St Patrick and the Holy Spirit
Tomorrow, of course, is St Patrick’s Day. It’s a day of partying for people of Irish extraction and those who wish they were.
But how many of the people celebrating their Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s day have any idea what kind of man he was?
Patrick was a great leader, a man of influence. Having been carried off by a raiding party to Ireland in his youth and forced into slavery, Patrick eventually learned to love and forgive his captors. In the course of time, God prepared him as an instrument of His mercy and sent Patrick back to the land where he had been carried off into slavery. His purpose in returning to the land of his captivity was to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he pursued this mission with great energy, creativity and perseverance.
Patrick was also a man of prayer, who had many powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit. He believed that God speaks through dreams and visions, and experienced many such encounters in his own life.
I mention this last factoid because of my own recent experience with the Holy Spirit, and in particular with dreams and visions.
I was raised in a skeptical, rational environment in which I was taught to believe that whatever cannot be proven or explained rationally is not real. I am grateful to God for giving me the capacity for analytical and rational thought. Among other things, it is responsible for my success in my current line of work as an information technology professional. I have an inquiring mind and derive satisfaction from understanding the mysteries of life.
To some extent, this thirst for understanding can be pursued by human reason. And yet, at an early age I was introduced to realities that cannot be understood or explained by human reason alone. As a child, growing up in a small town in Northern Quebec, I spent many hours outdoors in God’s creation and was in awe of the hills, the rocks, the great blue sky, the trees, the snow in winter and the heat in summer, the great Gulf of St Lawrence that was not far from my door, and all the other wonders of the created world that was so much bigger than I was.
I was also introduced to the message of Jesus, and there came a point in my life where I became convinced that this Jesus was not just a historical figure but the Lord of the universe, who came to earth to save lost humanity. I now know Jesus as the One who died for me, who rose for me, who reigns now from His heavenly throne and who is coming again as King to reign openly on earth.
I also know Him as the One who pours out His Holy Spirit on those who seek Him. It was a struggle for me to yield to the Holy Spirit. I was afraid of losing control. However, a wise friend reassured me by pointing me to the words of Jesus that God only gives good gifts, and that the Holy Spirit is the best gift of all – and so I yielded my life to Jesus and welcomed the power of the Holy Spirit, although there was much I did not understand.
Among the things I know to be true, but cannot explain rationally, is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This comes in many forms, but one of those forms is dreams and visions. In an article that I read recently by Will Graham on St Patrick, I was struck by the prominence of this aspect of St. Patrick’s experience with the Holy Spirit.
The belief that God guides his people through dreams and visions is entirely Biblical. There are hundreds of examples of this in both Old and New Testaments. Guidance and revelation by means of dreams and visions featured prominently in the lives of the apostles and have been part of the experience of God’s people down through the ages. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, the Apostle Peter explained the event by quoting a prophecy from the Book of Joel which specifically mentioned that in the last days, when God poured out the Holy Spirit, dreams and visions would become common.
In my own life, although I have never stopped being a rational and analytical thinker, I have come a long way from my earlier skepticism about supernatural experiences, so much so that I now consider such experiences to be a normal part of my daily life. This does not mean that I have stopped reading or studying my Bible. On the contrary, I find that my study of the Scriptures has been greatly enriched by my experiences with the Holy Spirit, and I have an increasing desire to know God by all possible means – among which His written word will always be primary.
In recent months God has been speaking to me quite frequently and powerfully through dreams. Some of the dreams contain guidance for my own life, but others have a much wider application. One of my recent dreams gave significant insight about a major Biblical theme – the meaning of the Bride of Christ and the relationship between this present age and the Age to Come. I plan to share this dream and its meaning in a future post. For now, if the idea that God speaks through dreams and visions is new to you, I would simply encourage you to open yourself to this refreshing possibility. Ask the Lord to speak to you, and trust Him to interpret what He shows you. To those who approach Him with humility and an expectant heart, God is always faithful and true to His promise. Jesus is preparing His bride, and dreams and visions are one of His chosen instruments, as our brother St Patrick also discovered so many centuries ago.