READ: Psalm 36 & 37
BACKGROUND: These Psalms deal with David’s anxiety and fear over dealing with wicked people in the world. He is well aware that there are people who hate him and seek to harm him because of who he is and how he lives. And some of these wicked people are even “successful” by earthly measures and they’re prideful and they treat others unfairly and unkindly. But against this backdrop of darkness and evil – and even threats to his own safety – David is confident that God is there to sustain and protect his people and that one day all things will be set right. His confidence in Psalm 36:5-7 is the inspiration for one of my favorite songs by the band Third Day.
THINK: When he was 16 years old a boy named Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and taken from his home in Britain to the island of Ireland where he was enslaved for 6 years before escaping and returning home. After he returned home, however, a strange thing happened. One night while he was dreaming he felt God clearly calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary to tell the pagan Celtic people who lived there about Jesus. And so, in the 400’s AD, the man who would later be known around the world as Saint Patrick sailed back to the land where he had been held captive.
In Ireland, Saint Patrick faced a type of danger and opposition that are hard for us to imagine in our 21st-century context. He stepped into a barbaric society that was marked by violence and ruled by the superstitions of the druid religion which – among other things – practiced human sacrifice. But he pressed on, and carried the message of Jesus to the people of Ireland. And he confronted the druids and their oppressive beliefs head-on, risking his life to do so.
One night – on the night before Easter – Saint Patrick went to the most holy sight of the Celtic pagan religion. The Hill of Tara was where druid rituals took place and where Irish kings were crowned. And by religious rule, that night was a night when all fires in Ireland had to be extinguished in preparation for a pagan celebration the next day. Patrick climbed the nearby Hill of Slane and boldly lit a fire. It shone bright against the darkness of an otherwise fireless night. Seeing this, the druids informed King Laeghaire that if he didn’t see to it that this fire was extinguished then he himself would burn. He demanded that Patrick be brought before him immediately at the Hill of Tara. And so Patrick went, knowing that Laeghaire would likely attempt to have him killed but also knowing that his call was to preach the gospel at any cost and his God was mighty to save.
As Patrick walked from the Hill of Slane to the Hill of Tara he prayed an incredible, beautiful, and poetic prayer that has come to be known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer. It echoes many of the sentiments of David in Psalm 36 & 37. Though I have never faced opposition and oppression at nearly the same level he did (and I’m guessing that most of you haven’t either) I have felt like David and like Patrick at times. Sometimes it is difficult and frightening to know that you might face rejection and ridicule for living the way God calls you to and for bringing his gospel message to a dark and rebellious world. But one stanza from the Breastplate Prayer has always been an incredible encouragement and inspiration to me. I pray it regularly. And I invite you to pray it as well – whenever you’re afraid to be bold and to speak Christ and his cross to a wicked world.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
P.S. – Saint Patrick preached the gospel on the Hill of Tara that night, won a number of people to Christ, and escaped unharmed even though King Laeghaire did, in fact, attempt to have him killed. As it turns out, God answers prayer. 🙂