For those who follow Jesus wherever He wisely chooses to lead, there will be seasons in the shadowed valley. Not every measured time period in our lives will be lived out atop the mountain of victory. Part of our call to faith-filled lives of trust and obedience in Jesus require that we are piercingly tested in appointed valleys. Sometimes those valleys are short, shallow and hold enough light for us so that we can see the end of the valley up ahead. At other times, the valleys to which we are called are deep, dark and shivering cold. We would like to pretend it is not so, but the testimony of Scripture and the reality of our own experiences tell us otherwise. Jesus is the Good Shepherd – so good, in fact, that He proves Himself fully capable to lead us into a stretch wherein we have nothing more than His hand to which we hold.
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:3
In 25+ years of following Jesus, I am convinced that the seasons wherein He has become the most precious to me are those seasons of the long, dark valley. Just like you, I prefer the top of the mountain where the air is clear, the skies are blue, and views are elevated and breathtaking. I like to be able to see everything around me from the heights. I have a strong appetite for conquest. I like for things to be firmly fixed under my feet. I want win. Every. Single. Time.
But I rarely grow there atop the mountain.
In fact, I have noted that when I stay on the mountain for long periods, I am prone to drift.
Those heights sometimes dizzy me.
I lose my edge. I sometimes take things for granted. I experience a rising level of presumption that life is always supposed to flow in a favorable direction toward me.
On the mountain, I begin with delight toward God… but eventually seem to stumble into distraction from God.
These types of confessions never seem to find me when I am entrusted with a valley. In the valley, Jesus has my full attention because every moment I feel my deep dependence upon the Shepherd. I never take my eyes off of Him.
When we Jesus-followers are led by Him into a shadowed valley, it is always meant to retrain us in the area of our remaining aware of how desperately we need Him. In the valley we get reacquainted with our woeful ineptitude to deal with trouble on our own. Our bravado becomes a holy tremble. Our presumptions melt away under the heat of fiery reality, and we abandon our reliance upon our intellect, our formulas and our tendency to barter with God. We find ourselves as children who need Abba to come to the rescue. Children don’t negotiate. They cry. So, valley seasons are educational in nature. We are trained within that darkness. We get schooled in the shadows. We turn loose of things which we have picked up on top of the mountain that have become too important to us. The college of the shadowed valley has hallways lined with mirrors. In those mirrors we find the inescapable truth of subtle blemishes in our trust, previously undiagnosed spots upon our devotion and deep wrinkles that have grown on our soul’s worship of God. These mirrors do not assign us our identity. They just educate us in all the areas where we are living inconsistently with our identity. We don’t pull away from what we see in those valley-mirrors. We stare into them and address the issue of just how we came to this place.
By the way, Satan likes to tag along as we are led by Jesus through the valley season. While Jesus speaks to us in that divine blend of reassurance and conviction, Satan walks ten feet behind us hurling his accusations. He tells us that we are in the valley because God is punishing us. He hisses that there is no end to the valley. Satan wants us to believe the lie that God will depart from us in the middle of the valley and that he and his demons will then have us all to himself. Yes, in parts of the valley season, there is plenty of static from the enemy. When I first started walking through appointed valley seasons, the voice of the enemy served to rattle me. In recent times, I have been able to recognize that it’s just the devil doing what he does. He is quite unoriginal. He is the constant accuser and he rarely ceases his infernal communication. Frankly, you just get to the point where you hear his voice, but you don’t heed his words.
Instead, you lock your spiritual eyes with the Lord. You tell Jesus that you are committed to hearing the voice of your Shepherd and nothing else. You begin to harness your own voice in the midst of the valley as you release praise, worship, confession, cries of dependence and petitions for divine help. There is something about the echo of your own praises and prayers in the valley that send the devil and his demons running. The holy words coming from your mouth do not bring the valley to an immediate end, but those cries do send away running that predator against your soul. The worst thing for me would be for me to go mute in my shadowed valley. I need to hear Jesus’ voice. He wants to hear mine.
Today, I remind us all that we need occasional shadowed valley seasons. We remain shallow and independent without them. We begin to trust ourselves if we stand too long and too proud atop the mountain. King David wrote in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” He said something similar a little later when in verse 71 he made the surprising confession, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” That’s right: the man after God’s own heart declared that troubling valleys, painful affliction and overwhelming circumstance are designed to bring goodness into our souls. The valleys purify our hearts. The valleys reorient our thinking. The valleys pierce our potential for pride and deflate all the arrogant air within us. The valleys cause us to get face-to-face with Jesus again, looking to Him and waiting with Him.
Could there be anything better for us than this?