One of my desires in communicating bible truths is that I might be able to help others in their personal journeys with the King. Over the last twenty-three years, I have been able to experience how amazing it is to walk closely with Jesus Christ. He has truly become everything to me. Yet, that becoming involved some intense seasons of Him leading me where I never would have volunteered to go. You likely have some similar seasons in your history of faith-walking with the Son of God. These times of trouble, difficulty and overwhelming circumstances are commonly referred to by us as the valley. In my post today, I will utilize Psalm 42 to draw attention to four places in the valley that Jesus often has us experience. Then, in my next post, I want to explain from this same Psalm 42 why He does this to each one of us who long to become like Him. Before I share the remedy, let’s take that undesirable walk into the valley together.
That place of dryness (Psalm 42:1-2)
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
It happens to all of us. We ride out the crest of that beautiful wave of nearness, intimacy and communication with the Lord, only to have that same wave crash on the sunbleached sands of dryness. We are doing all the same things we did when times were vibrant, but we now sense that loss of intensity, fruitfulness and pleasure in our relationship with God. We try harder, but we sense the furthering of dryness. Days, weeks and months can go by and we cannot seem to reclaim those former days of presence-soaked moments with our King. We pray longer, read more, serve harder, wait more determinedly…and yet we feel like the spiritual air we breathe is choked with smog. In this place in the valley, our weakness is apparent, our minds are distracted and our fears that we have failed Him begin to arise. Dryness is often the hardest place in the valley because, somewhere in this season, we find that none of our actions seem to be able to reverse our reality. So, we are forced to wait. And none of us really enjoys waiting.
That place of distance (Psalm 42:3-4)
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”
I have found that the place of distance is almost always butted up against the place of dryness. It seems to me that the sense of dryness is the mother of the sense of distance. Notice that the panting after God has now become the crying before God. Night and day tears have become frequent in this place. It is also in this place that the accuser’s voice arises and dares you to address the question of where your God has gone. In the place of distance, the memories of better days, closer communion and powerful worship seem to creep up in your mind and cause you to long for the past. Here, you feel like your best days with Jesus are behind you. You wonder if you have sinned against Him, causing Him to walk away from you. Thinking back on former days of singing, connecting with believers, or even leading in joyful worship, you begin to wonder if any of it was real. Distance arouses fear and provokes an orphan spirit within us. Where did God go? When is He coming back? Will it ever be good again? Yes, this place of distance upon the valley road is troubling for the best of us.
That place of discouragement (Psalm 42:5-7)
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? My soul is cast down within me…Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”
When the valley road deposits us in the place of discouragement, all our dialogue turns internal. We start talking to ourselves and wrestling within about how we came to this pitiful place. Outwardly, we can still be going through the motions – attending church, serving in ministries, saying and doing all the proper Christian things. Inside of us, however, it’s a cyclone of question marks swirling in a funnel cloud of frustration and fear. The psalmist’s own words describe his sense of being drowned under a deluge of trouble from God. That’s right, in that place of discouragement we are no longer dry. We are drowning. We sense that we are about to go under and the only person we are talking with is ourselves. We look for solutions in the very source of the problem. We find no suitable answers. It is here that we truly live in the sense of being cast down by life, by circumstances and even by God. I have been here more than once. I deeply resent this place in the valley because it refuses me to experience the victory that I am theologically convinced is mine. I feel taunted by everything when I am stuck in that place of discouragement.
That place of desperation (Psalm 42:9-11)
“I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me…?”
This, friends, is where it gets raw. This is the place upon the valley road where we are no longer willing to play it sweet before God. We will break off from all the dignified decorum that we learned in our churchified past. We want answers here. We will weep with loud wailing before God. We demand Heaven’s response to the questions that are plundering our hearts. It is here that we come to realize that we are unwilling to remain mild, stoically enduring the wrong we feel inside us and around us. We allow that great accusation to come up from our throats, over our tongues and out from between our teeth as we scream with the psalmist, “Why have You forgotten me, God?!” We insist to know from Him just how long He intends to let this spiritual oppression to continue. We, here, feel this sickness deep within us – in our very bones, the psalmist testifies. This is the place of our desperation. This is always the last leg of your travel through the valley. It is in this place that we finally and fully break, becoming naked and transparent before the Father who has seemed so elusive and indifferent towards us as we journeyed through dryness, distance and discouragement. We will not go one more step from this place until His aid arrives. We risk it, and demand from the Almighty that He now show up. We struggle that we shouldn’t interact with God so boldly, yet we press on to harmonize with Job when he cries out, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. I will argue my ways to His face.” We feel that we have nothing to lose anymore, and nothing to prove. We just need Him.
And suddenly…things begin to…shift.
Jesus has led us to the very place that He has designed for us. The place of our reduction. The place of our death. The place of our fullest and freest surrender.
The next words out of the psalmist’s mouth are, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”
We begin to learn right there, at our lowest place in the valley, that desperation gives birth to hope.
I will unpack this hope in my next post.