What do you call a fake Irish stone? What? A shamrock! Mom, I met an Irish boy on St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, really? No, O’Reilly! What’s Irish and stays out all night? What? Paddy O’Furniture.
If life is a journey, then give us a map. If life is a journey, how come it too often feels like it’s an off-road obstacle course race with few directional signs? Now I know that’s what the Bible is for, and I’m all for that. We need to get to scripture more than we do. But you also know that the Bible can’t answer precisely what to do with a portion of what you’re facing. And we also know how easy it is to get lost and in trouble. Life can come flying at us—and make things change so we’re left with only prayers and faith.
I remember one day years ago I was driving into Chicago on a super crowded Dan Ryan. Bumper to bumper we were going maybe 30 or 40 mph. The express lanes were running in the opposite directions and were going much faster. I didn’t even take notice of them. All of a sudden, this car erupts out of the express land toward me and the cars in front of me, flying over the concrete wall supposedly protecting us, turning like a breaching whale mid-air as it flies right toward us. We could see the under belly of the car is it descended on the top of a car just two in front of me. Everyone had already braked and stopped. The flying car came off of that car, smashed into the one in front of me and then stopped. I thought for sure two or more people were dead. This is on the Dan Ryan in Chicago. I get out of my car, and others are getting out of their cars. And Incredibly the driver of the car that the flying car got out of walked out and the dog in the car walked out. You want to know something else? So did the driver of the flying car!! The only thing I heard was the guy in the flattened car went down to the floor right when he saw the car get airborne. His dog was in the right spot because the car crushed the other side of his car. The flying car’s driver had his seat belt on and his own car had smashed on the passenger’s side. Luckily neither car had any passengers in them.
Out of nowhere, a car can start to fly. Out of nowhere, we may get news of something. Out of nowhere we may realize we aren’t who we thought we were, or we aren’t where we thought we were.
There was no time to pray during that accident. But that’s not true when it comes to much of what is happening to us. Sometimes that’s all we have. Don’t hesitate to turn to the Lord. God doesn’t send this bad stuff but is
ready to back you up. When it’s time to pray, get to prayer. Some battles are simply spiritual, faith-based. Your spirit and strength need all the help they can get. Look to God to bring you more of what you need when you have less than what is required.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day so I thought you should hear some the real stuff about St. Patrick. St. Patrick didn’t banish snakes from Ireland. After the last Ice Age, snakes never returned to the Emerald Isle. Neither is there proof that Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to impart the doctrine of the Trinity to 5th-century pagan Irish. By the way, Patrick wasn’t Irish nor was his real name Patrick. Patrick is adapted from Patricius, which derives from the Latin word for “father figure,” which he adopted after becoming a priest. None of it matters. The true story of Maewyn Succat, most likely born in today’s Scotland or Wales, is better than the myth.
Captured by raiders at 16-years-old in northern Britain, Maewyn was taken across the Irish Sea by pirates and sold into slavery. Escaping from six years of bondage after receiving a spiritual vision, Patrick returned to Ireland decades later, armed only with a mystic’s faith, to convert the island to Christianity, abolishing slavery and human sacrifice in the process.
Enslaved in a land far from home, unfamiliar with Gaelic, without companionship or comfort, Patrick discovers the only hope available to him—prayer. He prayed “up to 100 prayers a day, and in the night a like number.” He prayed as he “stayed out in the forest and on the mountain” and before daylight in “the snow, in icy coldness, in rain.” Then, in his early 20s, while asleep one evening, a voice in a dream tells Patrick that he would soon be departing for his land of origin. Soon afterward, Patrick writes that he heard another voice in another dream say to him, “Behold, your ship is ready.”
Well inland and fleeing his enslaver, he made his way until he reached the ship he’d been told of in his vision, where several members of the crew stowed him. It was some years later, after he’d reunited with his family in northern Britain, that Patrick received his calling to become a priest and return to Ireland.
Perhaps not surprising, given his own experience, Patrick became one of the earliest identifiable anti-slavery activists in western civilization. In his Confessio, he wrote how he was “humbled every day by hunger and nakedness” during his six years tending cattle in the Irish wilderness. His stance against slavery was particularly bold and powerful. In particular,
Patrick condemned and called out the bondage of Irish women while taking note of their bravery and resilient spirit.
Around 433 A.D., Patrick returned to Ireland against the wishes of his family. His mission, baptizing Irish pagans, ordaining priests, and building churches and monasteries, would last the final 30 years of his life in Ireland. By Patrick’s death on March 17, 461, or shortly thereafter, the Irish ended their slave trading and didn’t take it up again, even when centuries later much of Europe and America began enslaving and trading African men, women, and children.
Maewyn Succat, Patrick was gutsy. He was fearless. He was tough on the outside because he knew God’s strength on the inside. He had no Bible, not that he wouldn’t have wanted one. But he didn’t have one. But he had his heart, spirit, and he had time. To the Lord he turned continually and received the comfort and consolation he needed. As a sixteen-year-old, Maewyn didn’t have enough God in him to hear the directions. But at twenty-two, he had let enough God in him to believe. He had prayed enough God in him to trust. He had become a person of God and a believer in God’s word and a follower of the Spirit’s direction. So, he got up one good getting up day and left his slavery behind.
Sometimes you’ve just got to say, “Enough’s enough.” Sometimes, you have to rise up and tell yourself, “My world is no longer gonna be my world.” We can’t fit the Lord in our world with all the fears and doubts we’re holding. Something’s got to go—and it’s them, not God. It’s your lack of belief that must go. Not the Lord. It’s our self-satisfaction that needs to go—not the Lord. It’s our compromising and settling that have to go—not the Lord.
When we do that, we can get up and get going on a much greater journey than what we’re seeing for ourselves as of now. Seek the Lord’s comfort if you’re troubled. Seek greater faith if you’re confused. Give God a chance to open your heart and mind to the Lord’s way forward.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, when he describes how bad it was, it’s as if he’s reliving how powerless he was and how low he felt. “We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” His story isn’t specific. He doesn’t tell us what exactly happened, but it was the end of the line. Time was up for him and his colleagues. They were going to be executed.
Of course, Paul was in a different situation than we will ever find ourselves in. He’s imprisoned. He can’t run away and find a ship. He can’t try to find another job. He didn’t have the hope of modern medicine. He was completely powerless and at the mercy of his captors. Well, almost completely powerless, I should say. He still has the Lord. And that made all the difference because the full weight of Paul’s afflictions didn’t fall on him. There was intervention. His sentence was lifted. God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
God wants to give you a faith that lasts. The truth is until we are tried and tested, we don’t know how real our faith is. Being tested doesn’t mean your faith is a waste. Bad things happening to good people doesn’t prove there’s no God, or faith is for suckers. It’s exactly at these times when all you have left is faith that that’s when faith is activated and is needed. Faith in the good times is like having candy after your ice cream. Sure, it’s tastes good but it’s not necessary.
So, don’t confuse experiencing good times with having a good faith. And don’t ever confuse bad times with losing your faith. We don’t know if we have faith until we need it.
Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, despairing or doubtful doesn’t mean you’ve lost faith. Those are feelings. Those are emotional reactions to life punching you in the gut. Faith and feelings aren’t the same thing. When we feel like the wind has been knocked out of us, we’re right. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts and stuns. Whether we know it or not, we tend to think two things: Either that shouldn’t have happened because God wasn’t supposed to let it happen, or I shouldn’t be feeling so bad because if I had faith then this wouldn’t get to me. Both of those are wrong and they both confuse feeling bad with lack of faith. Feelings are one thing. Faith is another. They can play off of each other but they’re not the same.
Having faith doesn’t mean you’re always going to feel good about what life’s dishing out. Having doubts about what has happened doesn’t mean God isn’t still working in your life. The Lord has to adapt because the Lord isn’t controlling everything in the way we think too often God should be controlling things. Give God some time and space to put things in place. Keep your heart lifted up so you are ready to accept what comes from the hand of the one who loves you. God seeks to comfort you in times of pain and show you a new path in times of trial.