Psalm 23, II Corinthians 6:1-10
February 10, 2008
Last week I asked you to think about the mountaintop experiences of your life. I really hope you had a chance to do that. In any aspect of your life, whenever you look back on high points, it gives that part of your life that much more meaning and importance. Try it sometimes with your family, your marriage, your friendships. Take time to reminisce about the high points you’ve shared together. I guarantee it will strengthen those relationships!
That was last week. This week, this phrase “through the valley” has been playing on my mind. The mountaintop experiences are wonderful! But we know that in any part of our life – our family, our job, our parenting, our marriage – in all of those, there will always be the low times, times when we find ourselves going “through the valley.”
The psalms are full of that kind of imagery. Sometimes we don’t realize that. I’ll never forget a guy in my college fellowship group who said, “The Psalms are the Bible’s praise book. If you want to spend some time praising God, just open the Psalms.” Well try it sometime! You’ll quickly find that’s not the case! Yes, there certainly are psalms of praise in that book. But many of them are psalms of despair and agony. They are writings where the psalmist is going through tough times, and he’s pouring his heart out before the Lord.
David wrote many of the psalms, of course. It’s almost as if that book were his personal diary, or a daily journal. And in that journal, David shares his heart with God – the “ups,” the “downs,” the joys, the sorrows. And I think that’s what’s really great about that book. Because sometimes we tend to share ourselves with God in a more “compartmental” way. For instance, many people only talk to God on the mountaintop. When they’re “feeling spiritual,” when life is good, when they’re feeling close to God, they talk and they pray and they praise. But when they go through the valley, it’s hard to remember him. And some people even think God has abandoned them!
Then for others, it’s the opposite. They cry out to God when times are bad. When they are in need they pray, they plead with God, they bargain with God. But when things are good, they hardly give him a thought. For them, it’s more the case in those times that they have abandoned God.
Have you found yourself in either one of those camps? If we think about our lives, I suspect we’ll find that we’ve all been in both of those places at different times of our lives. And what I want to impress on all of us today is that God wants to share the whole of life with us. He wants to share our joys. He wants to know that elation we feel when life is good. And he wants to be with us when we go through the valley.
God called David “a man after my own heart.” Why is that? Is it because David was always expressing praise and worship? No, of course not. We know David had his valleys! I think he was a man after God’s own heart because he shared all of his life with him. He shared with God his mountaintops, his valleys, his times of triumph, and his terrible failures. David shared his life with God just like he was an earthly friend. That’s what God wants us to do, too!
So since we talked last week about the mountaintop, this week I want to complete that picture by thinking about those times we go “through the valley.” And what better time to think about that than the beginning of Lent. As we begin this somber, introspective time of the year, it seems right somehow for us to think about what it’s like to share life with God in the dark and stormy times of life.
As we do so, there are two things that work against us. The first is our feelings. When we’re in the valley, and we feel abandoned, and we’re hurting, we can feel angry, and we can feel emptiness and despair. And those emotions – particularly those kind of emotions – are often much stronger than our “reason.” At those times it’s tough for the “thinking” part of us to break through those strong feelings to tell ourselves that God is with us.
The other thing that works against us is… us. We think we have to have it all figured out. We feel a need to be in control. And it’s hard to let someone else be in control – especially when the consequences are difficult. And it’s hard to find our way out of that!
Now, I know that part of this has to do with the nature of suffering – a subject I couldn’t begin to scratch the surface of in a short amount of time. But let me just say that God wants to walk with us during those times when we are hurting. He wants to comfort us and help us when we have even headed down that road of despair. He wants us to know he’s there.
You see, in our attempt to “understand it all,” we sometimes begin to feel like God has abandoned us. Because we have a hard time with the fact that we say we believe in a God who has the power to do anything, but he seems to do nothing. And that makes us confused and angry. And it can lead us to the (erroneous) conclusion that God doesn’t have the power.
Well, I can’t begin to explain all of that to you in the time we have today. In fact, this is one of those subjects where I often end up with more questions than answers. And for some people, that’s too much. If they can’t get an answer to those questions about God to their satisfaction, then they push away the whole thing. Do you see how difficult this becomes? But I can tell you this. I believe we can have those questions and still be in relationship with God. The more I think about it, the more it’s true! And it seems more true to me all the time that whenever we think we have all the answers, that is the time we really understand the least!
My word for that today would be to seek to be closer to God. Strive to be close to him and know he is with you, even though you walk through the valley of the shadow. And don’t worry that you still have questions. That’s ok! Recently I heard someone say, “my experience is that those questions either get answered in relationship with God, or they become smaller and less important in relationship to God.
When John Lampe, my old pastor from Carmel Church, died, his son talked about him, and he said that John had a lot of questions for God when he saw him. “So,” he said at his passing, “If you need to talk to God these days, be patient. He’s going to busy for a while!” Well, John had a lot of questions for God, I’m sure. But! John walked with God throughout his life – on the mountaintop, and through the valley! And he was a great example for me! And when we see examples of that happening in other people’s lives, it makes us better able to “try it” ourselves, doesn’t it?
So! Let me assure you today that you are going to walk through the valley! We all do. And let me give you an assurance – a reminder – which I’m sure we all need from time to time. Let me assure us all that God is with us – his rod and his staff they do comfort us! We aren’t always in control. I know we don’t like to hear that. But it’s true. Sometimes the circumstances of this life are going to overwhelm us. Sometimes it will seem as though everything’s happening to us all at once. But God is with us. Know that he is beside us – always!!
Eternal God we don’t always realize you are with us. But your word is true and your promises are reliable. Help us to concentrate on your presence with us. Help us to lift each other up when others need those assurances. We thank you for your great love for us. We praise you. We worship you. And we pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.