Colum Cille (22)
In the second year after the battle of Cúl drebene, the forty-second year of his age, Columba [Colum Cille] sailed away from Ireland to Britain, wishing to be a pilgrim [peregrinai] for Christ. Devoted even from boyhood to the Christian novitiate and the study of wisdom, preserving by God’s favour integrity of body and soul, he showed himself, though placed on earth, ready for the life of heaven; for he was angelic in aspect, refined in speech, holy in work, excellent in ability, great in counsel. Living as an island soldier for thirty-four years, he could not pass even the space of a single hour without applying himself to prayer, or to reading, or to writing or some kind of work. Also by day and by night, without any intermission, he was so occupied with wearying labours of fasts and vigils that the burden of each several work seemed beyond the strength of man. And with all this he was loving to everyone, his holy face ever showed gladness, and he was happy in his inmost heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
- Ephesians 3.20, 21
This is the closest we get in all the literature from this period to a summary description of Colum Cille and his work. We must admit, here was a man to be admired, heard, emulated, and remembered.
Adomnán referred to Colum as a peregrini pro Cristo—a pilgrim or wanderer for the Lord Jesus. He blazed the trail for thousands of others from this period who would leave homes, families, and worldly comforts to take the Good News of Jesus wherever God might lead them. Colum himself often went on sorties among the pagan tribes of Scotland, doing good, resisting evil, and proclaiming Jesus to any who would listen.
He was learned, wise, full of integrity, eloquent, holy, and excellent in everything he did. Who would not be drawn to such a man? Or unwilling to learn from him?
The key to Colum’s strength and ministry was his devotion to the Lord, anchored and nurtured in the spiritual disciplines that pervaded his life. Prayer without ceasing, reading, fasting, waiting on the Lord through long nights—all these disciplines we have so little time for Colum dutifully performed, and by them was strengthened to take on more work “beyond the strength of man.”
But you wouldn’t have known it by looking at his face. He was not contorted and pale with weariness or self-pity. Rather, filled with the gladness of the Lord, Colum “was happy in his inmost heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit” and showed the love of Jesus to everyone.
Colum is the poster child for Paul’s benediction in Ephesians 3.20, 21. If ever a saint existed who sought and realized “exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think”, Colum was he. But he sought no glory for Himself, only for God and Jesus Christ. Emptying himself of all prideful ambition—a hard lesson learned from the battle of Cúl drebene—Colum was ever ready for the filling of the Holy Spirit and to engage whatever work He might set before him.
Colum knew that God was at work within him by the power of His Holy Spirit (Phil. 2.13). He seems to have believed that he could not outwork God, that if he applied himself, every waking moment, to some form of work, God would meet him in the effort, fill him with His Spirit, and allow him to go beyond anything he’d ever done before. And without losing any of his gladness or love for others or in any way compromising on excellence in his work.
The community Colum began as an “island soldier” on Iona continues to this day. Colum started other monasteries as well, and he sent out men to distant lands who did what they learned from him in the work of the Kingdom of God. One cannot entertain such vision, undertake such efforts, nor equip and encourage others in the same without firmly believing in the exceedingly abundantly more of the grace and power of God.
These were not mere words for Colum. They were a gauntlet at his feet, every day. A “dare you” from the Lord, Who held out His hand to draw the saint forward selflessly, courageously, and faithfully in the service of others for Jesus’ sake.
We need more of the spirit of Colum Cille in our day, which is to say, of the Spirit of the living God. The Church today is, like the churches throughout Europe in Colum’s day, captive to a spirit of “good enough”, and this spirit does not come from the right hand of the Lord of glory. The soldiers of Christ Colum sent out with his exceedingly abundantly more vision of what God can do revived moribund churches, won multitudes to Jesus, discipled and sent the youth of their day on peregrinatio pro Cristo, and, in the words of Thomas Cahill, “saved civilization”.
Pray that God will raise up more men like this, and that He will work in you for an exceedingly abundantly more way of life.
1. What would an exceedingly abundantly more vision of your life and calling look like?
2. Why must we never settle for “good enough” as followers of Christ?
Psalm 119.50-54 (Wyclif: All for Jesus)
This my comfort in affliction, this my comfort in all strife:
that Your Word is my redemption, giving me eternal life!
Though the proud deride and taunt me, I will trust Your faithful Word.
Let Your judgments from of old be all my comfort, holy LORD.
Indignation grips me, Savior, for those who forsake Your Word.
All Your statutes, all Your favor, I will sing with joy, O LORD!
O Lord, let Your power be at work in me today, more than ever, so that I…
Bring some joy to your world
We are appointed, like Colum, to bring the joy of the Gospel to our world. Our book, Joy to Your World!, can help you understand how to fulfill this calling day by day. Order your free copy by clicking here.
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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.
 Adomnán, p. 7.