The View From The Valley

Today I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John and gained a greater appreciation for the manner in which our schedule (as human beings with limited perspective) often fails to line up with God’s. Concerned and worried, Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus, sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick. But, when Jesus received the message, He responded in a manner that gave no sense of alarm or panic. Instead, He seemed to have a sense of peace with the situation, despite the fact that Lazarus and his sisters were close friends of his, saying instead, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. (John 11:4). As verses five and six state, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
So, not only was He not alarmed or panicking, but, he didn’t even leave for Bethany until two days after he heard that Lazarus was sick. Having heard that He was finally coming, Martha went and met Jesus, who was still on his way, and declared, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But, upon arriving in Bethany, Jesus, sure as He was in what was yet to happen, was emotionally shaken by the mourning and grief evident in the friends and family of Lazarus. As John states in verse thirty-three, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled,” and it was then that Jesus asked them to take him to where Lazarus was buried and proceeded to raise him back to life.
I was struck by two main points while reading this passage this morning. First, we have a lot to gain if we can learn to trust God’s plan and His timing. We may not understand it all. It might make no sense. The dying loved one we’re praying for may not heal. The big job promotion we’re hoping for may not happen quick, or at all. But, sometimes it takes time for the growth that God knows we need to go through to happen.
But, I also learned that, while it is true that trusting Him during challenging times is, most certainly, critical, He is not unmoved by the trials that we face and the pain that we sometimes must endure in the midst of those trials. He is with us, more than ever, in the darkest moments. Whether we feel His presence or not, He knows that it is our choice to trust that He is there and that it is that choice we make, in faith, that provides the fertile soil out of which even stronger faith and the purest, eternal joy can be born, “for God’s glory.”

Light of the Mountaintop, Dark of the Valley

There is no doubt, now that I’m getting older and I’ve had the time to reflect and realize, that my personality is, at best, quirky. Finding the appropriate medium with which to communicate with others around me doesn’t come naturally to me and quiet, personal time when I can have a chance to relax my spinning brain, refocus, and renew, is critical. I could reveal a laundry list of notable events and circumstances in my life that have likely contributed to shaping (or, perhaps, misshaping) the person that is typing these words today, but, I’ve come to relate my life, in retrospect, simply, as a series of peaks and valleys that I have stepped and staggered through. Indeed, when going through one of my deepest, darkest valleys, I found a good deal of hope in these Psalms:

23:1-6

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth 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 thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

18:16-19

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Certainly, at 38, I have yet to amass the wisdom and experience of someone in their final season of life. But, I’ve walked this road long enough to be able to realize that giving in to self-serving inclinations is an addiction that I’ve failed to break. In combination with circumstances beyond my control, such breakdowns have often lead me straight into the many of my life’s valleys where it was too dark to see and too cold to feel anything, but, the fear induced by the vacuum in my mind and spirit where I’d closed the door to God’s guidance.

On the other hand, it has been the humbling process of my own confidence breaking down, time and again, that has caused me to seek God, my Abba, and then to turn in accordance with His infinite providence, and often, experience the highest peaks and the most beautiful vistas that I’ve ever seen.

Such ascents have sometimes happened in quiet isolation and prayer while others have been climbed walking alongside friends who have taken the time and extended their hands long enough to compel me onward and upward in my journey. But, surely, all such help has come carried on the winds of His grace and I am thankful.

Kevin Max’s new song “Light Me Up” is a victorious celebration of God’s strength, providence, and mercy, wrapped up in an infections pop groove that is hard to deny. Give it a listen. But, more importantly, I hope you’ll give God a listen so that you can find your own way out of whatever valley your walking through.