Today’s reflection written by Amanda Kim, Director of Communications. Questions & comments: email@example.com.
Life in the valley… It’s a hard topic for me because suffering hits a part of my heart that is really quite fragile and sensitive. Through His mercy, I’ve been able to take time this past year to start the healing process of many years (feels like my whole life tbh) of hurt, depression, and a host of other things.
But no matter how strong I think I am, when darkness descends through illness or crisis or whatever else the situation might be, it always raises questions. If God is good, how could these awful things happen? I know we live in a broken world, but why does it have to be this hard? Why do I feel like He’s not there? Why am I so sad? So angry? So weary? So hopeless?
I could go on. But I won’t because it could get real depressing, real fast.
Most of the time, when I ask these questions to Him, God doesn’t necessarily give me a straightforward answer… or an answer at all. But when I take the time to reflect and look back, he usually reveals to me how He was at work, how He wasn’t absent though it felt like it in the moment. He’ll show me how He was guiding me, how He spared me in certain ways or areas, how He loved me through the people He surrounded me with or spoke to me through a devotional or article.
And as I reflect more and more through the various valleys of my life, it has made me just a little bit “stronger” as I go through new valleys. I’m pretty forgetful (human here!) and I too-often allow the pain and darkness to consume me, but every time it’s a little less. I can remember just a little more easily how He was faithful through the valley the last time.
I don’t know if you can relate. If you’re going through a valley right now, which I know many of you are, just keep reminding yourself, preaching to yourself, that the Lord is your shepherd, your protector, your guide, your provider. He’s right there in the valley with you. It may not feel like it. You may not see Him. But it might be because He’s behind you, looking after you. Or it might be because there are other things right in front of you blocking the view. But just know and trust, He’s there. And on those days where it feels hard to trust – pray and ask for Him to increase the capacity of your heart and soul to trust (I believe; help my unbelief! – Mark 9:24).
This past Sunday, we started a new series – Life in the Valley – and spent time diving into a classic: Psalm 23. Take time to reread and memorize Psalm 23. It’s six verses. You can do it.
We went through it verse by verse to unpack the rich promises and character of God as our shepherd, and what that means for us:
- Verse 1: I do not lack in anything because God is the shepherd who guides, leads, protects, through dangerous terrains. God knows what I need and therefore I lack nothing. He knows where to go to find what I need, like water…
- Verse 2: speaking of water, God as my shepherd will lead His flock to restful waters. He will bring me to green pastures – a place of food – and still waters – a place for rest.
- Verse 3: God knows which path I’m supposed to take and leads me in it. Oftentimes, the shepherd leads from the back of the flock, guiding and taking in the bigger picture of where his flock is going. As the sheep, I might not always see the shepherd. I can only listen to His voice as He guides and leads.
- Verse 4: Why would God lead me into a valley? According to “A Shepherd Look at Psalm 23,” the best route to the top of a mountain is through the valleys. Not only is this the way to the gentlest grades, but it is also the well-watered route. So even though the valley might appear to be barren, dark, and cold, there is water there. It is the path that must be taken. And God is with me in it. And because He’s there with me, I am able to say, I will not fear. The rod and staff are pictures to remind us that God will lead, protect, and guide.
- Verse 5: Our God as a shepherd not only provides, but blesses his flock, with a cup that overflows.
- Verse 6: God’s goodness and ‘hesed’ – his loving kindness – pursues after you and me, all the days of our lives. And no matter how long I am in the valley, I know where I will dwell and find my forever-rest – in His house.
Let’s take a few minutes to define some of this.
WHAT is the valley?
Valleys are characterized by confusion and suffering. Some of us end up in the valley because of something we’ve done, for others, something might have been done to us. And still yet, for others, it is just the result of inexplicable actions. Valley life can come from heartbreak, scandal, or loss. Your entry to the valley could come by way of a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a parent or child. A pandemic. The loss of a job. An addiction. All of these things remind us that we are not what we’re supposed to be and neither is the world.
HOW do we end up in the valley?
Sometimes we’re pushed over a cliff into the valley – some catastrophic, unforeseen tragedy thrusts us off the mountain we’re climbing, and we end up head-first in the valley. Other times it’s a slow, gradual descent. One disappointment after another. A general feeling of hopelessness sets in. You begin to lose hope. Withdraw…in small steps, you make your way to the valley floor.
If you are in the valley, take time to name how you got there. It’s not to cast blame or guilt, but to address it head first.
Life can put us in the valley. But as unpleasant as they are, they can be places where we are formed.
I would never wish my valleys upon anyone, nor if time traveling were a thing, would I want to repeat some of the things that I had to go through. Yet at the same time, I know that these valleys completely made me into who I am. I love my family deeper and am grateful for restored relationships all the more, because of the valleys that came before. I appreciate my days of clarity and lightness, because I know what depression and darkness feel like.
Someone who’s been in the valley can become really bitter or cynical (have definitely been there!). This happens when you think you are alone, isolated, abandoned. Your heart hardens and your soul dries out. Or you can become something else. By God’s mercy, you can become resilient. Others-centered. Your motivations can change as a result of the valley. What you thought was important gets radically re-prioritized. You don’t have to fear the valley, even if it’s the valley of the shadow of death, because God is with you. And when our Shepherd is with us, the valley becomes a place of deep formation, not just frustration.
The world kind of has a message like this – that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Pain equals gain. But those are empty, half truths. Because it is dependent on a limited human strength and will. It will never be enough.
But Jesus – our shepherd – walked the valley of the shadow of death to rescue us from it. He gave his life and rose again to show that he could ascend any valley, which means that he can reach us and lead us in any valley we might face. Nothing is too deep for him. What this means is that we are not alone. We don’t have to do this life – go through this valley – on our own, limited strength. We have God guiding us, leading us, protecting us, providing for us.
As you are reading this and you find yourself with questions about Jesus as shepherd, as savior, please email back. We want to help answer any questions you might have about who Jesus is. If you’re ready to accept him as your shepherd and savior, let us know. We want to celebrate with you and walk with you. If you are in the valley and need help, prayer, support, please let us know that too.