Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Most people don’t know much about St. Patrick’s Day beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched, at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green, and the places we go for lunch or dinner will be serving corned beef and cabbage. So…
- Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
- What contributions, if any, did its namesake make?
- How does any of this relate to me living out my faith at work?
The story of St. Patrick is full of legend and lore. It is a riveting tale of pirates, kidnapping, divine revelation, a miraculous escape, a dramatic calling, and the transformation of the western world.
It happened about 1600 years ago. Born in Britain, Patrick was stolen from his family’s home and put into slavery in Ireland for nearly a decade before being returned to Britain in his mid-20s. Then at 48, well past the life expectancy in the 5th century, Patrick experienced an inescapable calling to go back as a missionary to Ireland and the people who had enslaved him as a boy. Unfortunately, he was denied permission because the Church had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. This is quite ironic because during this time, Rome, the seat of civilization and the early faith, was on the verge of collapse. Corruption was rampant and the Church feared an impending post-Christian future.
But Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied by about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey. To make an extremely long and winding story short and straight, God used Patrick and his group in a miraculous way. Through their efforts the least Christian corner of the Roman Empire became the most Christian.
How did that happen? When they landed, they did not use the conventional way of approaching people who did not know Jesus. This very Roman way was to provide people with information, then give them a chance to respond, and if they choose to believe then you welcome them into your fellowship. Believe > Become > Belong. Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many of us were taught to evangelize. But Patrick knew this method would not work in a post-Christian context.
Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to get to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through those relationships they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those who were receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way to: Belong > Become > Believe.
It is no secret that our times have been described as “post Christian,” and Patrick’s model can be very effective as we live out our faith at work. 1 Peter 3:15, says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”
Peter instructs and Patrick exemplified sharing faith as a response to the question of the source of our hope. Questions like that most often arise out of relationships. Seeds are planted when we give people access to our lives and permission to investigate it. Vulnerable and transparent living waters the seeds. Curiosity is stirred and germination will soon follow. I was steeped in the Roman way (Believe > Become > Belong) for many years and it has taken me a while to unlearn it. Reflecting on the questions below have been instrumental in my reversing it. I challenge you to take some time today to reflect on them as well, not just to honor a hero of our faith but for the sake of Christianity in the western world.
Belong – How are you opening up your life to the people you work with? Who has God placed in your sphere of influence and how are you building a genuine relationship with them, no strings attached?
Become – Can you talk about the message of Jesus conversationally in a way that is appropriate in your work context? Can you describe how God is leading you in your spiritual journey without using religious jargon? Are you praying for specific people at work? Are you prepared for the moment God opens the door for you to share what it means to place your faith in Jesus?
Believe – Who helps you wrestle through what you believe? Who helps you, as Paul describes, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? Who are your companions on the journey – someone just ahead and just behind you on the path of following Jesus? Barnabus had Paul and Paul had Timothy. Believing is fostered in community. Who is your community?