Lessons from the Valley

Becoming a Christian is the single greatest decision you can ever make but it doesn’t guarantee that your life is going to be easy or dare I even say fair.  This is a tough one so we might as well start here.  We as Christians often feel that because we are living honest, righteous lives that we should escape the bumps and scrapes that accompany the lives of others.    I feel that I have an obligation here to inform you of something you may not realize.  When you commit your life to God you’re going to catch Satan’s interest.  I’m sorry.  I wish it wasn’t that way.  Truly I do.  You see, Satan’s just not that interested in the people he’s already got playing on his team.  Nope, he’s going to go after the folks on the other team, especially the starters or the coach.  And here’s another warning for you.  He plays very dirty.  He’ll empty your bank account, he’ll turn your friends and family against you,   he’ll take your health, and he’ll turn your life upside down.  Don’t believe me?  Read 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  When I see words like prowls and devour you’ve got my attention.  Friends that means he’s after you and he’s after me.  It means he’s going to play on your insecurities and doubts.  He’s going to find every weakness you have and exploit it to the utmost point you can bear.  And that means things are going to be at times very difficult.  Around my house we call them valleys.  And just in case you’re wondering we’ve been in a pretty deep valley since the week we started saving for Isaiah’s adoption.  Looking back over the last nine months there have been different reasons that we’ve been in this valley, but it’s still the same valley.  As a family we have personally experienced all of the things I mentioned in the above paragraph plus a few others that I won’t mention.  And by the way, it’s not fun.  But battles never are.  And make no mistake about it that’s what’s going on.  Satan is using everything at his disposal to distract us from our goal:  living a life that brings others to Christ.  I have a dear friend, Brother Glen Tropp who often says, “Where there is divine operation there is demonic opposition.”  For a long time I had a no clue what he was talking about.  Then I got busy serving God and Satan got busy trying to distract me.   This particular valley has been beyond difficult for my family but if you’ll allow me to I’d like to share some things that we’re learning about Satan and his guerilla warfare tactics but more importantly how we’re learning to be stronger warriors for Christ.
·        Satan lies….a lot.  Christ was the real whistleblower on this one when he said, “…….When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44  So when you find yourself overcome, overloaded, and overwhelmed and you are certain there is no end in sight just remember, that’s a lie.  When you think the situation is impossible, just remember, that’s a lie.  Every negative thought that keeps you distracted from the kingdom’s work is a lie set forth from him.  Because as long as you’re focused on yourself and your suffering you’re not focused on Christ and Satan has achieved his goal.  So reveal him for what he really is, a liar that isn’t deserving of a minute of your time or energy.  Just keep working and serving and let Christ handle the Father of lies for you.
·        You’re going to need help.  You are going to need some serious prayer partners.  These need to be strong Christian people who you can contact day or night and ask for them to intercede for you in prayer.  You cannot serve Christ alone.  We are all members of the body of Christ and as such we need one another.  There have been days when the only thing that kept me from sitting down in the middle of the floor and losing it was the knowledge that certain women and men were lifting me and my family up daily in prayer.  So take off the “I’m ok” and the “my life is perfect mask” and start fessing up to the people around you when you need help.  Because if there’s anything Satan loves more than an unbeliever it’s a Christian who believes they are alone in their fight against him.  Everybody knows there is strength in numbers.  Christ himself reminds us of this in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”   So take advantage of the Christian people that God has placed in your path and ask them for their help. 
·        You are not alone.  Every person who ever gave their life to Christ has suffered at the hands of Satan.  None of this is new behavior for him.  Christ knew it would be this way and even prayed for the protection of his disciples in John 17:15, “My prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them from the evil one.”   In the years to come we see that Stephen was stoned.  Peter was crucified upside down.  Paul was beaten and imprisoned multiple times.  And dare I say millions of saints have given their lives as a testament to their faith in Jesus Christ.  I know what some of you may be thinking.  That was a 2,000 years ago.  That kind of hardship from Satan just doesn’t apply in the real world today.  Satan may be real, but he’s not involved in my everyday life.   Really?  Think about some good Christian people you know.  Do any of them ever seem to have one difficulty after another?  One illness after another?  One hardship after another?  Do these same people maintain a sweet spirit of Christian service and devotion?  I could name quite a few.  They’re the folks that remind me day in and day out that God can sustain us through anything.  So take heart, you’re in good company. 
·         God never abandons his people.   And for those of you who feel like you’re receiving more attention from Satan than you’d like that’s good news.   The scriptures overflow with the writings of God’s fulfilled promises to his people.  In the book of Exodus we see Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt.  Let’s read what happens when they are stranded between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army in Exodus 14:13-14.   “Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”  Oh, how I love those words!  Perhaps it’s because I find it incredibly difficult to be still or perhaps because this verse brings such imagery to mind.  My God fighting for me.   It is still true today that the God of Moses fights for us if we will be still and let Him work.  I wonder how often he stares at us shaking his head and thinking silly child, get out of my way and let me work.  Our God loves us as much as He ever loved Moses, or David, or Paul, or Abraham.   And if you will be still and let him work He is capable of fighting these battles for you. 
·        Tough times make you stronger.  I know this one seems like a no brainer but it’s still worth mentioning.  When I look back on everything God has brought us through I understand now why He allowed us to endure it to begin with.  Sometimes the lessons we learn in the valley can be learned no other way.  Sometimes the person we become is far better because of the battle scars we have earned.  And here’s another thing I’ve noticed.  The more difficult things get the more I reach for Christ.  The closer I want to be to Him.  The more I long for home.  Because I know that whatever or whomever I may lose in this world I’m still going to have Him.  I hold fast to Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 
·        Don’t lose your focus.  This past year I started noticing some odd symptoms, tingling fingers, pain that radiated down my arm, and then things got worse, and I got scared.  When I could no longer ignore the pain my doctor ordered an MRI and the diagnosis threw me off my game, which I suspect was just what Satan ordered.  Two bulging discs, degenerative arthritis in my spine, and cervical stenosis.  Wow.  Didn’t these people know I have three children to raise and one on another continent to go pick up?  I wish I could tell you I was some sort of Christian powerhouse that handled everything without missing a step but the truth is I panicked.  And here’s why.  I took my eyes off Jesus and started playing the what if game.  You know that game, right?  What if things get worse?  What if I need surgery?  What if I become disabled?  And on and on and on my imagination went down the rabbit hole of disaster.  I’m fairly sure Satan was enjoying himself immensely.  Meanwhile I was miserable.  Not only was my physical pain getting worse but my anxiety was reaching an all time high.  Fear was around every corner of my mind.  It was excruciating.  And for a few weeks God seemed very far away.  And I lost my focus.  Until some amazing women prayed over me.  No, I didn’t get better overnight.  But my broken spirit received their prayers like a dying crop in need of rain.  And I began to pray for strength, and healing, and peace.  I stopped trying to control an uncontrollable situation and started focusing on what I’m meant to do, serving Christ in whatever way that I can.  After many months of prayers, treatments, and physical therapy I’m better, not completely, but still, I’m much better.  The truth is, I may never be who I was before, but guess what?  That’s ok, because I’m focused on the One who called my name.  I love what Paul tells us in Acts 20:24, “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  Oh, that God will give me the strength to just keep taking that next step and to keep telling that next person about him and  all the amazing things He has done!
·        Pray, Pray, and Pray some more.  When you are in the midst of the battle I can promise you that you will understand the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states, “Pray without ceasing.”    You will learn to live those words day in and day out.  Prayer will become like a jacket you wear every moment of everyday. You will reach for it and the assurance it brings and you will soon wonder how you ever made it through the day without uttering small prayers of thanks, of strength, of gratitude and of forgiveness.  There’s something else that might surprise you too.  You will learn how to better pray for others.  You will see their pain and without being prompted or asked you will lift their name to the one that created them and ask for mercy on their behalf.  You will intercede for people over and over because you will understand what it means to suffer.  You will have a depth of compassion that you never knew existed and you will be thankful for it.
·        Christ has already won the war and we’re going home.  I saved the best one for last.  No matter what happens to us here on this earth.  No matter how deep the valley.  No matter how intense the battles.  No matter what we must endure physically, mentally, or emotionally.  We are still going home.  And that’s the best news there is.  Satan may try to tell you otherwise.  He may try to convince you that this pain will last forever, but truly it won’t.  It really, really won’t.  Because the One who saved us has already risen.  So take comfort in the words of the One who defeated death so you don’t have to, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3 I don’t know about you other battle worn warriors but I’m ready to go home.  I’m ready to get out of the valley for good and live on the mountaintop.  I hear the views are to die for.