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The Celtic Way of Mission - 11 - persevering prayer - learning from the example of St Samson

Mission and prayer are inseperable. In the Celtic Church rhythms of prayer were a daily practice and mission was a primary focus. Their goal was to be in alignment with the Missio Dei, the mission of God. The word rhythm comes from the Greek verb rheo meaning to flow. Prayer is joining in with the flow of God like placing a boat on a river and allowing it to take you on a journey that God determines. They committed to rhythms such as morning, midday and evening prayer as a daily office. They would work in seasons of rest and restoration, such as 40 day periods of focus and preparation at times of year like Easter in the Spring and Advent in the Winter. This lifestyle of prayer energised their missional activity and created divine appointments and opportunities.

It was John O'Donohue who said "You fall out of your rhythm when you renege on your potential and talent, when you settle for the mediocre as a refuge from the call...rhythm is the secret key to balance and be spiritual is to be in rhythm." 1

A powerful example of this practice of prayer and mission is St Samson who was raised and trained under Illtyd in Wales. He was placed in the care of Abbot Illtyd because of a powerful prophecy given to his parents concerning his birth. Samson is considered one of the founding saints of the monastic movement in Brittany (he is the Patron Saint of Brittany) which shows the strong connections between Celtic sites in Wales and France (Samson also travelled around Ireland and Cornwall where he founded monastic communities).

In David Cole's book Celtic Advent, a story is told of Samson and his perseverance in prayer. 2 He was travelling through Cornwall with some other monks and came across locals worshipping a pagan idol. Moved with compassion, Samson beseeched them to follow Christ but the response was not positive, they became angry and aggressive towards the christian missionaries. A young man riding a horse charged at the crowd who had gathered and fell badly landing on his neck and died instantly. Samson apparently said to the pagan worshippers "You see your idol is not able to give aid to this dead man...if you destroy your idol and turn to Christ, I will show you the power of Christ and bring the dead man back to life."

This is a bold statement. This kind of faith does not come from weak prayer practices but a lifestyle of connecting to the will of God, having confidence in answered prayer. Samson had faith, he prayed over the body of this young man for two hours. This is an example of Jesus' words in Luke 18:1 that we "should always pray and not give up."

Andrew Murray, who wrote many books on prayer said "Of all the mysteries of the prayer world the need of persevering prayer is one of the greatest." Murray believed that it was necessary to cultivate "the corresponding dispositions of patience and faith, waiting and anticipating, (these) are the secrets of perseverance (in prayer)." 3

Samson through his practice of daily prayer had learned to persevere, and knew the power of God. He stayed with the dead body praying for two hours when finally the young man came back to life. Samson knew that Christ's resurrection was a reality and called upon that same power to work in the lifeless young man. The story records that Samson brought the young man alive to his doubters and "seeing this, they all will one accord, along with their chief, prostrated themselves at Samson's feet and destroyed their idol."

It seems to me that the Celtic church had a different mindset when it came to the power of prayer. Their practices strengthened their resolve to see breakthrough. They had an expectation to see heaven poured out in response to prayer.

What does this mean for us? Does it challenge, do we need to adopt some of the prayer practices and attitudes of the Celtic Church? Will mission look different with a more prayerful approach?

My own prayer life and practices have changed as a result of the inspiring stories of these Celtic Saints. I have a greater expectation for heaven to break in when I align myself to the flow of God. Should evangelists be trained in prayer as much as sharing the gospel? Wherever I see success in mission I always see perseverance in prayer quietly happening in the background. Like Samson, I want to get to the point where I am confident in the resurrection power of Christ, and expect to see it at work among those who do not know Christ. What about you?

  1. Taken from Waymarks for the Journey by Ray Simpson, p192

  2. Celtic Advent, David Cole, p70

  3. Andrew Murray, the power of persevering prayer article.

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