Forty Days of Spiritual Discipline
Forty days. Does that seem like a long time to you?
Of course, it’s all relative and up for comparison. A week is only seven days; a year is 365 days. And each of us is on a different daily agenda that makes time go quickly or slowly. If you are waiting for something important, 40 days can seem endless.
The length of 40 days in the Old Testament holds a lot of biblical significance. Here are a few instances:
- Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18);
- God sent 40 days and nights of rain during Noah’s great flood (Genesis 7:4);
- the Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert (Numbers 14:33),
- and perhaps most notably, Jesus wandered in the wilderness and fasted 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2).
Traditionally, mainline denominational churches celebrate the 40 days before Easter with liturgy, fasting, sacrificing luxuries, holding daily devotionals and prayer, or observing Stations of the Cross, and giving to charities.
Author Walt Wangerin made an observation on the significance of 40 days. In his book Reliving the Passion, he observes,
“In the Old Testament a special meaning was attached to the forty-day period: devout encounter with the Lord. But then that meaning was both acknowledged and superseded in the New Testament by Christ’s divine activity—and the Law was superseded by Grace!”
Many Christ-followers recognize the opportunity to add to our faith by observing 40 days of spiritual discipline. Here are some suggestions:
- Choose something that you are willing to give up for the 40 days. It could be a certain food (like sugar, meat, caffeine, or junk food), a habit (like social media or online games), an activity (like binge-watching an online TV series or shopping for pleasure), or something else that occupies your time frequently, but isn’t truly necessary to your daily life.
Your sacrifice can be a reminder to you of what Jesus sacrificed for us.
Beth Davis, an Assemblies of God missionary with CompassionLink, made this observation: “While working as a hospital chaplain among clergy members of other faith groups, I became aware of how little Pentecostals talk about suffering and its usefulness to Christian maturity. Perhaps because of our emphasis on divine healing, we tend to ignore the fact that Christ suffered, and many Christians will suffer as well.”
Davis continues, “So, in recent years, I have chosen to ‘give up’ something that I would normally enjoy (i.e., dessert, coffee, social media). In a very small, but meaningful way, this practice reminds me that Christianity is not about life without pain. God doesn’t always alleviate our suffering; rather He enters it and helps us bear our crosses whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual.”
- You might also want to try adding something positive for 40 days. Perhaps you will volunteer more time to your church, or to a local charity. Or you might want to spend more time with your family, your aging parents, or friends who need support. If you can’t spare more time, consider collecting spare change, and make a donation at the end of the 40 days from what you’ve collected.
Or, maybe you need to add something into your spiritual life, like more prayer time, being more forgiving, being more grateful, or practicing solitude.
- Add additional devotional or prayer time to your day during the 40 days. Take time to memorize God’s Word, to use time for self-examination and reflection, or for meditation and journaling. One Christ-follower chooses to read the entire New Testament, in addition to his daily Bible reading time.
The book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, lists many spiritual disciplines in addition to those mentioned above, such as silence, solitude, slowing, simplicity, teachability, gratitude, and more.
Most of us would admit we have room in our life to add these positive traits.
If you haven’t considered an intensive time of spiritual discipline, perhaps your spiritual life could use the growth you’ll find in trying some of these suggestions during the next 40 days. Then, when Easter arrives, you will feel the joy of the celebration more clearly.
Again, Wangerin suggests, “When we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die—because His took the place of ours. . . . and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like His as well.”