Archives For Valley

Reach into the ValleyThis is the third and final installment in the Surviving the Valley series. Part I and Part II were focused on gearing up for and making it out alive respectively. This post, though, turns our attention outward.

One of the most unexpected things that has happened in my valley experiences have been the reactions of God’s people – both helpful and hurtful. Both equally floored me. You see, helping people in the valley is extremely hard – I mean really helping. It is more than a word or a gesture because the valley is more than a pothole. And, I’m convinced more and more, it isn’t until we have the war wounds of the valley that we understand that.

Here are some basic things to keep in mind when considering stepping foot into someone else’s valley:

  1. The situation can’t be resolved easily or it would have by the time you heard about it. If you move toward someone hurting, be prepared for a lengthy stay. If you can’t or don’t want to offer something more than words of advice, it is much better to simply pray.
  2. If your first instinct is to shake your finger and tell someone how the choices they made led to their situation, step away from the ledge. The valley isn’t the time or place to beat people up over what they did wrong. Again, just pray.
  3. Get right with God! Entering someone else’s valley will require the ability to relay wisdom gained directly from God. It isn’t about what you know, but what God is doing that is important. If your relationship with God is anything less than vibrant, your effectiveness as a vessel of God for this person will be diminished.

In essence, our hearts need to break for those that are hurting; while at the same time we get a tinge of excitement because we know that God is up to something very special. Our own valley experiences have given us this perspective.

That’s the wonderful paradox of the valley – hard times = greatest change. The metaphors in Scripture are plentiful:

  • The refiner’s fire
  • The runner’s race
  • Iron sharpening iron
  • The cross

So the question remains on just how do you help someone in the valley. Your heart is breaking for them and you feel called to step into the middle of it because you know they need to be propped up. While there isn’t a formula, two things made the biggest difference for me in the valley:

  1. Expressions of love. Whenever someone would come up and hug my neck and tell me that they love me and are praying, it was like a warm bed on a cold morning. It is hard to comprehend how restorative an simple, selfless act of love can be. I learned a ton about how much people loved me through these kind acts.
  2. An ear to listen. For some, the truths being taught in the valley are revealed through a verbal discourse. This usually isn’t a request for “answers”, but more often just the need to get something inside to the outside.

As I’ve said before, valley-goers are a rare breed. I wish it weren’t true and I have several theories about why that is, but you’ve suffered enough by this point reading my ramblings. You are still there…right??? Just checking.

In short, hug their neck, clear your schedule for when God calls you to sit a spell and pray like crazy that His Will be done in their heart. Other than that, sit back and be ready to rejoice at the top of the next rise because there won’t be a lack of things to talk about.

Your legacy in the lives of others can come from many places – I hope for some of you, it will be in the form of a valley-goer for someone in need.


YouTube Direct-The Mourning Booth

To the StudentNOTE: This is the second installment in this series. Some contextual information was laid out in “Landscape” and might prove helpful if you haven’t seen it.

In the 23rd Psalm, King David shares some very keen insight into our relationship with God using the metaphor of sheep and shepherding. The first post, Landscape, gave some background and context to the valley, sheep and the shepherd. It is now time to apply that to us and God. Primarily, I want to talk about verse 4:

4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Mark Henry of Fellowship Bible Church preached on this very verse recently and one of the things that I took away from it was his attention on the first two words: EVEN THOUGH.

The first three verses were spent describing the high places – the good times in life. These two little words carry over the Truth revealed in those high places into the valley, which represent the hard times in life. In essence, he is calling us to take with us into the valley the loveliness of rest and refreshment; safety and security; blessing and restoration.

This should be a sobering transition because it means that we will need those things to survive the valley; thus painting the valley as undesirable before we even get to the “shadow of death” part.

VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
The “valley of the shadow of death” makes me remember who the author of this passage is.

David
King
Father
Passionate
Fearless

He lost a good portion of his life on the run from Saul’s pursuit. He lost a son and had another betray him. His life was marked by a lot of pain and some deep dark valleys…parts of his life that he would never get back, which is one way to describe death. But it wasn’t death for him…but a shadow of death – the reality of death without dying. No wonder we reel upon entering the valley; why we long for the overeaten pastures that were heavenly just before and desperately try to figure out a way back.

The first moments in the valley are some of the most critical. It’s dark and disorienting. We want to ask, “Why am I here?” We clamor for understanding and the need to make sense of our new surroundings overwhelms us. And yet, the Shepherd calls us to not fear based on His very presence. You get the sense that He is saying, “Be still and listen to me. I have a plan.”

Lesson #1: Upon entering the valley, resist the urge to ask, “Why?” Instead, ask, “God, what are you up to?” Scripture is clear that God, not only wants to be, but will be involved intimately in the Beliver’s life. He is sovereign over ALL – the high places as well as the valley and all points in between.

This response requires two things:

  1. An unwavering belief that God loves you. It is the valley where we really learn this lesson, so don’t be surprised or ashamed if you question this in the midst of hard times. He wants to answer that question with complete clarity!
  2. A supernatural trust that He is on our side and orchestrates all things to our benefit.

They (whoever they are) say that hindsight is 20/20 and both of these beliefs are aspects of our relationship with God that are greatly affected by looking back down into the valley from the high places. The more trips through hard times, the easier it is to move to asking the right question. It doesn’t necessarily ease the pain, but it helps us gain the right perspective from the onset.

Remember that the valley is defined by multiple high places. Just one high place means that the decent is into a plain or plateau. This is very good news for us as it means there are good times ahead. This simple acknowledgment is very powerful. The valley can produce an unknown condition of the future and if left to fester can lead to hopelessness. Remembering there is a high place ahead of us, even if it is unimaginable, can start to restore our hope that, eventually…”this too shall pass.”

Lesson #2: The valley is a transition between two high places and tasty grass is part of your future. Even if physical death occurs in the valley, heaven becomes the next high place. Allow the hope we have in Him to be your source of hope in the midst of despair.

Just as the valley is defined by high places, those high places are separated by some distance. Otherwise, we would see a mountain ridge and not a valley. Walking through the valley usually takes considerable time and, from my own experience, much longer that we like. If we can hang onto the truths that He loves us and that He is trustworthy; if we can lift our eyes up just enough to catch a glimmer of hope – perhaps we can find some endurance to find the meaning of the valley.

One thing is for sure – the valley didn’t happen by chance. God was not surprised by what happened to you, but rather is using it to shape and mold you to the person of Christ. We can either embrace what He is doing or rebel against it. Again, past trips through the valley make this decision easier.

I’m reminded of the apostle Peter. Could Christ have physically prevented Peter from being in a public place that night when he denied his Master? Sure – He could have told James and John to not let Peter out of their sight. Ever wonder why He didn’t? I think the denial of Christ – especially because of Peter’s staunch denouncement of this prophecy – was exactly what was required to crystallize his faith for the work depicted in Acts. God had a plan and He knew what Peter would need and used the valley of betrayal to accomplish His goals.

Lesson #3: Take time to properly grieve and explore what God wants you to experience. The valley is a metaphor for a process intended to induce change. That change should be welcome even if the process isn’t.

Finally, there is the proclamation that David makes that we are not alone and this, along with the rod and staff, provide comfort. The degree to which that comfort affects us is directly proportional to the depth of understanding of the truths set forth in the preceding words. Spiritual maturity, the measure of one’s head and heart understanding of God and His ways, is what God is interested in.

He uses many different tools to produce maturity in our lives. He uses His Word to take and apply in our daily lives and to provide insight into His character. He uses the Holy Spirit to speak to our souls and provide encouragement and correction when needed. He uses our circumstances to teach us very tangible lessons. And then He uses people to fill in the gaps.

While the details of most valleys are intensely personal, the journey is best done with company. And the best company is found in valley veterans – people that have been through their own valleys and know what you are feeling. All valley experiences have some aspects in common and it is possible for someone to genuinely empathize with you. The trick is finding these special “valley-goers”, or rather allowing them to find you.

The valley makes us want to hide – to pull the covers over our heads and not come out until after the winter snow has thawed. Pride, shame, condemnation and even embarrassment are tools that Satan uses to keep us separated from the rest of the flock where we are prone to be devoured. The solution is two-fold:

  • Remember the lessons learned
  • Move in faith to someone close and ask for prayer

Notice I didn’t say to ask for HELP. Most people don’t know how to help someone in the valley, but we all need prayer. Asking for prayer is also a good way to signal to those valley-goers that you need their company – a coded message if you will. These special people are lights in the darkness and blessings from the Father.

Lesson #4: You are not alone. Certainly, God is with you and He will, at times, bring others into the valley with you to help carry the load. Embrace and cherish them for the gifts they are.

The valley is a metaphor for tough times in our life – the real-world experience of James 1:2-4, but if we can recognize it for what God intends, we will encounter Him in those hard places and as a result – experience Joy. The final installment in this series, Legacy, is what it means to take your valley experiences and give them away.

Sheep in the ValleyOver the next several posts, I want to talk about the Valley – the seasons in life where the proverbial breath gets knocked out of us. Each post will examine a facet of the Psalm 23, where King David (a former shepherd) uses great imagery to describe the high places, the valley and the relationship between the two. Over the past several years, God has taught me much of the valley and I’m convinced that it is the primary vehicle for true life change.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might not make much sense, but it will soon. The valley is inescapable – we all experience it sooner or later and it is how we respond to it that matters most. I hope you will read on and subscribe for the series. To all others, you will identify greatly with what I have to say and I hope it produces a desire to be a “valley-goer” for someone else like it has for me.

This post is just to give some context that will hopefully enrich the imagery and message of the 23rd Psalm.

THE VALLEY
In geological terms, the valley is a formation created by the upheaval of surrounding areas due to underground forces. For whatever reason, the valley floor didn’t move with the areas around it. Consequently, the valley is defined by the higher places surrounding it. Keep that in mind.

The valley is also a metaphor used in the Bible to describe the tough times in life; a transition from the good times on the mountaintop. David uses commonly understood imagery in Psalm 23 to create a metaphor for us, life and our relationship with our Creator. The context is sheep and shepherding – a career that carries about as much prestige as street sweeper, but one that is still vital to the global economy.

SHEEP
A simple animal that has a sole focus – satiate their hunger. They are grazers and can easily overgraze a pasture resulting in the destruction of a pasture’s ability to recover. For this reason, sheep are methodically rotated between pastures. They not only need a good source of foliage, they need a steady source of potable water. Their digestive system requires a certain amount of water based on the type of plants eaten. For example, new growth eaten in the morning will require less additional water because it naturally contains more water and the dew is also consumed at the same time.

They have great peripheral vision, but lack depth perception. Because of this, they will naturally want to move from dark to light and uphill when frightened. They also have excellent hearing and respond well to audible cues. They, unlike other meat-producing livestock are not raised in modern livestock facilities and therefore the methods of raising sheep have largely gone unchanged over time.

THE SHEPHERD
Shepherding is one of the oldest professions – dating back some 6,000 years and show up in cultural references throughout that time. As flocks grew in size, this profession was created to successfully move the sheep from pasture to pasture and eventually to market for their wool and meat. Because sheep were such an integral part of the economy of a community, the shepherd was an important position and required the mastery of certain skills.

First, he had to know the land – which pastures had the best vegetation, how long they could stay, where to go next and the best (safest, shortest, etc.) way to get there.

Secondly, he had to know what predators were naturally occurring and the best way to detect and fend them off. This meant he had to be a skilled hunter with the rod – a club-shaped weapon that could both be thrown or used for close combat. He also needed to know just the right way to use his staff – a crooked stick used to help the sheep go where they might not naturally want to go.

Lastly, he would need a plan. I can just imagine that herding sheep is much like herding cats – almost impossible. Staying several steps ahead would be the key to keeping your job.

SUMMARY
To sum up, we know:

  • The valley is unpleasant – deep, dark, dangerous and is completely lacking in tasty grass. It is; however, a necessary part of the sheep’s life to transition to better pastures.
  • Sheep are simple animals that look to get their immediate needs met without much regard for the long-term effects. The more trips through the valley, the more likely they are to trust the shepherd.
  • The shepherd is a master of a very diverse set of skills. He cares for his sheep deeply and takes his job very seriously. Failure for one sheep isn’t an option – they are simply too valuable.

Be on the lookout for the “Lessons” – next in the series.