The number 40 is a significant number mentioned in the Bible many times; it is used to indicate a very long time, often marked by a period of testing or trial.
God flooded the earth by having it rain for forty days and nights, testing Noah’s faith (Genesis 7:12).
The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before a new generation was allowed to possess the promised land. (Exodus)
Jesus was tempted by the devil during the 40 days and nights he fasted just before his ministry began (Luke 4:1-13).
In each of these stories, eventually, God delivered the people from the time of testing. What made the difference was that they did not give up hope. They called on God and God answered their prayers with provision and protection, and always guiding them through the wilderness time and delivering them to the promised place. The key to surviving the time of trial was to pray to God.
Each year in the church year, before we can celebrate the promised Easter, we have to go through Lent: a 40-day period of trial and testing. It is a time when we are called to examine our lives and our hearts and see what things we can let go of that are keeping us from a closer and more trusting relationship with God. The things we may need to let go of could be dependence on stuff or food to fulfill us; or sin and shame that are weighing our spirits down; or it may be our schedules that are either too full with busy-ness or too empty of meaningful practices or people.
This Lent, I am inviting you to take on a 40-day challenge of prayer, committing to pray each day of Lent. On day 1 (March 6), pray for just 1 minute. On day 2, pray for 2 minutes. On day 3, pray for 3 minutes. Keep adding just 1 minute each to your prayer time, so that by the end of Lent, you will be giving 40 minutes of your day to God in prayer. Sundays are a free day, and don’t count in the 40 days, because we all worship and pray together on that day! You don’t have to sit in silence to pray. You can sing. You can read a Psalm. You can walk the Prayer Path through the church. You can walk through your neighborhood and pray for your neighbors. Whatever you do, just pray a minute more each day, until you get to 40 minutes. Although it sounds like a lot right now, with the practice of increasing just a little each day, you will form a new habit, which will be full of blessings for you. And hopefully, you will be able to continue the practice of praying each day even beyond Lent (maybe not for 40 minutes, but maybe so). This intentional daily practice of prayer will change your routine, but more importantly, it will change you and your relationship with God.
It can be hard to do this alone. So, this Lent, there is also opportunity to pray with others in the church. We are having a small group study of the book Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption by Jeff Manion. We will be meeting in small groups in the homes of church members, to allow honest conversation and prayer. The groups will begin meeting throughout the 40 days of Lent. Look for sign-ups this month in the church narthex as well as on the church web-site. (You can click here to sign up). I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to let go of things getting in the way of a closer relationship with God, as well as learn how to pray with and for others.
In order to survive the flood, Noah had to pray.
In order to survive the wilderness, the Israelites had to pray.
In order to survive the devil’s tempting, Jesus had to pray.
In order for us to survive our daily challenges and sufferings, we have to pray.
In order for us to let go of our burdens, sin and shame, we have to pray.
In order to learn to trust God and grow in faith, we have to pray.
Everyday we have to pray.
So let’s commit to praying every day of Lent--just one more minute each day.
And as our time of prayer increases throughout Lent, so too will our blessings of a closer and more trusting relationship with God.
For as one of our spiritual guides and prayer warriors, St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, “prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” May it be so for you these 40 days of Lent.