Forty Days

Lent-40days-921x1024Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? – 2 Corinthians 13:5 (RSV)

Ever notice how the number 40 occurs at critical moments in Scripture? It rained on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. It was the number of days required to properly embalm a body for burial in ancient Egypt.

Moses, especially, is linked to the number. Not only did he lead the stubborn Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, but his life is divided into three 40-year periods: his Egyptian years, his shepherd years, and his wilderness years. He spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai being personally tutored by God Himself in the law.

The Israelite spies cased the Promised Land for 40 days. Goliath defied God for 40 days. Elijah fasted in the desert for 40 days. Jonah told the Ninevites they had 40 days to get their act together before God would judge them.

Prior to beginning his earthly ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. And His final 40 days on earth between His resurrection and ascension were spent giving last-minute instructions to His disciples.

Notice how the number is associated with judgment and preparation. Lent, the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday commemorating Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness, is a time of self-examination and spiritual preparation. We give up things, such as eating candy and pop or watching television, to practice self-denial and self-discipline.

But the most important part of this time should be examining our hearts, minds and spirits, asking God to show us anything we harbor that hinders us in our spiritual growth.

First, examine your heart, the seat of our emotions and true character: Are your motives right? Do you choose love over hate, forgiveness over resentment, self-control over anger, contentment over envy, generosity over selfishness, faith over fear, humility over pride, hope over discouragement, trust over doubt, patience over impatience, thankfulness over complaining?

Next examine your mind: Are you allowing God to transform and renew your mind? Or are you still hanging onto control of your thoughts, especially the bad ones? Are you capturing every thought and giving it to God? Are you filling your mind with the positive or the negative? Use Philippians 4:8 as your report card.

Now for the soul and spirit. According to the Children’s Ministry Resource Bible, my soul is the part of me that responds to the world, while my spirit is the part of me that responds to God. I am not to love the world or the things of the world (1 John 2:15). Instead I am to fix my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and use Him as my model. Am I still running from Him, a rebel with my own agenda, and making myself miserable? Or am I running to Him, needing His love, forgiveness, strength and wisdom as desperately as I need air? Do I allow Him to guide my footsteps, day by day, moment by moment, or do I insist that I do it my way?

Some pretty hard questions, but ones that God will help us with if only we ask.

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts; and see it there be any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-34). Amen.

Extra tea: Read and meditate on Matthew 4:1–11


 

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To the Hilt

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” —Jesus, as quoted in John 10:10 (NIV)

 
“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” —Jim Elliott

When I read this quote by the late missionary Jim Elliott, it made me think: What does it mean to “live to the hilt”?

The hilt, the handle of a sword, is the only part visible when the blade is plunged in all the way. “To the hilt,” then, means giving something your all—one hundred percent, no reserve.

To me, living to the hilt means three things.

First, living to the hilt means exploring every God-given dream and pursuing the vision.

When I was in high school, I dreamed of becoming a writer. My life’s path led to teaching, which still remains a passion of mine, but the dream of writing never died. Twenty-three years after I graduated from college, I published my first pieces—a couple of devotionals in The Upper Room and a personal experience story in Guideposts. Recently I published my third novel.

The road hasn’t been easy. The learning curve can be steep, and it’s ongoing. When you reach one level, you find there’s another to master.

But when God gives you a dream, you must work to make it a reality. What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God. Remember the parable of the talents? Only the two who used what they were given received the commendation of “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

So discover, develop, and dispense your God-given gifts. Pursue the vision.

Second, living life to the hilt means doing—giving—your best, every moment, every breath. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23).

ALL your might. ALL your heart. Nothing held back.

And don’t let fear hold you back. Fear doesn’t come from God. What Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy is still true today: “God has not given you a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). He has filled you with His Holy Spirit. Remember, God is for you—He’s your biggest cheerleader. And if God is for you, then who or what can succeed against you? (Romans 8:31)

So, go on, give it your best shot. Give it your ALL.

Third, living to the hilt means looking forward, not back.

Too often, we play the “if only” game, weaving a web of regret—and getting tangled in it. Don’t waste time and expend energy on what could have been. Use the past to build the future. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
So what if things didn’t turn out the way you planned—the way you wanted? God, ultimately, is in control. He knows what He’s doing. Forget what’s behind and reach forward to what’s ahead. Press on toward your God-given goal (Philippians 3:13–14).

Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness. That means living full, living abundantly, living to the hilt.

Remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Thank You, God, for giving me a dream and showing me the way to make it come true. Amen.

Extra tea: Read and meditate on Matthew 25:14–30