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April 7, 2020

Understanding Valleys

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God leads us through the unavoidable valleys of our lives.

Walking through valleys is an inevitable part of the human experience. Think about it: Jesus told his followers that we “will have suffering in this world.” (John 16:33) He didn’t say we could have suffering or we might have suffering, but that we will have suffering. And the psalmist put it this way: “One who is righteous has many adversities.” (Psalm 34:19)

            Even if COVID-19 hasn’t hit you or someone you love, it’s certainly a reminder that valleys come. Valleys come to individuals, they come to families, they come to groups, they come to nations, and they come to the world. And for many people right now, it’s all of the above. Working at home disrupts routine, economic downturn threatens your financial well-being, social isolation increases your loneliness, underlying health conditions put you at risk or, worse, legitimately sick. In this season, the valley becomes very real very fast, as it did for this writer.

The good news isn’t that followers of Jesus go through life without troubles, but that we don’t have to go through troubles alone, that God will lead us through our troubles, and that there’s eternal peace beyond this world. This is never meant to make light of the valley but reminds us that there is light beyond the darkness.

But there is no such thing as a life with no valleys. None of us skip happily from one mountaintop experience to the next. The Bible records the valley experiences of most of its major characters, and Hebrews 11 provides a tidy recap of many of them. You’ve no doubt been through your own low places in your journey. And I’ve certainly been through a few valleys during my life before this one. I lost a business and had to walk through a long process of settling debts in an honorable way. And one year my sister and my college roommate, who was one of my closest friends, both died unexpectedly.

Valleys come in many forms—a loss, a disappointment, a setback, an illness… They can result from something you did, something you didn’t do, or something that happened to you that was outside of your control. So, the question becomes, how do we walk through these valleys and learn from them?

I was in college in Greenville, Mississippi, when I heard Ron Dunn teach on this topic, and he helped me set a framework for understanding and navigating the valleys of life. His talk on Deuteronomy 8:2, in fact, has become an anchor verse in my life.

Here’s the verse: “Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these forty years in the wilderness, so that he might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

We often think the people of Israel just wandered aimlessly in the desert for forty years. Clearly, God led them. They didn’t just stumble into a loop of clouds and confusion. They didn’t lack direction. Their sinfulness played a role in putting them in the valley, but God led through the desert experience. He was engineering something divine.

The image of a desert is appropriate. It is dry. It all looks the same. It’s tiring. It seems to last forever. It leaves you thirsting, not just for water but for hope. But in this verse, God seemed to be working in three specific ways in the people of Israel. As He led them through the desert, God was trying to educate them, examine them, and empty them.

Educate them – By testing them, God taught them lessons that would endure for generations. We all learn from times of testing, and the more we open ourselves to what we can learn, the better. What are you learning right now?

Examine them – God used this time to look into their hearts. Times of testing reveal our character. We all have sins of the heart. Fear, lust, pride, unhealthy independence, revenge, greed … God uses our valley or desert experiences to expose us to the sins we might be hiding from ourselves. What is this season revealing about yourself, your desires and priorities?

Empty them – Forty years in a desert would be nothing if not humbling. God wanted His people to know they needed His help. We all have an independence about us. The more successful we are, the more we can think we are the hero of our narrative. We are the reason for our success. God wants us to feel confident, but we always want an underpinning realization that we need to empty ourselves of our own self-sufficiency. Are you learning more about God dependence right now or falling back on your own reserves of strength?

Valleys feel bad. They hurt. Don’t act like they aren’t there. But regardless of how you got into the valley—by your sinfulness or through circumstances beyond your control—understand that there is some Divine engineering at work as God leads you through it. You are not alone. God (and other people) are with you, and God has an agenda that ultimately yields your good and His glory.

Insights to Deposit

  1. Valleys are always temporary, though they usually feel permanent. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
  2. The greatest comfort in a valley is companionship with God and, very often, someone God is working through who is in your life. “A person’s steps are established by the LORD, and he takes pleasure in his way. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the LORD supports him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24) Even in a season of isolation, find ways (phone calls, emails, texts, even the old fashioned letter) to connect with those who God uses for good in your life.
  3. Valleys can be fruitful by Divine design. “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Questions

  • Who have you seen go through a valley and handle it well?
  • Describe a past experience you consider a valley in your journey through life. How were you educated, examined, and emptied by it? How can you use that in this season?
  • How does it benefit you to remain grateful and hopeful during this time?

This is an excerpt from 41 Deposits: Crucial Conversations for Fathers and Sons.

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