them and move on with something more relevant?

Believe me, I thought about it.

In fact, making this separation ultimately resulted in a 41 day series rather than my intended 40 day journey. What concerns me, however, is that in reading any ancient work it is so easy to gloss over things that seem irrelevant, even in Scripture. And so I pause today with this difficult stanza to practice the discipline of discovering the timeless, Holy Spirit inspired truths within even the most distant writings of the Saints who have gone before us.

For me, the timeless word that strikes at the heart is “knowledge.” “…Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.”

All of these examples are forms of knowledge in Patrick’s world, even if they are what we might consider less than scientific or rational.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth,

By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1:26b-27

Just a few verses earlier in 1:18, he declares that “the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed.”

This issue of knowledge and evil creates a very fine line which we must walk in step with the Spirit. On one hand, we must be careful what kinds of knowledge we assume will corrupt us. Both Galileo and Copernicus were deemed heretics by the church and yet both are widely recognized with high regard today. We no longer condemn the belief that the earth revolves around the sun as a contradiction of Scripture. We recognize that the Biblical writers described creation in the best ways they could given their limited scientific knowledge. Christians today continue to hurt the church’s witness when we declare heretical things that are often simply matters of opinion or increased awareness and understandings of reality.

On the other hand, there are certainly heretical, idolatrous and pagan teachings which do corrupt our bodies and souls. Often these teachings find their way into the church in benign ways. Our theology of heaven or the return of Christ, for example, is often distorted in such a way that we fail to be good stewards of creation as God commanded because we assume it will all be destroyed anyway. Our understanding of God’s blessings and grace has led us to mistreat countless groups throughout history who we assume God has not blessed in the same way those of us who live with privilege understand blessings.

What if the greater danger today is not the knowledge of pagan ways, but the knowledge we think we have of God’s word that has been so distorted by our own cultural values that we are no longer recognizable as a “people of the Book.”

Let us not forget that those with the greatest religious knowledge in the gospels are condemned by Jesus as those who “strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:34). Knowledge is not inherently good or evil, pagan or holy, secular or sacred. All knowledge may be interpreted and used for good or for evil. Let us indeed weigh and evaluate carefully our sources of knowledge, but even more, let us be wise that we do not use our knowledge in ways that might corrupt our bodies and souls.

Reflections:

1. What first impressions did you have in reading the section of St. Patrick’s prayer?

2. In what ways do you see this admonition to summon God’s strength against these particular evils as relevant and applicable for you today?

3. How might God be inviting you to become more discerning in your sources and your application of knowledge?


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

Christ to shield me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

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

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

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

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

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

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