Charles Stanley - The Valley Experiences in Our Life
One of the most often quoted passages of Scripture in the Bible is one that all of us probably have known a long, long time. I learned it when I was a kid in school. My regular school teacher taught me to be able to memorize this Scripture when I was in about the second or third grade. Don't you wish school teachers would do that today? But I want you to think about it because you quote this verse when you are in want, I shall not want.
When you're afraid, I will fear no evil. When you're tired and weary, Whatever the issue is, somehow that passage of Scripture just seems to include it all. It's also quoted oftentimes by the bedside of somebody who's dying. Also, before a bereaved family at the graveside. And many times, on a battlefield in the midst of fire. There's something about this passage of Scripture that just applies to every situation and circumstance. And when I think about it, I think about it in this light, God has given us something to remind us in a very few verses, how awesome His love is for us. His desire to protect us and watch over us and care for us.
So, I want you to turn to the twenty-third Psalm. And let's read this Psalm. And what I want us to look at primarily is verse number four, while we talk about all of it. It's this fourth verse I want us to look at. Because I want to talk about the believer's valley experience. The times you and I go through those valleys in our life. And so, he begins, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil". And this is where I always want to go back to the King James Version. Because somehow when you say, "I fear no evil: for You are with me".
There's something about saying, I fear no evil: for Thou art with me". "Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". So, what is the believer's valley experience? It is an experience that all of us experience many times in our life. And remember this, you can't have mountains without valleys. So, if you have mountains, you've got valleys. And if there is a valley experience, there is a mountain peak experience. Most people don't know how to operate in the valley. Or they don't understand why God allows valley experiences in our life.
And so, I want us to look at this passage in the light of that, times when you and I go through difficulty and hardship and pain and suffering; things we don't understand sometimes. Things oftentimes we do understand but don't know why God would allow it to happen in our life. And so, once I begin to understand what God is up to, my attitude can change. Where there's hopelessness there can be hope and confidence and assurance that I'm not going to be in this valley forever. Now if you'll think about it for just a moment, if the valley experience is that time in your life when you're hurting, when you're suffering, when there's pain, there's heartache, there's loss, there's separation, there's loneliness; then how do you deal with that? And that's what I want us to talk about in this passage of Scripture.
And I want us to think, first of all, the fact that these experiences are inevitable in everybody's life. There's no such thing as living on the mountain peak all the time, where there's success and happiness and joy and prosperity, all the rest. There are those times when we find ourselves in the valley. Those places of difficulty and hardship. And notice the contrast here, he says, he speaks of green pastures, still waters, the valley of the shadow of death, righteous paths. So, we're talking about those periods of time. They can be short. They can be long. But times when we are suffering, when we're hurting; understood or misunderstood, the pain is still there.
And so, when I think about that and I think about how people get into these valleys. Well, surprisingly sometimes the Good Shepherd leads us there. Notice he says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me," listen, "He guides me. He leads me". And so, that being the case, sometimes the Good Shepherd leads us into those valley experiences where we hurt, where there's pain, where there's suffering. You say, Now, wait a minute, if He's a good shepherd and that's what Jesus said about Himself. He said He's the Good Shepherd. In the tenth chapter of John He talks about being a shepherd who secures us. And He said, My sheep hear My voice. I know them and they follow Me. I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can pluck them out of My Father's hand. So, here is the Good Shepherd. And it's all sounds like love and kindness and peace and joy and so forth. But that's not the only place the Shepherd leads us.
Now think about this, if the mountain peak here, something good is going on in our life. And there's a mountain peak over here and God leads us through this valley, there must be a reason to come off of this mountain into this valley for the next mountain. Because you see, life isn't like this. Life is good times, difficult times, better times. In God's eyes this is the way He sees it. And that is, He sees us here and He's not satisfied us being here. And so, what does He do? He takes us in the valley to get us ready for the next mountain peak. And if you'll think about it for a moment, times that you've had difficulty and hardship or suffering. Not your fault necessarily but sometimes it was yours. But there you were. And then there are times when you can't look at yourself and see any reason that God would allow you to be in those times. Could it be that the Shepherd knows that He has something better for you here than you can see here? And oftentimes we are willing to be satisfied here. Because you see, when you're high up on the mountain you can see what you can't see in the valley.
Now that's good and bad. Because you see, if you could see in the valley what you could see on the mountain peak, the valley wouldn't be nearly as painful, nearly as difficult to be wandering around in. So, what I want you to see is, that sometime we're in the valley not because of something we've done or something somebody else has done. But simply because the Father, the Shepherd has something good in mind for us. Now there are other reasons. For example, you can wander away. Remember he said, He is the Good Shepherd. That puts us in the category of being a sheep. Now sheep by their very nature, wander. Any time you and I take a step away from Him we are wandering and we are heading for the valley. We are heading for it because we choose. Somehow in our thinking, in our viewpoint of things, there's something better over here, away from the Lord, than there is with Him. And that's our erroneous thinking; our poor vision.
The deception of the devil that would say to you, Oh, the Good Shepherd has this but there's something more exciting, more alluring, more satisfying over here. It's the devil's lie. And yet that's exactly why some people find themselves in the valley. They don't like what they find there. At first, they may like it, but they realize, all of a sudden, something's not right. Because valley living is not the plan of God for His children. It's the plan of the devil for his followers. But it's not the plan of God for His children. He has the best for us, all of us, no matter who he is. And I'm grateful that He talked about being the Good Shepherd. He has predestined every single one of us to go through valleys but not to hang around there. So, as I think about valley experiences in my own life, some of them have been short, some of them have been long. But I can say for sure that each time, God always had something better in mind.
Think about this, think about how fast you run in any given day, in any given week. Look at your calendar. You're listening to this and talking to this person and telephones and iPhones and iPads and computers. And our mind is so full of this and all these relationships and all the things we have to do. When does God have any time anyway? And sometimes He has to stop us. Sometimes, He just has to take us off the mountaintop into the valley in order for us to hear something that's very significant for us to hear. God knows exactly what it takes to create within us the person He wants us to be. And remember this, whatever His goals are, and they can be a number that we'll talk about. One of them is, He has something in mind for us.
Now, listen, every time you get in the valley doesn't mean that you're being punished. It doesn't mean that you're being disciplined. Because there are times when God has something in mind for us. We can't see it over here. We can't hear Him at that point. And He has to bring us to a point where we begin to listen. Where He clears our vision so we can begin to see. Because one thing He certainly wants to clear up, He wants to clear up our thinking so we begin to think the way He thinks. He wants us to see things from the way He sees them. And oftentimes when everything is going our way, we can't see it. We can't hear Him for being so satisfied where we are. And so, the depth of the valley will determine, listen, will determine what God is able to accomplish in our life.
So, think for just a moment, what is the deepest valley you have ever walked through? I mean where you had the most pain. Well, you suffered the most. Where you had the most misunderstanding. You found yourself caught, trapped, no way out, it just looked like it was one, long endless valley for you. I remember when my mother passed away. I thought that was the deepest valley I'd ever experienced. Only a few months later to experience one far deeper to me than that. Now, watch this, you and I cannot determine how deep somebody else's valley is. Because we don't know where they're coming from in life necessarily.
And so, when other people are suffering and hurting about things in their life and they tell us what it is we may think, Oh, well that's nothing, let me tell you what I've been through. I've learned a long time ago when somebody tells me what they're hurting about, the thing you don't want to say is, Well, let me tell you about mine. It's a time to listen and not to compare valleys. We don't know how someone else is hurting. We don't know how deep their hurt is. We don't know how deep the pain is. We don't know how deeply this has gouged into their very personhood, their very being. Remember this, the bottom of the valley, top of the mountain, He's still the same Good Shepherd. Nothing changes who He is or His relationship to us.
Now, how we respond can make a difference and we'll come to that. But what I want you to see is this, that these valley experiences in our life; the length, the depth, He determines that. And more than likely the depth of it depends upon how we respond. That is, if a little bit of pain and a little bit of suffering can open my eyes and help me to see and help me to hear, that's all it'll take. But if I'm stubborn and self-willed. And don't understand and respond the wrong way then the depth of that valley and the length of that valley can increase and increase and increase.
So, when a person gets in a tough situation and they're complaining and moaning and groaning and blaming God, I know what's going to happen. All they're doing is lengthening their trip; lengthening their voyage through the valley. Does that mean that if you repent and get straightened out right quick that you're going to be up on the mountaintop next? No. God knows our thoughts. He knows our ways. He knows our habits. And He knows we can be very deceived and we can be very deceptive. It's the length and the depth that God is moving and molding and making something of us that oftentimes we're not even aware of what He's doing. And you see here's what happens, when you trusted Christ as your Savior, He came, He says, I'm abiding in you. Living in you. You and I have the Good Shepherd living within us, guiding us, directing us, helping us, comforting us, strengthening us, protecting us. We have Him.
So, it doesn't make any difference whether I'm on the mountain peak or in the valley. The Good Shepherd is always the same and He's always there. Now, these valley experiences are the most profitable times of learning for the child of God. All of us who are His followers, the most profitable times of learning for us. And so, when I think about that, I think about, why are these so profitable? It's, watch this, it's because of what goes on in the valley. Because think about this, what have you learned when everything is going your way? You had plenty, you had a fine home, you had a fine automobile, your kids were this, that, and the other. You had plenty of money, everything's happy. You had a house here and you hmm. Everything was going your... how much did you learn spiritually?
You say, Well, I learned how good God is. Is that right? don't think so. I think you took it for granted probably most of the time. But when did you, listen, when did you learn a lesson that you said, Yes, I can trust Him through these things? It's in the valleys that we learn the most. So, you say, Learn the most about what? So, let's start with Him. We learn the most about God in the valley. Notice what he said in this passage, he said that we will rest in green pastures. We will drink from still waters. We don't have to fear anything when we walk through these valleys because of His provision. Notice what he said, he said, His rod and His staff. His rod and His staff comfort us. Well, what was the rod? The rod was a big stick that he'd fight off wolves or any kind of beast. And he says the rod and the staff had that crook in it. He'd reach out and pull the sheep back in line.
Now I want to say this very clearly, He had a rod and a staff. You have one too. It's called the Word of God. It's, listen, it's rod and staff in one book. Everything I need to know about Him, here it is. It's the truth. It's a truth of God's Word. It is a protection in times of danger. It is my help in time of need. It's my comfort when things are going tough for me. You can go right down the line of every single experience that you and I have in life and somewhere in the Word of God, somewhere in here there's going to be an answer. It's our help. It's our guide. Listen, the Good Shepherd is in heaven seated at the Father's right hand. The Good Shepherd is also within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And so, we have everything we need to get us through the valley. If I, listen, where I learn the most about God is not on the mountain peak, but in the valley. Because here's what happens, in the valley God is doing something. And one of the things He's doing is He wants us to get a clearer picture of Him.
If my mind and my life is so full of things and people, and this and that, and all that's going on, He can get lost in all that. In the valley when I'm hurting, when there's pain and when I'm lonely, here's what happens, when I feel loneliness, what am I going to do? I'm going to turn to Him. When what I had is gone, going to turn to Him. And when my friends have left me I'm going to turn to Him. And when I'm sick and the doctor can't help me, I'm going to turn to Him. He knows exactly how to get our attention. And remember this, that whatever valley you're in, God's up to something. And that's why it's so important that you and I profit from it.
Now, if I complain and moan and groan and argue with God, curse God, blame Him then I can walk through the valley and end up bitter, resentful, hostile, angry and having lost a wonderful opportunity in life. Because I remember it when I knew that my mother was dying. It's amazing what didn't matter anymore. And more than likely if you're in a valley today, you could look around and say, You know what? There're some things in my life that don't matter anymore. But you see, if I'm willing to respond in the right way, something awesome can happen. So, you say, Well, what's the right way? I want to give you four suggestions and if you'll just jot them down. This is the right way to respond. And remember He's leading us from one mountain peak into the valley, to another mountain peak. That is, God wants to grow us through the last day of our life.
So, what is my right response? Right response, number one, surrender your life to God. Lord I've held back on these things. I've given You this and I've given You that but Lord, today, I'm making a full surrender. The only thing that matters is that, God, You have Your way in my life. When you do that you're going to turn that valley experience into an awesome stepping stone to a mountain top. That's the first thing. The second thing is this, and that is, to believe that this valley experience, God is going to use it for something good. No matter what it is and how painful or what you may have lost.
Listen to what he says, "My God causes all things to work together for good". Mountain peaks and valleys. Hardship and pain. Suffering and joy. "He causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose". To those who respond correctly and acknowledge. Listen, at no time does the Good Shepherd have anything in mind for you but the best. And He can give you a vision for what He can do in your life. He can open your eyes to see opportunities for you that you've never seen before. You're living down here all closed in. He wants you up here where you can see the possibilities for your life from His perspective.
You see, if you and I could see what He sees, we'd say, God send me to the valley. Send me to the valley if I can see what You see. If I can experience those things in life. If You can use me in that fashion. If You can work in my life in that way. Send me to the valley. I must surrender my life to Him. I must believe that He's working something good in my life. And the third thing is this, I must rest in His wisdom, His love and His power. God I'm laying it all before You. I'm laying my life before You. And I'm going to trust You for Your love and Your wisdom and Your power to see me through this to accomplish Your purpose, no matter what that is. And then the fourth thing is simply this, I got to thank Him for it. I have to be willing to thank Him. Father, thank You for bringing me through this valley.
Now sometimes I'd like to be real personal and sometimes I hesitate a little bit. But I can just tell you this, the worst valley I've ever walked through I've walked through it a long time. I wouldn't wish that valley on anybody. But I can tell you this, nor would I take anything for the lessons that I have learned and am still learning. I wouldn't take anything for the way God has worked in me personally. What He's cleansed me of, and the joy He's given to my heart. That I would never have believed in the midst of the valley when it was the most painful. I would never be able to see. And when I see how God works in our life and what He's willing and able to do, I realize that valleys make us more useful for God.
When He allows a valley into our life, it's because in His love and His wisdom and His power, He knows it's the best way for Him to accomplish His purpose. And you see, most of the time we're so self-centered. We're always thinking about, How is it going to affect us? Sometime that's not the issue. It's not how it's always going to affect us but how is it going to affect other people whose life your life may impact? "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want". Leads me, guides me, keeps me, protects me, provides for me. On the mountain peak and in the valley. And if I'm willing to walk through the valley, I'm going to experience God with His highest blessing. Don't miss it.
Father how grateful we are that You are so faithful. That not one word You've ever said can be changed. You're who You say You are. You do what You say You'll do. And we want to say thank you, thank you, thank you God. Don't leave us where we are. Keep moving us on and upward, being conformed to Your likeness in the image of the Son of God. Reminding us that we belong to You and we're Your servants. And it's not what's in it for us but what You want to do through us for somebody else. And I pray, Father, today for those who are unsaved. They have no shepherd. They're lost. Separated from You by their sins. Never having received Jesus Christ and His death at Calvary. Open their eyes at this very moment to see they're floundering. Oh, they may be organized but they're floundering in the world of the spiritual. And help them to see they will never become the person You want them to be apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Is my prayer in His name, amen.