Recently I have been reflecting on the events that took place on Mt Sinai in the book of Exodus. In chapter 19 a holy and mighty Yahweh descends from Heaven to make His conditional covenant (known as the Mosaic Law) with the tribes of Israel. The core of His covenant terms can be summarised in the following paraphrase of Exodus 19:5-8;
He will be their God and they will be His holy people. They will receive His blessings only if they are obedient to Him in all of their ways.
The people agree to God’s conditional covenant, so He calls Moses up to the mountain for 40 days (chapters 20-32) to personally deliver it to His people. The number 40 in scripture is significant, as it represents the numerical value for God’s judgement which simply means His just response to the circumstances we create. What happens during this 40 day period is something that we as the Church today can gain great wisdom from.
As I read through this account it is remarkable to read two very different outcomes from a group of people that were exposed to the same covenant conditions, over the same 40 day period.
- Moses up on the mountain, in close communion with almighty God, and
- The nation of Israel at the foot of the mountain, in open rebellion to the covenant conditions they had promised to keep.
Which leaves me asking the question:
“After Israel so recently witnessed the many miracles of God and heard the very voice that spoke creation into being, how did they so quickly and with such ease turn to Idolatry?”
Chapter 32 demonstrates the righteous judgement of God towards both Moses and the nation of Israel. His just response demanded the destruction of the obstinate people for their disobedience, and sought to fulfil His promise to build a great nation through the line of His obedient servant Moses. Thankfully for the children of Israel;
“Yahweh is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”Psalm 103:8
This is a scene all too common throughout the Old Testament, however, even today the children of God can be ensnared in rebellion. The Church age saints can rebel just as quickly as obstinate Israel from living Spirit filled, sanctified lives. Research has shown that it only takes 40 days to develop a habit. In just 40 days we can train our minds to reliably perform tasks that become instrumental to our daily functioning. The habits we exhibit can tell a lot about a person, including character, motives, values and behavioural expectations. Providing our environment remains relatively constant, so will our habits unless we make a conscious choice to alter them. What has been interesting and also challenging about this current pandemic season is that some of those constants in our life, that ensure our normal habitual behaviours, have been altered. Between lockdowns and social distancing restrictions our environment has been severely impacted and therefore so have our habits. It has been seven months since the declaration of the global pandemic and therefore, seven months since many churches have been able to physically meet together.
As a pastor, seeing the household of God meet together every Sunday for worship and fellowship brings me much joy. In Victoria believers have not been able to meet physically due to the current restrictions. This has been a challenge and a cause of increased stress, especially among pastors. However, what has been the greatest concern to me as a pastor has been the decline in online church attendance over the last few months. Good quality, as much as you can eat spiritual food has been put out on the table for the saints to eat, yet a good portion of the invited guests are absent from the buffet. This pattern amongst Christian churches has been seen all over our cities, state and the nation. What has come as the greatest shock has been hearing mature, Bible believing, Word loving Christians say;
“I haven’t been tuning into church online because it just doesn’t feel like church”.
There is so much wrong with this statement, but the one thing I want to draw your attention to is the unhealthy habits this kind of attitude is forming in believers. Remember, it only takes 40 days to develop a habit. Every opportunity you miss to engage with the local church, whether it be Sunday morning worship, prayer gathering or midweek meeting, reinforces poor Christian habits. No one could have anticipated that this pandemic would be this long lasting. For many churches there is still no end in sight. With this is mind I urge you, as the writer of the book of Hebrews urged his audience:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching”
Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis mine.
As in the events at Sinai, depending on what you do over the next 40 days can make a vast difference to your spiritual walk. Ponder the principles from this passage and ask yourself:
“Do I want to follow the example set by Moses?” Whose face, as result of his close fellowship with Yahweh, literally reflected the glory (character) of the Lord (Exodus 34:29)
“Do I want to be like the tribes of Israel who turned so quickly from the faithful worship of Yahweh to idolatry?”
It’s your choice. 40 days is all it takes. What will the next 40 days say about you?