Forty Days and Forty Nights
It has been a momentous week, liturgically-speaking. Last Sunday we gathered on mountaintops to receive God’s continuing revelation of Jesus as the Beloved Son to whom we are to listen (Matthew 17:1-9). We also recounted Moses’ ascent to experience the glory of the LORD which was like a devouring flame on the cloud-covered mountain. “Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:12-18). On Wednesday we began our own forty day and forty night journey as we received ashes on our foreheads as signs of repentance to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. This Sunday we will sojourn with Jesus in the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights, encountering and being tested by the evil one (Matthew 4:1-11). It was a quick trip from the mountaintop to the wilderness. How quickly circumstances in our lives can change!
I am grateful for the mountaintop spiritual experiences I have been blessed with in my own life. It is my sense that most of us have had personal encounters with the Holy which have sustained us through both ordinary and difficult times. Even though they may be fleeting, and we often have difficulty in sharing these stories, they are tangible touches from God.
Being tested by the evil one is another matter, however. Consequently, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” or “save us from the time of trial and deliver us from the evil one.” Since times of testing and trial are far from pleasant and sometimes downright painful, why does God allow such temptations? I think the answer lies in the fact that God loves us just as we are but loves us too much to leave us as we are. We are in the process of being transformed to share the very character of Christ, just as “gold is tested by fire” (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Hebrews 12:10).
May God use the trials and temptations of these forty days and forty nights to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Ephesians 5:22-23). In the words of the familiar Hymn 150:
Forty days and forty nights thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights tempted, and yet undefiled.
Then if Satan on us press, Jesus, Savior, hear our call!
Victor in the wilderness, grant we may not faint nor fall!