Today, I have the privilege of sharing A Sermon On The Mount at our Annual Ladies’ Retreat. As you cannot be with us, I wrote a shorter version to share with you. Imagine yourself hiking to a mountaintop, finding a seat on a rock, and considering the following:
The thing about mountaintop experiences is that we don’t appreciate them until we’ve spent some time in the valley.
When I think of the three most recent valley experiences I have had, I don’t exactly remember them with fondness.
I’m not going to try to convince you that valleys are fun. They’re not.
They’re difficult and dark. They’re lonely and long. Valleys fill us with fear and frustration. They make us feel weak and weary.
I’ve been in the valley of a marriage that I didn’t think would make it.
I’ve been so entrenched in a valley of grief that I never thought I would see the sun shine again.
And most recently, our family is experiencing a valley of financial uncertainty.
I have found my way out of two of those valleys and while I did not appreciate them at the time, I thank God that He saw me through them. If I was able to choose for my life to go differently and not have to have gone through those valleys, I’m not sure that I could make that choice.
They were awful, but they brought me closer to God. They were terrifying, but they taught me to trust Him. They were painful, but they allowed me to find my peace in Him.
Consider the well known Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” (NKJV)
First, we see that we aren’t walking through the valley of death, but a shadow of death. How often are we afraid of the what if’s in life when all that really exist are shadows of them? I walked in a valley of death when I lost my precious aunt, but did I really? Or was it just a shadow? I may have lost her, but because she is in Christ, she is more alive with Him than she ever was when she was with us. Death has no sting. It’s just the shadow of death that causes us to fear it.
The part of that verse that comes next is even better. It reminds us that we have a choice about how we see our circumstances. It says, “I will fear no evil”. The word “will” reminds us that we have a choice when it comes to our fear.
The last few words give us the remedy for that fear, “for thou art with me”. The knowledge that God is with us is the very thing that allows us to choose not to be afraid.
While no one enjoys being in the valley, I would challenge us today to not fear the valley experience because we can know that when we are suffering there, He is with us. Because of that truth, we can choose to not be afraid.
To do that, though, we must take care not keep our eyes on our valley, but to lift them to the Savior on the mountaintop.
Psalm 121 says:
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip, He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your coming out and your going in from this time forth and forever. (NASB)
While we are dwelling in the valley, we must remember not only to keep our eyes on Jesus, but that the valley experience will eventually lead to a mountaintop where we are in His presence in a way we never would have experienced without it.
Had I not been in the valley of a struggling marriage, would I have learned the importance of placing God in the center of my marriage? Had I not almost lost my husband, would I treasure him the way I do today? Had my marriage not almost slipped through my fingers, would I cling to it with all that I have the way I do now? It was in the valley that I learned not to take my marriage for granted. I’m not sure that I would have a mountaintop marriage without the struggle in the valley.
I remember my past experiences because they give me hope in my current valley. I don’t just know that God is with me. I’ve experienced Him with me when I have been at my lowest. I don’t just know that I can choose not to be afraid, I have learned to empty my hands of my fears so that I could receive His peace in their place. You see, I can know things about God by reading my Bible, but I experience them in the valley. I’m not sure I would trade those experiences, painful as they were, for the peace that has come as a result.
And while my current valley has me praying that I will be back on the mountaintop soon, I can just be still and know. I know that He is with me. I know that He is in control. I know that He loves me and that He is good and that I am being transformed.
While I don’t know how long or wide or deep my current valley will be, I know the God who is in it with me because I’m looking up. I know that He is transforming me in the valley so that I can stand in His presence on the mountaintop.
If ye then be risen with Christ, set your hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. ~Colossians 3:1
We need to look up with our eyes and with our hearts. Whether we are stuck deep in the valley or we are on top of the mountain praising God, we need to look up.
The valley won’t last forever. It may seem that way, but one day soon, we will be standing on the moutaintop with God. Only then will we look back on our valley experience and praise Him for it.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You and praise You for Your goodness. I thank You because I know that when I am dwelling in a valley, You are there with me. I know that the valley times won’t last forever. Thank You for the hope and the peace that can only be found in You. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
What do you think? When you look back on your valley experiences, can you see that God was with you all along? How have those experiences taught you to trust in Him?