In The Valley
By Patrick Badstibner
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. – 2 Corinthians 9:8
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10
Come Hither Valley
Eventually there may one day come a tsunami, a hurricane, a tropic storm, an arctic blast or just quite simply the thorn bushes will grow higher than what we can see over and suddenly we will discover our faith is not enough, our obedience looks more like moldy swiss cheese than an example of holiness, our strength and trusting in God seems to have been either frozen solid or washed away and along with it everything we believed or felt was right. Whatever has happened, whatever has taken place one thing is for sure life is not working, going, running how we think, wish or desire it to go and suddenly we know we are now where we want to be.
Sometimes, the valleys that we are facing compared to ones already mentioned or where one feels that one took the road less traveled, even if only for a few seconds in time, but as soon as one turned the path it got a lot darker. Often these are nothing more than mini valleys that we may suffer from day-to-day or even moment to moment, though those valleys may serve the same purpose or purposes that the larger ones do.
Silence Of The Valley
During such times it is indeed often difficult to grab hold of promises that show God’s character, that show His love for us, his steadfastness, his mercy in spite of our reactions. Promises that even though in the valley we often feel alone, we never really are (Romans 8:35).
Promises like there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for asking the hard questions and expressing the heavy doubts, only leaves us in such moments, asking are you sure that reads right? Someone tells us God never leaves (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and a part of us wonders if He has forgotten that part. Often we feel like we are standing in a jungle with natives that speak a different language than us or perhaps we even realize that we are really just traveling through with fellow pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11-12), cept we were chosen to stay behind while everyone else scouted ahead.
Yet, no matter how difficult it may at times be the lessons of the valley are really only learned when one realizes and accepts that one has indeed never fallen out of the sovereign realm of God and that there is nothing occurring that has not been designed, permitted or allowed by God. To eventually find such peace in the valley we must, if not right away, then eventually come to trust in knowing as Spurgeon did when he said:
“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”
It is in the valley that grace screams at us. If it whispers on the mountain, in the valley it is shouting into our lives.
It is not that grace is not necessarily screaming on the mountain, but because we are listening to the voices that tell us how well we are doing on the mountain, where the loudest voice may very well be grace, it often sounds like nothing more than a whisper.
In the valley though, when life has pounded us down with our circumstances whether they be designed and permitted by God or self-imposed and it has overwhelmed us to the point that we no longer hear those voices of self-praise, what once sounded like a whisper now sounds like a scream as we look for relief. We are now willing to admit that we do not have the answers, do not know the answers and are searching for answers. It is often in the midst of the mire and mud, the heavy mists, the hotter days or the briar patches of our lives that our self-righteousness, self-reliance, self-dependence no longer serves us and our self-confidence no longer lifts us that we are finally ready to listen to God’s grace.
As we listen we find the Holy Spirit saying, “Now I can show you a better way to live, strengthen, and establish you and now you can really experience my grace that is enough and my love, that is sufficient for you.”
What The Valley Reveals
Charles Hodge said something that may even shed more light on those seven words and what purpose the valley may play in helping them become a reality.
“The great difficulty with many Christians is that they cannot persuade themselves that Christ (or God) loves them; and the reason why they cannot feel confident of the love of God, is, that they know they do not deserve his love, on the contrary, that they are in the highest degree unlovely. How can the infinitely pure God love those who are defiled with sin, who are proud, selfish, discontented, ungrateful, disobedient? This, indeed, is hard to believe.”
When we stand on the mountaintop with our heads in the clouds of self-reliance, self-improvement and self-achievement, looking fondly upon the voices speaking of our greatness, our gifts, our abilities, our accomplishments, singing aloud our praises it really is quite difficult to pay attention to another voice. A voice telling us that we are loved deeply, not because of who we are, but because of who our Husband is.
As long as our head is buried in the valley sands of shame, guilt, thinking we are not adequate, thinking that we are not significant, that we are incapable, that we are not worthy or that nothing ever goes right for us, it is difficult to place our gaze on the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). Yet, quite often God allows us to fall into these sands, these pits and these swamps in order to tell us that his Son, the one who was treasured, who every knee shall bow before, became something utterly despicable in order that we who were God’s enemies could become something beautiful and treasured by the Father. Even if we know this, have accepted this, there is never a day that we do not need to hear again the good news of our rescue, the good news that God has declared us the adored bride of His Son.
Valley Giants and Ogres
Every valley has it’s own risks and it’s own perils, those things that frighten us, those sounds that sound louder in the dark and where the quiet is spookier than at other times. In our valleys are often found giants whose voices remind us that if we had only done such and such, God would not be dealing so harshly with us. If it is not giants, it may be something even far worse in what we might call the valley ogres whose scornful looks remind us of how we have fallen, how incapable we are, how displeased God is with us personally, perhaps most of all they tell us at a time when we feel we can barely keep our heads above the quicksand we have fallen into, when the thorns of the briar bushes are pushing deeper and deeper, of what we must do and the things we should be doing to be better.
If you held a broken priceless jewel in your hands would you squeeze if you knew you could shatter that jewel, then why is it so hard to believe that valley times in the hands of a merciful and gracious God are still moments that God uses to exhibit far more tenderness than anything we have ever known. Do we really believe that when the Shepard went looking for the single lost lamb that he scolded him, told him how he should be more like the others, if he only followed the ten guidelines of all good sheep, whipped him, beat him with his staff, if not why are we so quick to listen to the voices of the giants and ogres we meet in the valley.
Is it because Charles Hodge was right, when he said:
“the reason why they cannot feel confident of the love of God, is, that they know they do not deserve his love, on the contrary, that they are in the highest degree unlovely. How can the infinitely pure God love those who are defiled with sin, who are proud, selfish, discontented, ungrateful, disobedient? This, indeed, is hard to believe.”
So, there we stand knee deep in the mire of self-doubt, questions, doubting God’s love, waiting for his angry discipline or for the hammer to come down begging God to give us another chance – just one more and we will make it up to him, when he whispers seven words, “You Can’t, But I Love You Anyways,” and in that whisper we not only see the tenderness in which God treats that lost lamb with, but our entire spiritual condition laid bare and how deep the love of a Holy Father runs.
It is in that nakedness, through that love, that we learn what tenderness, really looks like, we learn that God is more tender and furious in His love and mercy towards us, than we could ever imagine. As John Newton said:
“God works powerfully, but for the most part gently and gradually.”
We discover that the hammer we expected to come down on us is not, for in truth God laid His hammer down when He finished hammering three nails into planks of wood. Now he is sitting at a stool tenderly, gently molding, transforming through His grace, His dreams. It is is only in the valley where the gentleness and tenderness of Jesus is learned or we learn the truth of this Brennan Manning quote,
“One of life’s greatest paradoxes is that it’s in the crucible of pain and suffering that we become tender.”
As we become brutally aware of our ineptness, our inability to live faithful holy lives we see our focus shift from the sins of others to our own and as the Holy Spirit transforms us, we notice a tenderness like none we have experienced and consequently it causes us to be not so quick to point out the evils and wrongs of the world and others, as we realize that God loves us in spite of our inability to respond adequately to such a love. Which, in turn it draws out a different way to respond towards our fellow pilgrims, a response of deeper tenderness.
For it is true in the valley and not on the mountain where God grabs our affections, where we learn to love out of tenderness. It also is in the valley where where we not only move out of the center of our universe, but respond to His tenderness with deeper worship. The valley is where a view that has become distorted is refocused on a greater mountain, which enables the walk through the valley to be maybe not easier, but more peaceful. This may be the greatest purpose of those fog covered valleys to help us refocus on our HOPE of tomorrow upon tomorrows.
“Would ministers preach for eternity! They would then act the part of true Christian orators, and not only calmly and cooly inform the understanding, but, by persuasive, pathetic address, endeavor to move the affections and warm the heart.” – George Whitefield