by Rick Warren
PART TWO: WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU GO THROUGH DARK VALLEYS?
Last month we looked at the nature of valleys. This month we are going to look at God’s antidote for dark valleys. In Psalm 23:4 David said, “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, the comfort me” (NKJV).
1. REFUSE TO BE DISCOURAGED
“I will fear no evil.” I’ve always thought Christians should be the ones wearing all of the “No fear” T-shirts. I will fear no evil; I fear nothing. That’s what David says as a Christian, who puts his faith in God. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It says, “I walk” — not “I run through it” or “I panic and run the other way”. To walk means to calmly, deliberately make steps through the valley. David says “I’m not going to be afraid. I will calmly walk through the valley.”
You can’t go around the valley. You can’t go under the valley. You can’t go over the valley. You can only go through the valley. David says, “I will not fear evil”. Will implies a choice. It implies an act of volition, a decision. I will not be afraid.
If you are discouraged today, it’s because you’re choosing to be discouraged. I don’t have to know your problems. If you are a leader, you probably have problems. But you don’t have to be discouraged. You’re choosing to be discouraged. Discouragement is always a choice. Always. You don’t have to choose to be discouraged, but you’re choosing to think discouraging thoughts. You’re choosing to look at all the negatives. You’re choosing not to look at Christ and all the positive things. That’s a choice. You can choose to change, too. That’s what God wants you to do — choose. It’s a deliberate act.
How do I choose to not be discouraged? By focusing on God’s power rather than on your problem. That’s how you do it. You can take two leaders and put them in the identical situation — a chaos, tragedy, crisis — one of them will be blown away by it, and the other is actually strengthened by it. The difference is what you’re focusing on. You need to focus, not on your circumstance, but on Christ. Not on the situation, but on the Savior. Not on your problem, but on God’s power. Col. 1:11 tells us to be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,” (NIV).
Human energy runs out. After a trial of a certain length of time, you don’t have any energy left. No stamina. Human endurance is finite. It runs out. In the valleys of life you need a power source bigger than yourself. If you think you’re going to make it through all the valleys of life on your own power — forget it. You’re not going to. You don’t have enough power to handle all the things that are going to hit you in life. You need a power source beyond yourself. Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV). Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” These are not mere words, but promises straight from God. Choose to believe and trust in them.
2. REMEMBER THAT GOD IS WITH YOU
David said, “You are with me.” God not only promises us His power in the valley, He promises His presence. You will never go through a valley in life by yourself. You will never go through a dark day alone. God has said, “I will be with you.”
Isaiah 43:2 tells us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (NIV). You’re not going to drown, burn up, and die. God says I am with you. He will be with you every step in the valley. God says there is nothing to fear when Jesus is near. God does not sit up in heaven, looking down on you saying, “I sure hope they make it!” He’s there with you in the valley, walking with you, hand in hand. God says, I will lead you through this.
At verse 4 of Psalm 23 there is a strategic change in the language. In the first part of the psalm most of the pronouns are in the third person as David talks about God: “He leads me beside still waters, He guides me into green pastures, He restores my soul”. David is talking about God.
But when he gets in the valley he starts talking not about God, but to God. “You are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.” It’s the valleys of life that bring us face to face with God. All of a sudden the ultimate becomes the intimate. When I’m going through the valley I don’t want to talk about God, I want to talk to God. Religion becomes a relationship. Any mature believer will tell you that the times they have been closest to God were in those face to face encounters that happen only in the valley. When you’re in the valley and you’re spent, depleted, perplexed, in despair and you’re talking directly to God, He becomes real and God says, “I’m with you. You’re not in this by yourself.” We enjoy the mountaintops but we come face to face with God in the valleys of life. He’ll never be closer than when you’re in the valley.
3. RELY ON GOD’S PROTECTION AND GUIDANCE
David reminds himself that God’s rod and staff comforts him. The rod and staff were the two basic tools that a shepherd used to protect and guide the sheep. A rod was about two foot long, and at the end of it was a heavy knot. Shepherds were very skilled at hurling the rod, like a missile, at anything that might attack the sheep.
God is saying, “When you go through the valley, I’m defending you. I’m protecting you.” The rod of God will protect you. God says “I’m going to defend you and protect you.” When you’re going through the valley, the dark valley of life, God is not sitting in heaven unconcerned and apathetic. The Good Shepherd fights for you. While you’re fighting for your life in that depression, God is fighting with you. He’s fighting off spiritual forces. He is your defender and protector. That’s what the rod represents.
“Your staff comforts me.” A staff was a long stick with a crock at the end of it. The shepherd uses a staff to guide and comfort. He used the staff to draw the sheep in close to him. He used the staff to lift them up when they fell down. He also used the staff to guide them.
When you go through the valley, remember, you’re not going through it alone. God’s going with you and He’s using His rod and staff to protect and guide.
There is hope in Jesus Christ. He can help you grow to a level of strength that you will be able to say like Paul did in Phil 4:12-13 “I know how to get along with humble means. I also know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When you go through a valley of life the scary parts are the shadows. In the darkness you just see the shadows on the wall of the valley as you’re going through that canyon. And you’re thinking “How am I going to make it?” David says, “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” — he didn’t walk through the valley of death, but the valley of the shadow of death. One day, someday, a shadow is going to fall over your life. Count on it.
You will experience one of those shadow moments. When those times come you need to remember three important things about shadows:
1. Shadows are always bigger than the reality. Fear is always greater than the actual problem. It’s the fear that is enormous.
2. Shadows cannot hurt you. Ever been run over by a shadow? There is a difference between the shadow of a truck and the truck itself. Shadows are image without substance. They cannot hurt you. They can scare you, but they cannot hurt you. They are just shadows.
3. There is no shadow without a light somewhere. When you’re going through a dark valley, you think the sun has stopped shining. God is dead. I’m all alone. You can’t see at all and you think you’re in total darkness. But any time there is a shadow it means there is a light somewhere. When you start to get afraid of the shadow in the dark valleys of life turn your back on the shadow and look directly at the light and the shadow falls behind you.
When you’re afraid, don’t look at the shadow. Turn in the exact opposite direction and look at the light and the shadow falls behind you. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” When you look at Him you cannot be afraid of all the other shadows around you. They fall behind you. If you look fat the world you’ll be distressed. If you look within you’ll be depressed. If you look at Christ you’ll be at rest. It’s your choice. It all depends on what you’re looking at. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Don’t look at the shadows. When you’re walking through the valley, look at the light. Ps. 34:19 “The good man does not escape all troubles — he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one.” From these stories today it’s obvious that Christians go through valleys just like everybody does.
Christians have disappointments. Christians get sick. Christians experience tragedies. Christians loose loved ones. Christians have financial problems. God’s people have family problems. Believers go through valleys just like everybody does. But there is a difference and it’s a big difference. The difference is that while believers and non-believers go through the same valleys of life, the difference for the Christian is not the absence of the shadow but the presence of the Shepherd. God is with you.
Rick Warren is the Founding Pastor of Saddleback Church and author of such internationally-best selling books such as The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life.