Craig Groeschel - God With Us In the Valley
Hey it's awesome to have all of you with us today. Every single one of our Life Churches, our Open Network churches, our family gathered around computers in villages all over the world at Church Online. Today we're launching into a brand new message series and it's called God With Us. Lemme kind of tell you what I wanna do in this message series is we're gonna actually bounce off what is an anchor scripture for those of us who are followers of Christ. We're gonna look at the power of the theological term is the word incarnation. It means that God became flesh and dwelt among us. On Christmas Eve, what I want you to know is, we're gonna have literally over 200 different worship services at all of our Life Churches.
Christmas is the time of the year, that now even more than Easter, people who are not connected to church are most willing to come. And during those services I'm gonna talk about and what I believe is the most creative way I've ever done and a way that people can understand what it means that the word became flesh. That God is among us. And so today as we launch into this message series about the presence of God, I wanna start with the verse that will start us every single week. Christmas Eve we'll deal with this in great detail. But it's found in Matthews Gospel. Matthew 1:23. And this is what scripture says. "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She'll give birth to a son, they will call Him Immanuel, which means," let's say it aloud at all of our different churches. "They will call Him Immanuel which mean God is with us".
The title for this message series is God With Us. And for those of you who are followers of Christ, it is so easy to believe that God is with us when things are good. When you're on the mountaintop it's easy to believe that God is with us. Whenever you get really good news, when you get a raise, when your baby sleeps through the night for the first time, when you get a parking spot in the mall and it's so close, God is so good He gave me this parking spot. It's easy to sense the presence of God when things are going good and when you're on the mountain. But it's sometimes more difficult to sense His presence when you're in the valley. When things aren't going the way you would want them to when you get bad news. When you're hurting. Maybe when you feel a little bit alone. When you're worried, or when you're afraid, or when you're battling depression.
I wanna talk today about God in the valley's. And what's interesting to me is so often, much of your life can be going really really well. In other words, you've got all these different pockets where you're kind of on a mountaintop. And then there's this one area that just weighs everything else down. So much is good but this one thing just really really brings a serious weight to your life. And this is what happened to me, out of the blue, on Thanksgiving day just a little over a week ago. Our family had about 40 people from around the country, family members. Some of which we hadn't seen in a long time come in for the day. And the house was perfect. Amy I mean just knocked herself out. And it's like, yeah it always looks like this. Not. Everything is just, you know, candles, the whole deal. And family's in there and there's a sense of this is what we live for. Everybody we love is together. Such a special moment. And it was until it wasn't.
I got a text that day about an hour into everybody being there. From my pastor, Pastor Nick Harris. With some news that just took the wind out of that day. I'll give you a little context. When I started into ministry my pastor, he had a tremendous gift of raising up young pastors. And I was one of three that served in this window with him. And I was just one of three very talented. These other guys were just amazing. There was Jay, there was Lance, and there was me. If you've been with our church for a while you've heard me talk about my close friend Jay who tragically, after a series of very unfortunate events, took his life. And that was a low point for me. Then I got this text about Lance. And Lance and his wife, during that season they were the closest friends that we had. They were there with us at the hospital when Katy, my first daughter was born. They were there with us overnight when my second daughter Mandy was born. And we were just so so so close. I got the text that they found Lance after a horrible accident, dead on Thanksgiving day.
Here we are. The middle of a mountaintop. Family from all over, the perfect moment. The moment you live for, times like this. And then there's the valley. The tragedy that comes in and just steals everything that you've been hoping for. And fortunately some of you are there right now. Some seasons and pockets of your life are really really good. Your marriage is blessed, but you've got a kid making crazy and stupid decisions. And that hurts so much. Or you're really really close to God and you sense God's presence, but at the same time you're afraid you're gonna lose your job. Or you're really really excited about the holidays, getting together with family, and yet you just got really bad medical news about you or somebody else. And so there's so many so many good things and yet there may be one or two things that just kinda take you down in the valley.
So what I wanna talk about today is where is God in those valleys? When you look at scripture, it's interesting that valley's represent several things. You see in the valleys there are often battles that took place. Some of you right now, you may be in a battle in the middle of a valley. Valley's were seasons of desperation. Valley's were seasons of loneliness. And it's interesting that valley's were also a time of growth. That you may enjoy God in some ways on the mountain, but you experience Him in different ways when you're in the valley. In fact, if you're taking notes, I like to say it this way. We may enjoy God on the mountaintops, but we get to know Him intimately in the valleys. We may know Him, enjoy Him, when times are really really good. But we get to know Him in a different way when we're in the valleys.
So what I wanna do today is I wanna look at a text from the Old Testament. Psalm 84. And if you've ever read through Psalm 84, chances are you read right past these verses. If you stopped at them you may not have understood them. And so today I wanna look at them and hopefully bring some insight that will impact your spiritual life in a very real way. Psalm 84, we'll start in verse five. And we're gonna see where God is in the valley's. This is what the Psalm has said. "Blessed are those whose strength is in you". Blessed are those who find their strength in God. "Whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion". The Valley of Baka. What is the Valley of Baka? The Valley of Baka was most likely related to a tree. Very similar spelling. And this tree would ooze out sap.
If you walked by this tree people said the tree was called a weeper. It looked like the tree was crying. And that's why the Valley of Baka is translated in different ways in scripture. It's called the Valley of Tears. It's called the Valley of Weeping. It's called the Valley of Loss. Anytime you see a valley in the Bible you would see a place that was very very dangerous. There'd be thorns. There'd be wild animals, probably vicious cats. Satan's favorite animal in the valley. There would be people waiting to jump you and rob you. In fact, it was very difficult to get through a valley without something bad happening. Very difficult to get through the valley. And this is why the Psalm says this in verse five. He says, "Blessed are those whose strength is found in you God. Blessed are those whose strength is found in you".
Now, I know that many of you are not followers of Christ and we're glad that you're here. If you don't know God intimately, then chances are there are times when you just say, "I've had enough, I can't do anymore, I'm overwhelmed, I'm exhausted, I just don't have enough". And the truth is if you don't know God intimately, then what you have, is all you have. What you have is all that you have. But for those who are Christ followers, we believe that we have a strength that goes beyond just what we have. That we have access to a heavenly strength and that's why the Psalm has said, "Blessed are those whose strength is found in you". We believe that when we get to the end of our strength that there is a heavenly strength. There is a divine strength. There is a strength from our God that is available to those who know Him.
I'll give you an example that may help understand this. I workout with a guy for over 20 years. I've worked out with a guy named John but I call him Paco. Paco's his nickname, he calls me Paco. But I don't know why but we're both Paco. It just works, you gotta have a nickname for your brother guys or you're not really good friends. If you don't have a nickname they're just a buddy. If you got a nickname they're a good friend. So Paco and I go to the gym. And every now and then we really kinda have strategic ways of mixing up the muscle groups. One time on chest day we did real heavy weights and just light few reps with really heavy weights and then decided to burn it out at the end of the day with ridiculously light weights, but trying to do a lot of reps. And so we were doing heavy heavy heavy and then we got down to just doing the bar. Nothing else, a 45 pound bar. But the goal was at the end of this already exhaustive day to do 50 reps of just the bar. Looks ridiculous. You walk in, "What's wrong with these poor guys"? They're just doing a bar. They got no strength at all. And it's relatively easy for the 20, 25, or 30. Then the lactic acid sets in and I'm telling you man, your booby's on fire. I mean fire. I mean like shaking.
Next day you're trying to lift up and they lock and you're like this forever. So you were going and John's like he's cheering me on. It looks ridiculous. "Come on Groeschel, there's more in ya"! I'm doing the bar. "Come on man, fire! Come on push it"! And I get 30, now 35 and I start to give out. And he starts assisting me with just the bar. How ridiculous is this? And so he's helping me up. "Come on Groeschel"! And then he starts, "It's all you"! It's not all me, he's helping me. "It's all you, come on! It's all you"! About 42, they just give out. It's over, there's nothing left. And I just let go. Well John didn't realize I'd let go and he's still cheering me on. "It's all you! It's all you, keep going! It's all you"! It was not me! It was all him, but at the end of my strength, Paco took over. The good news is for those of you who are Christ followers, there is a power bigger than Paco. It is our God who when you hit the end of your strength, His strength is made perfect in your weakness. His strength scripture said, is made absolutely perfect. "Blessed are those whose strength is found in God".
If you're in the middle of a valley right now, you have access to the very real, ever present power of a good God who is available and ready to come and assist you in your time of need. "Blessed are those whose strength is found in God". The text doesn't say blessed are those who make it on their own. It doesn't say blessed are those who pull themselves up by the bootstraps. It doesn't say blessed are those who are really determined. One of the big problems in our world today is we almost idolotize a spirit of independence. I don't wanna need anybody. I wanna be financially independent. I wanna be completely good on my own. I don't wanna trust people. I don't want people to be there for me. I don't need God, I don't need anybody. We were not created to be independent. We were created by our God to depend on Him and to depend on others. Blessed are you when you realize you are dependent and you have a power greater than yourself.
Some of you, you need to lean into it. You need to just admit it. I don't have what it takes. I need His presence. "Blessed are those whose strength is found in God". I wanna show you verse five in a different translation because I love the way the New Living Translation highlights this verse. It says this, it says, "What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who've set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem". I love that. We're on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What does that mean? We may be in the valley, but we're going to what was known as the City of Refuge. Or we were going to the place that they call the place of peace. One commentary said this, it said, "To get to the City of Refuge, you had to travel through the Valley of Tears". I like that imagery. Sometimes to get to where you really appreciate the presence and the power of God, you have to push through a little bit of the pain to get to the presence of the goodness of God. I put it in my notes this way. For so many, the valley is the pathway to the place of peace. We've pushed through the valley. We're on a pilgrimage. This is the way the Psalm has said it.
Let me show you the first part. He said this. What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, "who have set their minds". Everybody say my mind is set. Say it again, my mind is set. "Blessed are those who have their minds set toward God". What you think about matters so much. What you think about matters. Paul talked about this a lot in the New Testament. To the Colossian believers he said this. He said, "Set your mind on things above, not on things below". Paul told the Philippians believer this. He said, "If anything is excellent or praise worthy, or admirable, or lovely, think about such things". Where you are is one thing. What you think about is something else. What you think about matters. For example, the other night I was having a hard time sleeping. It was probably three in the morning. And I guess I was tossing and turning because Amy leaned over and she said, "Are you okay"? And I said "I'm okay, I just can't sleep". And she said, "You what"? I said "I can't sleep".
The next thing you know, we've been married almost 27 years. She has never done this before. She just, her little 105 pound body, came over, she put one hand on one shoulder, one hand on the other shoulder, and was looking straight down at me. Was like, wow, I didn't see this coming, but you know, it's a good time for me. And you know after 27 years of marriage that wasn't what she was thinking. But you never know. I'm like, "Come on". She looked down at me and she said, "Don't say that"! Three in the morning, she never raises her voice. "Don't say that"! I was, "Okay, okay". She said "Don't say you can't sleep. Say you have the peace of God. Say He is with you right now. Say your mind is at rest". Like, "My mind is at rest. I promise you're scaring me right now. Just stop, make it go away"! And then she rolled back over and she went to sleep. Where did that come from? I have no idea. But she was right! What you think about matters. What you think about matters.
Listen, somebody, you need to hear this right now. Your current situation may be in the valley. But your mind can still be set upon God. Your heart might now might be racing, but your mind is set. Your soul may be aching, but your mind is set. Your emotions may be racing, but your mind is fixed toward God. There may be too much to do and there may be pressure with the in-laws and you may be wondering how we're gonna pay for Christmas and on and on and on and on and on. There may be real tragedies in the valley, but my mind is set on the goodness of God. He is with me. He is for me. Greater is the one who is in me than the one who is in this world. My God is going before me to prepare a way for me. His spirit gives me strength when I am weak. I need Him every moment of every day. His words a lamp unto my feet. It is a light unto my path. When I cannot make it, His power is very very real. I may be in the valley, but my mind is set on the kingdom of God. I'm on a pilgrimage, I'm going to the place of peace. You may be in the valley but your mind is fixed.
Verse six says this, I love this phrase. "As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs. As they pass through the Valley of Baka". In other words, we may be in the valley right now but the valley is not our destination. What are we doing? I'm just passing through. I may be in the valley right now, but this is not my home. I'm journeying to the place of peace. I'm just passing through. My God will get me through this. I'm just passing through. David said something similar in Psalm 23. He said, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me". I may be in the valley but I'm just passing through. I may be in a difficult time, but God's gonna get me through. I may be hurting right now but I'm not gonna be hurting forever. My God is gonna pull me through. I may be in a dark place right now, but we're just passing through the Valley of Baka.
Sometimes when you're in the middle of it you just want out. Get me out God. Make it go away. Make it stop God. I don't want this anymore. Just take it away. I just want out. What you have to realize is so often God may show you that the way is through the valley, not out of the valley. The road to the path of peace is often through the valley. Just passing through. I'm just passing through. I love this next phrase. "As they passed through the Valley of Baka they make it a place of springs". The King James version says it this way. The King James version says "They make it a well. They make it a place of springs". In other words, whenever you're in a dry place, what do you do? You dig a well. You make a well. You take and clear a way a little hole as a container for the provision of rain that God will send. God hasn't sent it yet. It's dry right now. But when you're dry and when you're hurting you make room for the presence of God. You make room for the provision of God. You make a well. But it hasn't rained yet. But I know my God will provide what I need so I make a container preparing for the presence and the provision of God.
You make a well. It's almost as if God would say something like this. "You show me your faith, and I'll show you my faithfulness". If you dig it, I will fill it. If you prepare for me, I will show up. You show me your faith, and I'll show you my faithfulness. Jesus apparently had this kind of philosophy. In the New Testament there's a guy with a withered up hand. Instead of Jesus saying "I'm just gonna heal you". Jesus said, "No, you stretch out your hand and I will heal it". You show me that you believe I can do it and I will do it. A man who couldn't walk for 38 years, Jesus didn't just say, "Jesus power you're healed". Instead He said, "You take up your mat". You get up, you show me you believe that I can make you walk. If you show me your faith, I will show you my faithfulness. I don't know who this will speak to, but someone, you need to hear it. If you dig it, He will fill it. If you plant it, He will grow it. You have to plant your seed before you see the harvest. If you pray it, God hears your prayer. If you dig it, if you prepare, your God will reveal Himself.
When you're in the dry place, you make a well. You prepare for the presence and the provision of God. If you show me your faith I'll show you my faithfulness. I love the if promises of God in scripture. "If you draw near to me," God says, "I will draw near to you". You show me that you believe and I will show you my presence. If you seek me, you will find me. If you make room for me, I will reveal myself to you. There's somebody here, you haven't sensed the presence of God in a long time. It's time to make a well. It's time to dig a ditch. It's time to say God, I'm gonna stop and wait for your presence. I'm going to prepare for your provision and for your presence. Because if you dig it, He will fill it. Think about this. Think about this. Some of you, you really, you need an encounter with God. God rarely reveals Himself to people who are rushed. This should sink in to somebody. He rarely reveals Himself to people who are rushed.
Imagine Moses, the burning bush. Moses driving by 75 miles an hour by the burning bush. Taking a picture of it. "Oh, Instagram story. That bush is burning". That's not what God says. God says "Hey, why don't you stay a while? Why don't you take off your sandals because you're standing on holy ground. Why don't you for a moment be still? Be still and know that I am God. Why don't you make a well and then wait on me to fill it. Because if you dig it, I will fill it. If you seek me, you will find me. If you draw near to me, I will draw near to you. Be still, and know that I am God". Some of you it's just time to prepare. And say God I wanna meet with you. And I'm gonna wait for you. And I'm going to believe that you're gonna reveal yourself to me because I need you right now.
And this is what happened to me on that Thanksgiving day. Inside my house it was the mountaintop. Everybody I loved close and dear to me and my family is there. And then there's the valley. And I said to Amy, I said, "I've gotta have 10, 15, 20 minutes to go outside. And I need to encounter God". And I felt some pressure inside because not only am I family, but I'm the pastor to so many of these people and we're hosting. But I just need to go and encounter God. And so I went on the back porch just hearing about my dear friend. Who just, there's no way to get him back. And I just cried, and cried, and cried, and cried and said, "God, please show up, I need you".
Let me tell you what didn't happen. There was no audible voice. There was no double rainbow in the sky. There was no earthquake. Which there could have been. There's a lot of earthquakes where I live right now. There's no earthquake. But what happened, is I just truly truly truly sensed the comforting presence of God. God I need you and I'm just gonna wait on you. Make a well. Prepare for His presence. And if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. I need your presence. So I was able to go back in to the mountaintop. Because God met with me in the valley. We enjoy Him so much on the mountains. But we get to know Him intimately in the valleys. Here's what I hope you'll understand. God never ever promised that you would never go through the valley. He promised you would never have to go through the valley alone. God with us. "And the virgin will be with child and His name will be Immanuel. Which means God with us".
I love the way the Psalmist phrases this portion of scripture. He says this. As we journey through the Valley of Baka. We're going to the place of peace. Then he says "They go from strength to strength". I love this phrase. "They go from strength to strength. They go from strength to strength. Blessed are those who experience the strength of God. Blessed are those whose strength is found in you". Then they go from a little bit of strength to a little more strength. To even more of God's strength to even more of His strength. And then a little more of His strength until each appears before God in Zion. They will go from strength to strength, from strength to strength. Not our strength, but His strength. And this is the very thing that God has done for my family through an 18 month valley.
As I've told you about all that my daughter Mandy has been through. If you haven't been here, my second daughter Mandy, I'll show you our most recent picture. This is Mandy who's been experiencing tremendous health challenges. If she can come to church, which is not always, she can't stand through worship. This is Mandy with James just sitting down. And I took that picture at our family reunion worship time. And I told Mandy, "I believe by faith, at next year, you will stand all the way through worship". I gave her that picture as an act of faith. And if you don't know the whole story, we couldn't diagnose what she was going through. Finally sent her to the Mayo clinic, have a diagnosis. But for 18 months, she's just a physical, she just can't do much at all. Go to the grocery store, stay in bed the next day. And it's just horrible to watch this newlywed, my daughter go through this.
So one day I'm trying to prepare a message, maybe a month ago. And I just had a breakdown. It just all came crashing down. I went to a place alone in the church. I'm like, "God, give it to me, take it from her. Can't you do anything God? Where are you? We've prayed, come on God". And I just sensed God minister to me to completely trust my daughter to Him. And I felt like He was showing me that as crazy as I am, as much as I love her, that He actually loves her more than I do. Trust her to Him. On that same day I came home and I told Mandy, I told Amy, said "I had a breakdown today over Mandy". She said, "I did too, I did too". And she said, "I felt like God was telling me," Amy said, that we should start praising Him for her healing before that we see it. So day after day that's what we did. "God we thank you. We believe that she's going back to the mountain. God we believe that you're going to heal her. God we thank you that you are with her. God we trust her to you. God after 18 months of seeing nothing, we believe that you're a good God. We still have faith in you God. We believe that you can do this".
I'm happy to tell you that for the first time in 18 months we've seen some slight and very very real improvement. Very very noticeable improvement. And we praise Him. And we praise Him as she's climbing back up the mountain. And we will praise Him when she is on the mountain. But here's what I want you to understand. We praise Him in the valley. Because we may enjoy Him on the mountaintops but listen to me, we get to know Him in the valleys. He reveals His character to us. We can sense His strength in a way that we can't otherwise. When we totally and completely need Him and we have nothing else. And we know that we're traveling through the valley. We're just here, we're passing through. He is a good God. And we're going to the place of peace. So right now you feel weak. Who is God? In the middle of your weakness, my God is your strength. When you're in the darkness, who is God? Our God is your light in the darkness. When you're in a season of trouble, who is our God? He is your joy in the trouble. When you're in the middle of pain, who is our God? He is your comforter in the middle of your pain. That's who our God is.
We pass through the valley. Even though we're in the valley, we do not fear, why? Because He is with us. The same God that is good on the mountaintops is good to us in the valley. We get to know Him in the valley. If you're in the valley right now you're just passing through. You won't be there forever. Our God will lead you out. He is good, He is with you, He is present and He will take you from strength to strength. When you can't handle anymore you lean into Him and let His strength be everything that you need. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Why? Because you oh God are with us. Who are you? You are Immanuel. God with us.
So Father today I pray especially for those who are in the valley that you would be everything that they need. All of our churches, as you're reflecting in prayer, those who would say, "Yeah Craig, I'm kinda with ya". There may be a lot of pockets of my life that are really good right now, but there's this one pocket where the valley is very difficult. I need His presence. Would you lift up your hands right now. Just be honest all of our church and lift up your hands high right now. There's so many of you and I hurt with you. But I praise God with you in the valley.
I pray God that you would move, that you would reveal yourself. God I thank you that there are those today who will make a well. Who will prepare for the provision of your power and your presence. Just to pause God and say we need you. Draw near to us God as we draw near to you. I pray for miracles God. And we thank you even before that the answer, even before we see you move. We praise you God, not just for what you do, but we praise you for who you are. We thank you that you are Immanuel. You are God with us who will never leave us and never forsake us.
As you keep praying today at all of our churches, there are some of you, life's pretty good right now. But you still feel empty. I am convinced that our God will allow you to get to a place in life where many of your dreams come true. You make the money you wanna make, you get the house you want, you have the different toys you want, and yet you're still empty. I believe God will let us get there. Sometimes to show us our need for so much more. Others of you, you don't even know what a mountain is. Your life is so low. I'm convinced that sometimes God will let us get to a place we're so low where the only place we can look is up and look toward Him. Whether you're on the mountaintop and empty or in the valley and hurting. The good news is our God will meet you there.
Who is God? He is the living word. He is the one who became flesh in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the sinless son of God who loved and reached out to people who are hurting, broken, and their lives were torn apart. He loved them as they were but He never ever left them there. Jesus became sin for us on the cross. He died in our place. On the third day, when the stone was rolled away He was not there, why? Because by the power of God, He defeated death, hell, and the grave. So that anyone, and this includes you. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what you've done. Anyone who calls on the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus Christ. Your sins would be forgiven. You would be made completely new. If you're at the top and you're empty, He will meet you there. If you're at the bottom and hurting, He will meet you there.
Right now the only thing separating you from Him is your sin. When you confess your need, He forgives your sin, He brings life and life abundantly to you. And that's why many of you are here. You need His grace, you need His mercy, you need His salvation. Today you say, I turn from my sin, I turn toward Jesus, I call on you. I'm digging a well. I want you to meet me there. Jesus, I give my life to you. If that's your prayer, lift your hands high right now. All of our churches lift 'em up. Right here, both of you in this middle section. Others today say yes. I need Jesus. Right back over here. Call on Him today. Say yes Jesus. Way back here, toward the back. Church Online, you click below me. Over here on this side saying yes. I surrender to Him. I give my life to Him. Would you pray with those around you as we experience the miracle of salvation. Pray:
Heavenly Father. I trust you. To save me. To forgive me. To make me new. Jesus lead me. As my Lord. And as my savior. Fill me. With your holy spirit. So I could follow you. And live for you. Every day of my life. My life is not my own. I give it to you. Thank you for new life. Now you have mine. In Jesus name I pray.