Leadership Lifter: Dealing With the Dark Valleys of Life

by Rick Warren

PART ONE: THE NATURE OF VALLEYS

There is an old Arab parable that says: All sunshine and no rain makes a desert. If you never have any down times, dark times, gloomy times in your life you’ll be dried up. You’ll have no depth to yourself, no maturity. It takes good times and bad times to make a mature person. Life is a mixture of pain and pleasure, of victory and defeat, of success and failure, of mountain tops and valleys. This month I am going to start a two part look at how we can deal with the dark valleys of life. This month we’re going to look at the nature of valleys.

Even in our darkest valleys, our darkest days, God is there. “Even 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” Psalm 23:4.

In Israel there is a real Valley of the Shadow of Death. It’s a steep, deep and narrow canyon. The sun only hits the bottom of it when it’s directly overhead at high noon. The rest of the time the bottom of the canyon is dark. David probably led his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death as he was growing up.

As you look in the Bible, the term “valley” also refers to all kinds of rough times in life.

  • Joshua talks about the Valley of Calamity
  • Psalm 84 talks about the Valley of Weeping
  • Hosea talks about the Valley of Trouble

This verse in Hebrew actually means The Valley of Deep Darkness

How do I handle the dark valleys of life?

There are five facts about valleys that you need to remember whenever you go through a tough time:

1. VALLEYS ARE INEVITABLE

They are going to happen so you might as well count on them. You have just come out of a valley, or you’re in one right now, or you’re probably headed toward one. Valleys happen throughout life — one right after another. After every mountain top there is a valley. Jesus was very realistic about it. In John 16, He says “In the world you will have trouble.” It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. It’s going to happen. You’re going to have difficulty, disappointment, discouragement in life. There will be times of suffering, sorrow, sickness. There will be times of frustration, failure and fatigue. This is especially true if you are a ministry leader. They are going to happen. They are a normal part of life. Don’t be surprised by it.

2. VALLEYS ARE UNPREDICTABLE

You can’t plan them, time them, schedule them. Valleys are always unexpected. They usually come at the worst time — when you don’t have time, when you’re unprepared. Have you ever had a flat tire at a good time? They just happen. And usually when you least need them and it’s most inconvenient. It would be very great if we could schedule our down times in life. You can’t plan life like that. Valleys come suddenly. They are unpredictable. Have you noticed how easily a good day can become a bad day? A phone call, a letter, a routine doctor’s check-up, a freak accident. Valleys just happen. Jeremiah 4:20 “Disaster follows disaster… In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter falls in a moment.”

3. VALLEYS ARE IMPARTIAL

No one is immune to them. No one is insulated from pain and sorrow. No one gets to skate through life problem free. Everybody has problems — good people and bad people. Problems, trials, difficulties, disturbances, and downtimes. Depression doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re a person. It doesn’t mean you’re an evil human being; it means you’re a human being. The Bible is very clear that good things happen to bad people and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Valleys are impartial. They don’t care how good or bad you are. Matthew 5:45 Jesus said, “It rains on the just and the unjust too.” When we go through a difficult time — a valley in life — the first reaction is always “Why me?” Yet really you should ask “Why not me?” Do you think you should be exempt from all the problems everybody else has to go through? Do you think you should be the only one in the universe that never has a tragedy, a loss, lost a loved one? Instead of saying “Why me?” just realize it’s going to happen because you’re a human being. Remember this is not heaven. Things are not perfect here and there are problems and difficulties. They are going to happen in life — to good people, Christians. Disasters and tragedies happen to all of us.

4. VALLEYS ARE TEMPORARY

They have an end to them. They don’t last. They are not a permanent location. David says, “Even though I walk through the valley…” The valley is not something you stay in your entire life. It’s something you go through – a circumstance, a situation that has a season to it. When you’re in a valley you often think it’s a dead end, but it’s not. It’s like a tunnel — there is a beginning and end. You go through the tunnel and eventually you’re out of it and back out in the light again. They don’t come into your life to stay. They come to pass. I Peter 1:6 “There is a wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here.” He admits that sometimes you’re going to go through tough times. It’s going to be rough. Life is tough. You’re going to have it. But it’s only for a while. There is wonderful joy ahead. He’s talking about Heaven. There are no problems in heaven, no valleys, no dark days. While you may be harassed down here, in heaven you’ll have no problems. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s where you’re going. He says don’t get discouraged. Even if you live 80 or 90 years and have a problem your entire life, that is so insignificant compared to the thousands and millions of years in eternity problem free. He says, even if it’s your whole life it’s just temporary compared in light of eternity. “Our troubles are short lived and there is an eternal glory which outweighs them all.” They won’t last; they will be short. But he says, there is an eternal glory. This is important. Pain can be productive. There will be a benefit for our problems if we respond in the right way. While we have the temporary hassles there is long term, eternal benefit when you go through a valley and respond to it correctly.

5. VALLEYS ARE PURPOSEFUL

God has a reason for taking you through the valleys. Whether it’s doubt, depression, despair, discouragement, defeat — He’s got a reason behind it. I Peter 1:6-7 “At the present you may be temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials.” He says temporarily – they aren’t going to last forever. You are temporarily harassed with problems here. And there may be all kinds of trials. There are financial valleys, relational valleys, emotional valleys, all kinds of different trials. ” This is no accident — it happens to prove your faith. The valleys are not just a freak of nature. God wants to build your faith in the valleys of life. We love to enjoy the mountain tops, but you don’t build faith on the mountain tops.

You build faith in the valleys of life. When everything is going fine and great you don’t really need God. But when you come face to face with a dark valley, you get on your knees. Faith is strengthened in the valleys. When you don’t feel like serving and trusting God, praising God… that’s where your faith is tested. Not in the good times of life, but in the valleys.

1. Every problem has a purpose. Even the little tiny ones, the inconsequential ones, the things that seem like mere irritations. They have a purpose. God can teach you character. He wants to change you, mature you.

2. Faith is built in the valleys of life. God wants to build your character. He is far more interested in your character than He is in your comfort or your convenience. God’s goal in life is not to just make life comfortable for you. He wants to build character. He’s more interested in your holiness than He is in your happiness. Holiness lasts, happiness doesn’t. Happiness comes from holiness anyway. He wants to make you like Jesus Christ. He wants you to develop the character of Christ. If God is going to make you like Christ, He is going to take you through all of the circumstances of life He took Christ through. Was Jesus exempted from suffering? Absolutely not. What makes you think you’re going to be exempted? Did Jesus go through times of loneliness? Yes. Will you? Yes. Was Jesus ever tempted to be discouraged? Yes. Will you? Yes. Was Jesus ever misunderstood, maligned, criticized unjustly? Yes. Will you? Absolutely. What makes you think you’re any different? As you lead your ministry, remember that even the most perfect person every created faced trials and tribulations. So will you.

Join me next month as we look at God’s antidote to dark valleys.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the internationally best-selling The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life.

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