I have been in a physical and spiritual battle lately, and as a result, I found myself in a “valley”. Dare I say that I have been in valleys before, but this time, it has been harder to understand, has been incredibly confusing, and I found myself despairing and fighting depression. Quite frankly, this was new to me. I lost focus, motivation, and began to doubt my effectiveness as a leader and pastor. This manifested in several ways, but needless to say, it was (and is) frightening.
As a result of this fearful digression, I reached out to trusted friends and believers near at hand, and they in turn lovingly reached out to me. I am tremendously thankful for the body of Christ, and at times like these, the words “thank you” just don’t seem to grasp the full meaning of inward appreciation. This remains an ongoing process, so the appreciation will certainly deepen.
Though I received helpful insight and fellowship, I cannot honestly say that I yet was freed or had sufficient hope. Somehow the lies of the enemy remained attached to me like claws and I was struggling to get loose from them. Friends prayed with me and shared scripture and indeed this was helpful. However, I still had a sense of being in the dark and groping for answers. This created further shame and confusion “because I know better than to let this happen”. I had been disappointed with circumstances and people I love, and “because I knew better than that too”, I became most disappointed in myself. This only added to the problem. In fact, I called this place I found myself in the “Valley of Disappointment”.
During this past week, the faithful Holy Spirit reminded me of a couple discussions with my mother long ago. The first was as an unsaved teenager not long after we lost my dad to cancer. I recall my mother saying; “I don’t have very high expectations anymore, because that prevents me from later being disappointed”. I believe those words have played into the formation of my life, but in a way that I’m sure my mother did not expect. Rather, and more than anyone, I have developed high expectations of myself. As strange as it is, I will get disappointed in myself well before being disappointed in others. As a result of this mindset, finding myself in this valley only produced further disappointment because expectations of myself were not met.
The second discussion was with my mother later in time as a now born-again believer. We were out to lunch after a church service (she had recommitted her life to Christ also) and she was struggling with an issue in her own life. I clearly recall saying to her as the wise and loving son that I was, “Can you hear the LORD saying ‘Do you trust me’?” I marvel at the fact that it is these exact words that now the Holy Spirit is speaking to me, saying; “These are now my words to you, son”. Oh, faithful God that He is!
As I began preparing for Sunday’s morning message, I knew that I needed to be accountable to the flock entrusted to my care. I knew also that I needed to be honest and humble. The Holy Spirit began taking me on a journey in scripture that would not only serve to give me hope, but would be a message to God’s people. In the study process, I found myself literally writing the following passages (references only) down on a small piece of notebook paper:
Proverbs 3:5-6; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; II Corinthians 4:16-17; Psalm 46:10a
Although helpful in and of themselves as solitary passages, it was not until I finished copying and pasting the verses out on a sheet of paper and seeing them strung together that they had the full impact on my spirit and soul. In a single paragraph form, here is what they produce:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Be still, and know that I am God …
As I meditated on this paragraph, the living Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit began to bring hope. Joy filled my heart. The darkness began to dissipate. I was further led to review the Psalms of David that he wrote throughout the course of his life. I noticed that it was not once, but quite often, that David had cried out to God for deliverance, but in each case he acknowledged his utter trust in God. I was reminded that an enemy of the soul can actually be something of my own making. These passages from his various Psalms further brought hope, and life! See for yourself just some of them:
Psalms of David … written over the course of his lifetime
16:1-2 Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. O my soul, you have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; my goodness is nothing apart from You.”
23:1-4 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, 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.
25:1-2;4 & 16-18 To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; bring me out of my distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins.
27:13-14 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!
31:1 In You, O LORD, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness.
37:3-5 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.
40:1-3 I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD. (all emphases mine)
Friends, be of good cheer! The valley you find yourself in is not death itself, but chances are it is a shadow of it. Even in this place, there is tremendous hope and confidence. Why? He is with us. Indeed it is actually His plan to lead us on this path. It is a path of righteousness, and it is for His name’s sake. He leads us through the valley. We need not camp there. He will take us in, and He will bring us out. He is the Good Shepherd. The valley is not my enemy, nor the obstacles along the way. Rather, my mistrust in the One who leads me through it is my real enemy.
Meanwhile, while I pass through this valley I find myself in, I’ll allow Him to teach me, to build His character in me, and to make me more like Himself. Will you do the same?