Columban gave himself entirely to fasting and prayer, to bearing the easy yoke of Christ, to mortifying the flesh, to taking the cross upon himself and following Christ, in order that he who was to be a teacher of others might show the learning which he taught more fruitfully by his own example in mortifying his own body; and that he who was to instruct others might first instruct himself.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
Observe the sorrow of our training, understand that we do not pass from joy to joy nor from security to security, but from grief to joy and from trial to security. Thus we must patiently bear brief sorrow, that we may obtain eternal joy; and the light measure of our trial must be endured with readiness, that we may attain the eternal life of great glory.
- Columbanus, Sermon IV
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…
- 1 Peter 5.2, 3
From Sinell’s school, Columbanus moved to the monastery at Bangor, on the northeast coast of Ireland, and came under the tutelage and influence of Comghall, one of the great leaders of the Celtic Revival. His preparation in Leinster and at Lough Erne fit him for this calling; for the discipline at Bangor was even more intense.
Jonas refers to this life of monastic discipline as the “easy yoke of Christ,” and I think he’s correct. Everyone lives a disciplined life, but not always according to the disciplines that lead to full and abundant life in Jesus Christ. Much of our time is devoted to frivolous and unfruitful things that may be enjoyable, but add nothing to our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12). This is the way of frustrated hopes, disappointed dreams, and that sad feeling of not realizing our reason for being.
By growing in Jesus—Who is the life (Jn. 14.6)—and having Jesus flow through us to others (Jn. 7.37-39), we inhabit the joy of the Lord, which nothing can take from us. Life is easy in Jesus, because He is living in and through us to His praise and glory.
But we can only get to this place via the practice of a disciplined life, according to the disciplines prescribed in God’s Word. Columbanus understood this “easy life,” and he embraced and taught it enthusiastically.
Fasting and prayer, denying fleshly interests, and serving others in the Name of Jesus: This was the calling of a monk in Celtic Ireland. Monks continued to study and teach, of course, but the focus of all their time was in knowing, communing with, enjoying, and serving the Lord Jesus. Columbanus understood that the rigorous spiritual disciplines he embraced would be crucial if he was to know the Lord’s discipline in all his relationships, roles, and responsibilities. He would truly learn the Christian life as he was transformed into the image of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus flowed through him at all times.
Like other Celtic monks of this period, Columbanus understood that true learning is not merely a head-trip. We haven’t learned something just because we can remember or recite it back, or because we affirm or give assent to it in some manner. We have learned when our selfish ways are suppressed and the members of our body are “mortified” as to the ways of the flesh and the world. Christ becomes increasingly our all in all, filling our thoughts, ruling our hearts, determining our priorities, and shaping and filling all our words and deeds. We have truly learned when we have “learned Jesus” (Eph. 4.17-24) and when Jesus is showing Himself consistently in us.
True teaching thus aims at such learning. As pastors, church leaders, and teachers of others, we must not be content merely to impart information in the name of teaching. The goal of all instruction, Paul reminds us, is love—increased love for God and for our neighbors (1 Tim. 1.5). We must seek to inform the mind, of course; but we must also engage and insist on renewed hearts and help to instill Kingdom priorities and values in the conscience.
But this must happen in us first. A shepherd’s tools for ministry are three: The Word of God, prayer, and personal example. We may be diligent in prayer and knowledgeable in God’s Word, but we will not be persuasive or fruitful in our teaching if our example does not demonstrate the work of God’s Word and Spirit in our souls.
Columbanus understood this, and he disciplined his body to submit to Jesus, so that Jesus could increase in him, and he could show Jesus at all times to the people around him.
Anybody can learn Bible verses and doctrines or talk in glowing terms about Jesus. But they only are credible whose walk with the Lord supports and gives expression to their talk about Him or His Word. One of the reasons to study the life and teaching of Columbanus is to get a closer look at what true teaching and true learning look like in one determined to take up his cross and follow Jesus all the days of his life.
And at all times, such a life is disciplined to know, love, and serve others for Jesus’ sake.
1. What standard of learning defines your approach to discipleship?
2. How confident are you that you are using all the disciplines the Lord has provided for growing in Him?
Psalm 24.5-10 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
A blessing all they from the Lord shall receive who seek Him and on His salvation believe.
For these are His people, the children of grace, who earnestly, eagerly seek for His face.
O lift up your heads, all you gates of the soul, for the Savior would enter and render you whole!
The Lord strong and mighty in battle draws nigh; He rules in His glory above us on high.
O Who is this King, Who approaches our gate? His might is before us, His glory is great!
This King is the Lord of all glory above, Who comes to indwell us in mercy and love!
Am I as disciplined for Jesus as I ought to be? Show me, Lord, if in any way I…
T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Jonas, p. 5.
 Walker, pp. 79ff.