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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Dr. Charles Stanley » Charles Stanley - The Believer's Valley Experiences

Charles Stanley - The Believer's Valley Experiences

Charles Stanley - The Believer's Valley Experiences
TOPICS: Hard times

Our text for this message is probably the most familiar passage in all the Bible. In fact, I can remember when I was a school kid that everybody had to memorize this passage. And usually, you will hear this passage of scripture read at almost every single funeral. Oftentimes it is read by the bedside of someone who is very, very ill. And I am sure that many of us have read the stories of men in war who, in times of great fear, pulled out their little pocket New Testament, in the back of which was the Psalms, and they began to read out of fear, desiring courage and the presence of God, to read: "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want".

So, will you turn to the 23rd Psalm. And I want us to read this Psalm. And there's one particular phrase and facet in here that I want us to deal with. And the title of this message is "The Believer's Valley Experiences". The Believer's Valley Experiences. And if we all read out of the same version, we'd all just stand up and read it together. But since we have many different ones, it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense. So, beginning in verse 1: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I 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 hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever".

Well, as we think about this particular Psalm, I want us to look at, if you will, at the fourth verse and notice what he says in this fourth verse: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me". Oftentimes in the Bible, valleys are indications or symbols of times of difficulty, hardship, trial, suffering, and pain. And I want us to look at this passage in the light of that title, and that is: "The Believer's Valley Experiences".

And I want to say three things primarily, and the first one is this: that valley experiences are inevitable in the life of every believer. Valley experiences are inevitable in the life of every believer. For example, it may be because of finances. It may be because of family. It may be because of health. It may be because of vocation, or whatever it might be. There's no such thing as living in this life without valley experiences. One of the reasons for that is because of the end result of those valley experiences, which we'll come to a little bit later. You and I live in a world of sin and of evil. There are two forces fighting each other, and that is, the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil. Likewise, there are situations and circumstances in life that thrust us, oftentimes, into those valley experiences.

And so, as I think about it, one of the things that I want to mention here and discuss is the fact that there are reasons, and "Why is it we end up in valley experiences"? Now, if you are wise this morning, you'll get you a pencil and piece of paper out and you won't miss a lot of this. Because I want to tell you, if you're sitting here today and you're saying, "Well, I've never been through one of those," then, my dear friend, get ready. Because there is no such thing as walking on a mountain peak without hitting a valley. There are valleys in our life and there are valleys there for several reasons.

So, let's talk about, first of all, why we go through these difficult, trying times that are so painful, so heart wrenching, and so unbelievably causing us to feel so helpless. Well, one of the reasons is this, and that is: the sheep strays away from the shepherd. For example, if the sheep strays away from the shepherd, they are going to stray, usually, in the wrong places. And so, when we choose to be disobedient to God, we choose to transgress His law, to violate His principle, what happens is we end up in the valley.

So, one of the reasons we get there is: we get there by our own decisions. A second reason we may end up in a valley experience is because of the actions of some other people, or someone else. For example, a fellow said to me this week, he was telling me about his vocation, and he was doing his job, he was faithful. He was well respected in his particular vocation, doing a good job. Because of his conviction and because he felt like he had to make a statement of where he was, what he could and could not do, they fired him, just like that, with no warning.

So, suddenly he found himself in a valley. He had a family to take care of, no job and no income. So, oftentimes it's because of someone else's decisions or their actions. And then there's a third reason we get in the valley, and that's this: that's because the shepherd leads us into the valley. You see, the reason we get into these valley experiences are not always because of what we do or what someone else does. Sometimes it is God's design for our life. Now, as a result of that, what He does, He leads us into a place and leads us a way He desires, to get us where He wants us to be. For example, if you'll watch this. There are two ways for me to go from this side of the platform to the other. One way is the way most of us would like to go in life.

When we see a difficulty, what we'd like to do is we would like to walk around the pain and the hurt and the suffering and the trial and the tribulation and rejection and get there. That's one way. And you can get there that way sometime. But sometime when the good shepherd, the Bible calls Him, is leading us, here's what He does. He knows He could lead us around that way. That's no problem with Him. He knows there's the path around that way. But you see, what He has in mind is a purpose over here for our life. And because that purpose is so clear and that destination is so clear to Him, He chooses, God, in His grace and goodness and love, chooses not to lead us the easy path but to lead us into the valley of difficulty, hardship, trial, pain, and intense suffering like we have never experienced before. We get to the same place, but this is the most difficult way, sometime it is a deep, dark, treacherous valley.

Notice what he said. He said valleys of shadow, death, fear, evil. These things indicate something about the difficulty of that valley. Sometimes we're in the valley because God, in His wisdom, chooses to lead us the most difficult way to arrive at the destination for which He wants us. And so, when he says here that even though we walk through the valley of death, even though we do it, and I want you to remember also what he says in this passage. And if you'll notice two things here, and sometimes what God says, what He doesn't say is as powerful as what He does say. Look at that verse. He does not say this, He doesn't say, "Even though I may walk through valley, even though I might do it". No. "Even though I walk," because, friend, it is inevitable. Valley experiences are absolutely inevitable in the life of every single person. Notice something else he doesn't say. He doesn't say, "Even though I run, rush, and hurry through the valley".

Now, that's the way I like to get through it. I want to run through them quickly. In fact, the truth is I'd like to put on a blindfold and just run through it right quick and not hear anything and see anything and feel anything. "Just get through there, God. Just get me through there, God". But you know what he said? Even though I what? Walk through the valley. Not may not, not might, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death". And so, when he makes this statement, what he's simply saying is this, "It's going to happen".

And there is no way to escape them. Sometimes we try, but there's no way. And so, when he says: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Thou art with me". He is giving us the most important part of this whole passage of Scripture. This is the most important part. Because if you'll think about it for a moment, he says: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want". Wonderful. And he says He's going to take us to green pastures, quiet waters, restore our soul, and guide us in the paths of righteousness, but you know what? Suppose you read that whole psalm? And he talks about preparing a table before us and head being anointed with oil and cup running over.

Suppose he left out this part, "Thou art with me"? If he left out that part, the heart and the core of this psalm would be missing because that's what this psalm is all about. It is a Psalm of comfort and of assurance and reminding of us that we're going to go through those experiences of life that are so difficult and painful and hard that the only thing we have is God. And what you have to ask is, "Father, what is Your goal for this valley experience in my life? And Father, how am I to respond to this valley experience in my life"? Those are always the wise two questions to ask. Number one, "Father, what is Your goal"? And secondly, "Lord, how am I to respond to this valley experience"?

So, the first thing I want you to note is here, and that is that valley experiences are absolute inevitable in the life of every person. It doesn't make any difference how old you are. One of these days, you're coming through them. Makes no difference how rich you are, how poor, how educated or uneducated, where your status is in life, valley experiences, difficulty, hardships, trial, suffering, pain, it is always going to be times and seasons in our life.

The second thing I want you to notice that's very evident here, and that is this, and that is that valley experiences are painful times in our life. We're not talking about little pains or little hurts here and there. We're talking about the kind of intense pain that is indescribable. We're talking about the kind of hurt that you cannot describe to someone else. We're talking about the kind of hopelessness and helplessness that words cannot express, deep, dark valleys that he would, oftentimes, lead us through.

And so, we're talking about a degree of distress that is more than just a little distress, a deep degree of tension, and feeling it in your whole physical body as well as your emotion and your spirit. Everything on the inside of you gets tested. And that is, there seems to be some kind of awesome invasion of your innermost being, your innermost spirit, the deepest part of you. And when you weep, you don't weep from your eyes, you weep from your spirit, deep, down inside. There is a pain that is indescribable in some walks in the valley.

Now, what I want to share with you at this point is very, very important. You hear me say to you oftentimes, if you're going to come to church and you're going to spend thirty-five, forty-five, fifty minutes listening to a sermon, it is foolish to sit here and spend that much time listening to a sermon and walk away with nothing to carry with you. You are not going to come to this place and listen to forty-five minutes of a message without something that will not enrich your soul, deepen your relationship to God, and challenge you. That much I know. But now, whether you carry it away with you or not is something else. And this is why I say, "If a message is worth listening to, it's worth writing down those areas of the message that relate to your life or something that relates to someone else, or something that you feel you may need".

Let me give you an example. You know why people panic in the valley? Here's the reason. The reason people panic in the valley and the reason they just lose it all is because they walk into these deep, dark valley experiences of life with no basic biblical theology. All of their Christian experience is hype, hype. Praising the Lord and it's all emotion. "If I feel Him, He's there. If I don't feel Him, He's not there". And it's praising the Lord for this and praising the Lord for that. I'm for praising God. I believe in worshipping Him and praising Him. Indeed, I do.

But my friend, if your Christian life is only a matter of emotion and you listen to sermons and you just walk away hoping you'll remember something maybe, or the messages only make you feel good, they don't challenge you, they don't enrich your mind, challenge your mind and make you think and cause you to want to apply those truths to yourself, and you take the time to write them down and to be able to apply them to your life and look for those experiences in life that will help you apply those principles, I can tell you, when the valley experience comes and you don't have a basic theology to live by, you're going to panic. You're going to look to the world to find something.

Listen, here's what you're going to do. More than likely, you're going to find unwise, ungodly counsel. And what that's only going to do is deepen your valley and prolong your walk in that valley. And that's why it's so very important you jot down the principles, you write down those things that have meaning, that these experiences are inevitable in every person's life and why we get in the valleys and how we respond and how we should not respond. The wisest thing you can do is to get into this book, read it, pray over it, listen to the messages of God's servants, as long as they're sticking with the book, listen to the messages of God's servants, write down the truth, apply them to your heart, look at how they're being applied in other people's lives, look at the consequences of disobedience.

Those are the things that establish you so that when you get into the valley, the Lord Jesus Christ, who holds your hand every step of the way, will keep reminding you, because you remember what He says? He says He sent the Holy Spirit in order that He may bring to our remembrance those things that He wants us to remember, that you and I can apply to our heart those basic truths that anchor us and steady us and keep us firm and solid and stable in the most difficult, trying times of our Christian walk.

Well, there's a third thing that I want you to notice here about these valley experiences. First of all, we said they are absolutely essential. They're going to be a part of our life. They're inevitable. Secondly, they are painful, and thirdly, they are profitable. Valley experiences are profitable in our life. Now, that doesn't mean that because they are profitable, there's not going to be any pain. Yes, there'll be pain. And even though they are profitable, the pain and the degree of pain may be the same. But they're profitable for a couple of reasons.

First of all, they are times of discovery for us. Discovery of what? Listen to this, we discover what God is like in the valley in a way that we will never discover on the mountain peak. There are things about God, there are aspects of God, there are ways of God that you and I will discover in the deepest, darkest, treacherous, most painful valley experiences we will never even get a glimpse of on the mountain peak. That's just the way life is. And God reveals Himself in the valley in a way that He does not reveal Himself on the mountain peak. So, we're going to get glimpse of God. We're going to see Him in ways that we would not see Him otherwise. Also, as I think about what we discover about God, we discover an intimacy and a sense of quietness. He says that He will lead us into places of rest.

Listen to me carefully. In the deepest, darkest, blackest moment of your valley experience, there can be the most overwhelming, indescribable, indescribable sense of peace and rest and quietness and confidence that only hand in hand with the Son of God could you ever experience. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". For peace and quietness and tranquility even when the darkest, the deepest, and the most painful walk is a part of your experience. And so, he says here, we're going to discover something. We discover something about ourselves, not only about God, and there's a million things about God you and I discover, but we discover something about ourselves.

Now, listen, it's real easy to sit in church or sit at home and everything's going your way and say, "I believe in God. Yes indeed, I do. 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!' Hallelujah. Amazing Grace. I believe all those songs. I believe the Bible from cover to cover". Well, fine. Now, let me ask you this: When the pain hits and the hopelessness is overwhelming, then what do you believe? You see, we discover things about ourselves in the deepest, darkest valleys experiences. We discover how much real courage we have. We discover the degree of our faith. We discover the level of our faith. We discover if our self image is based on Him or in somebody else or what other people think. We discover the true nature of our character. We discover whether we can really endure or not. We discover what the real character is really all about when we go through those things that cause us to be absolutely helpless and we can do nothing about and all we can do is depend upon God. We discover things about ourselves.

And maybe some of those things we oftentimes boast about, when the pain becomes intense enough, all of a sudden, there is no boasting. And what we discover, we discover what our real value system in life is all about. We discover what the real priorities in life are about. And what happens, listen carefully, and this is so important. You see, here's the reason we make such tremendous discoveries in the deepest, darkest valleys of pain. Here's the reason: because God has a way of increasing the pain level to the point that it is so painful, nothing else in life matters. Nothing matters. Absolutely nothing matters. He just strips us of everything that we cling to, that we lean upon. And He has a very painful way of doing that.

I'm not blaming all pain on God. I'm simply saying there's some things He allows and some things He initiates. Whether He allows them or whether He initiates them, it doesn't make any difference. I'll tell you, my friend, the valley experience will come because God is not going to allow His children to cling to, depend upon, rely upon, be wrapped up in, soaked up in, absolutely overwhelmed by and allow things to become gods in their life. And so, what does He do? He throws us into the valley experience to wrench from us, tear from us every single, solitary thing that challenges His place of pre-eminence in our life. And sometimes those are things that we wouldn't even think of as being a challenge to God.

But you see, and this is difficult for us to understand, He wants us to lean on nothing but Himself, no one but Himself. We are sons and daughters of God walking through valley experiences, learning to rely upon Him and Him only. And so what does He do? He removes every single, solitary thing but Himself. And while that is painful and difficult for us, it ends up being glorifying to God because it forces us to Himself. And we learn things about ourselves we would not learn any other way. And He brings us to a sense of dependence upon Him. And that's why when we come through that painful period and we realize that He is it and He is only it and there is no other it but Him, then what happens? Even in the valley, tranquility, calmness, quietness of spirit.

So, there are discoveries, discoveries about God, about ourselves, and discoveries about God's purpose in our life. For example, some of us know what God's purpose in our life is and some people do not. And it's interesting to me how many young men who've come to our fellowship, students at Georgia Tech, they came to school. Their parents paid their way. They were going to be engineers, administrators, and you name it, all of these things, and then, something happens in their life. Bottom drops out, they get thrust into the valley, and what happens? It's in the valley when God begins to tear them loose from everything, whatever's going on in their life. It isn't always a valley that they choose. It isn't a valley, for example, that God, necessarily, institutes or initiates, but it is a valley.

Sometimes it's the divorce of their parents. Sometimes it is a financial collapse in their parents. They can't pay their way through anymore. Sometimes it's difficulty and hardship that they are going through. Whatever it may be. And then they come to say, "I don't know what God's doing in my life". And ultimately, through this deep, dark, treacherous valley, you know what their conclusion is? "God's been calling me to preach, and I resisted it because I wanted to go out there and make a lot of money and told God I'd give a lot of money to missionaries". That is the devil's lie. How many people he's told that one to. "I'll give a lot of money to missionaries and to mission work, Lord. If You'll just help me make millions of dollars, I'll give it all to You".

I'm here to tell you, if all the people who have ever said that made their millions and gave it to God, we'd have money running over and trying to figure out what in the world to do with it because that's not true. And God doesn't fall for that lie at all. But how many of those young men in the ministry today, on the mission field, why? Because God sent them in the valley, and it was in the valley when He stripped everything and all hope away from everything, that He got their attention. And they could say, "Oh, is that what You've been calling me to do, God? Yes. Yes, I do see that". And sometimes in that valley experience, He simply affirms His purpose in your life. And what happens is that God just enriches you and deepens you and strengthens you and makes what you've been doing even more effective. But, let me say one other thing. That it is not only a time of discovery, it is a time of preparation.

Now, preparation isn't easy. Think about this. He puts us in the valley. And remember this: God never, listen, He never allows us to go through the valley or never initiates the valley experience unless He has a purpose in mind. On the other side of that valley God has a work, has a purpose, has a plan. That's why the valley is never a destination. Not in the valley, not walking around in it, but through the valley. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". Not in it but through it. He has a purpose in mind.

Now, what is He doing in the valley? He's preparing for us the purpose, whatever it is. So, what does He do? He uses those tools we don't like. For example, sometimes it is humiliation. Sometimes, as he says, it is refinement, cleansing, purifying, renewing. In the valley experience, all the pain and all the hurt we feel have an overwhelming, awesome, glorifying, divine purpose behind it all. That's why I'm going to come to the last point here in just a moment. That's why the next point is so very absolutely essential. Because whatever His purpose is and whatever He is allowing to go on, what makes my valley experience profitable, or a great time of painful loss is how I respond.

Now, listen, there are two ways to respond negatively. We either get thrust into the valley or we get in there because of our own circumstances. We're in the valley. How do I respond? Rebel against God. "God, why did You allow this in my life"? Look for a way out. Try to find some little offshoot of the path, up some creek in some little slight valley, thinking, "There may be a way out of the valley". So we rebel. We want to run away. We want to blame somebody else for being in the valley. Blaming others is always a sign of our spiritual immaturity. It doesn't make any difference what happens, how we get there. Ultimately God allows us to be in the valley.

And so, we complain, we have pity parties, we moan and we groan and we blame God, we blame other people. And my friend, as long as you are doing that, here's what's happening. You know what it's like? It's like God just stops with you in the valley. He's still got you by the hand, but He just stops, or He slows down the pace. You know why? Because he's refining and purifying and cleansing and building character and changing and altering. And doing what? Preparing us for what He has in mind. What's the proper response?

Here's always the right response. "Father, what is Your goal for my life in this experience"? Secondly, "Father, how do You want me to respond in this experience? Father, all that I am I lay down before You with no reservations, no restrictions. I am solely Your property". And fourthly, "Father, all that I have is Yours. I open my hands. You can take any and all of it. It is all yours". And my friend, when you and I get in the valley and that is our response, Almighty God, in all of His sovereign wisdom and love, will guide us every step of the way through that valley. And secondly, the pain may be almost unbearable, but the glory on the other side will make that pain disappear.
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