Patrick’s Confession (12)
And another night He spoke (God knows – not I – whether within me or beside me) in words which I heard in terror, but without understanding them, except that at the end of the message He said: “He Who gave His life for you; it is He Who speaks within you.” And so I woke, full of joy.
And again, I saw Him praying within me and I was is if I were inside my own body, and I heard Him above me – that is, over my inner person – and He was praying hard with groanings. And all the while I was dumbfounded and astonished, wondering Who it could be that was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer, He spoke, saying that He was the Spirit. And so I woke, and I recollected what the Apostle had said:
“The Spirit helps us in the deficiencies of our prayers, for we do not know what it is proper to pray for; but the Spirit Himself pleads on our behalf with unutterable groanings which cannot be expressed in words.”
And again: “The Lord, our advocate, prays on our behalf.”
Translation: Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World
God, we know, was provoking Patrick to leave the safety and security of his home in order to return to the Irish as a “holy servant boy.” I doubt Patrick would have understood fully what this vision intended. It seems He was inclined to follow it, but he may have required further confirmation of this “calling” before he would take action.
The call to pastoral ministry has both an inward and an outward aspect. Inwardly, one senses the Lord directing him to take up the work of pastoral ministry. This comes in a variety of ways: One feels a strong desire to invest himself in the Word of God, in study, preaching, and teaching. He begins to form a “vision” in his mind of himself serving over a particular flock, and this vision grows stronger, clearer, and more compelling as he contemplates it. He is drawn to pray about such a possibility and, at the same time, he comes to experience various and contradictory affections – excitement and fear, joy and dread, hope and uncertainty. God works within the soul of a man He is calling to ministry in just such ways as this.
Patrick appears to have been in the throes of such a struggle. We should note the range of affections Patrick experienced during this season of God’s striving with him: confusion, terror, joy, astonishment. We can know we are in the presence of the Lord, and that He is working to get our attention, when we know such powerful affections as these.
This “inward” call seems to be what Patrick was experiencing. We recall that Patrick was not, at this time, a student of the Word or in any sense one who should have been considering a call to the ministry. God came to him in dreams, but in ways that made it clear He was working within Patrick’s soul, preparing him for some kind of service in Ireland.
Patrick’s experience of prayer is significant here. Note the phrases he uses to describe the fusion of vision, contemplation, and prayer with respect to his communications with God: “within me”, “inside my own body”, “above me”, “over my inner person.” He seems to have been fairly pervaded, overwhelmed, and subsumed in vision and prayer. God was “weighing” on Patrick, and Patrick was learning what to expect, and what to seek, in terms of an ongoing relationship with God.
Note also that, upon waking, Patrick appears to have found validation of his vision in the Scriptures. God Who spoke to Him by night used the Word to lend legitimacy to those dreams and prayers. Throughout the Confession, while God used visions and dreams to prepare or guide Patrick in one way or another, Patrick’s appeal is always to the Word of God. Scripture alone is sufficient to validate any vision, dream, or inward sense of struggling with God in prayer.
Patrick would not be able to look to his family or his pastors for the “outward” confirmation of his call to Ireland. They were opposed to him going. But the inward sense of God’s preparing and calling him, coupled with his limited understanding of the Scriptures, was, for Patrick, undeniable. The outward confirmation of that call would have to wait until he began his ministry in Ireland. The response of the people there would validate Patrick’s decision and ministry, as he is at pains to argue in this, his Confession.