I was given a tremendous privilege to write a chapter for a good friend’s new book. Below is what came together. I pray that it will edify the church of Christ and lead many people forward in their walk, in the ministry and unto a life fully devoted to Christ and reaching the lost.
Almost every time I sit down to write, the words from Solomon come to mind, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” I mean, after all, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases in knowledge increases sorrow.” For indeed in my affluent and prosperous culture there is a tremendous overabundance of study and study tools. But let me equally emphasis this: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Is it not true though, we study and study and study, yet we have such a lack of true doctrinally sound teaching? I mean, who really can fathom the depths of God’s grace, mercy and loving-kindness? Truer yet, have we not a greater lack of those who have been ravished by God’s word and are living in the light and power of the truth? Oh that if just one person hears, one person responds, one person receives the working power of Christ’s grace, all the writing, all the hours, all the tears, all the prayers are indeed worth it as all of heaven applauds such a one.
In recent days I find it much more necessary for the Word of God to have first transformed me before I ever attempt to help anyone else or sit down to pen the most basic of words. The Lord has led me to a place where I am utterly sickened over my sinful presumptions, my disloyal attitudes and my judgmental hypocrisy. I am completely worn out from my personal opinions relating to nearly everything. My perspective is in desperate need of repentance, repair and realignment in comparison to the Word of God and true humility. I am just so tired of my indwelt humanism, you know, that sin which is still lingering so deeply within my heart deceiving me into thinking I must preserve and promote myself. It is a wretched condition and one I can earnestly say as the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who (dare I say when?) will deliver me from this body of death?” It is utterly a spiritual desert valley.
Having said these things, my desire is that the body of Christ, as a whole and individually, would be encouraged to strive forward in power, peace, humility, love and endurance. Although valleys do and will come, we are to live victoriously, with reality, in the midst of every trial. Below I hope to share with you some points that I pray will be a help to us all. The Lord Himself knows exactly where each one of us is at. For if we are truly converted, He will meet us, help us, and lovingly discipline us. May we be given ears to hear, eyes to see and understanding to apply His Word amidst every circumstance in this short life on earth. Oh that we would be about the discipleship process of following our Lord in a powerful authenticity this very day.
Driven To The Valley
“The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.”
How many of us have been in a spiritual desert in recent days? Ever been in a place of dryness, dullness, and to a greater degree, a pit of utter despair, turmoil, trial and the like? Or what about temptations that seems to be so overwhelming in your life? Spiritually speaking, valleys take all shapes and sizes for each one of us, especially for the truly converted. The question for us is, how shall we respond?
Let me suggest that we look first, foremost, and always, to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, our Author and Perfecter of our faith, our Rock and Cornerstone, our great high priest, our great comforter; for He has “suffered when tempted,” and in Him we can look and trust upon. Let us place our gaze, our attention, our desires, all upon Him, not in mere ministry, nor church attendance, but Jesus Christ alone.
In the Scriptures it is written that, Jesus was led, and according to Mark’s account of the Gospel, Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God to be tempted. I am absolutely amazed that Jesus was led in such a way. He was literally led to the desert to be tempted by Satan himself in order “to be made like his brothers in every respect” that He would become our “faithful high priest” and to become our “propitiation.” Amazing! I am ever so thankful that God does not tempt us nor deliver us unto temptation. Although I am tempted due to my own sinfulness and wicked desires, I praise God I have a faithful Savior to whom I can run. Thank God, most literally, that Christ withstood the temptations and gives us His Spirit so that we can stand alert and strong when temptation comes our way.
Only after I find myself in a spiritual desert, dried up and weak, do I begin to realize that my eyes, my ears, my focus, my attention, my ambition, my resolve, my head has again turned to gaze upon other things. It’s as if, at least at times, I have deceived myself and become side-tracked onto to second and third “bests” in my life. I become distracted and sidelined and often become busy with lesser things, things that are not eternal, things that may even seem good. Blessed be the God whose mercies are new every day. Oh the chance to be disciplined because of His great love, to receive the power of the Spirit to right my wrong perceptions, and have my eyes set back upon the Son. Oh that we would never lose sight of Christ and be ever so willing to be obedient to the corrections and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Let me ask you, are you experiencing a valley, a desert, a dry place? If you are new to the Christian faith, rest assured, they will come. If you are there now, or may soon find yourself, know that what may be needed more than the direct changing of your situation and people in your life, may just be your perception and directional acuity. It may be that your perception has forgotten the working power of God in your life and your vision has not Christ as truly central. As long as today is called today, seek to hear from Him, know Him and walk with Him. Cast your vision on Him alone, the One who was driven into the desert. He knows and understands.
I pray that we would become more and more grounded in the love and grace of God and that our hope and faith in God would grow ever increasing, with obedience to the Spirit of God. I hope and pray that our response while walking amid dry places would be our continual transformation by the Scriptures, with eyes locked on Christ, led by the Spirit, and marked by the understanding that “God works all things” for our eternal good.
“Jesus did not entrust Himself to them…”
My next point is not one of great popularity, and although may be a sticking point for many, it is one that is absolutely necessary and something I ponder often. The verse above carries a weighty warning and prophetic truth that we dare not run from. If we will give heed to the full council of God’s Word and not bypass similar passages, we will be greatly helped as our way will be made straight and our lives found true. If we have been genuinely converted unto new life in Christ, having become dead unto our sins, we will embrace these truths.
There is no doubt we are commanded to examine ourselves to see if Christ has indeed been formed in us. As we enter into the valleys of life, it is good for us, and not only in the valleys alone, to take a close look at the profession of our faith. Has Christ been truly wrought about in our lives? Has He “entrusted Himself” to us? Has the Spirit of almighty God spoken to our spirit that we are indeed His children? Especially when we are being tempted, we need to be reminded of who we are in Christ, or come to the awareness that we are not His. For if we desire not to be told, “be away from Me,” we must be “born again.” Being led by the Spirit in putting to death the deeds of the flesh is an absolute reality of those whose sins have been forgiven.
Unfortunately, all too often, I find myself being like those who Jesus “did not entrust Himself,” you know, like one who is making a mere profession but is really living in unbelief. You see, for me it is good that I, at least every so often, compare myself to this passage and ask, “Has Jesus entrusted Himself to me?” It’s not that I am questioning my ultimate salvation, but in this I find much needed correction and realignment; I am brought to see, yet again, my great need for Christ and am granted repentance of my unbelief.
The gravity of Jesus “not entrusting Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man,” should stand as both a strong warning for me to have the utmost reverence and holy fear of God, and at the same time, remind me of what has been done on account of my sin. This should remind me that He became my propitiation when I was guilty, remind me that He drank down the cup of my deserved wrath, remind me of what I have in Him, and remind me of how I ought to be thankful, act in love, and place all of my hope and trust in Him at all times. For how could I complain when He, being innocent, “did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
For the genuine believer, examination is not of condemnation but of encouragement to strive forward with Christ. In doing so, let us never compare ourselves to ourselves nor to others, but let us do so in light of the Scriptures, by the convictions of the Spirit, and with Christ square in our sights. You see, if indeed we have been saved, then we are no longer strangers but those who have been grafted into the “true vine.”
We must come to understand what areas of worldliness we have attached ourselves. Are we one with Christ or living in cohesion with the world? Are we living the realities of the new life free from the bondages of sin or living in sin? If we have been grafted into the “vine,” then could it not be said that maybe, just maybe, the valley we are in, whether led into by the Spirit or due to some circumstance of our own, may actually be for the Vinedresser to prune out the area(s) of our life whereby we will begin to flourish tenfold. “What shall we say then?”
Let us consider what Christ has done for us and may we never lose sight of His great work. Are we entrusted grafts or apostate without hope? Shall we continue in unbelief, nor use grace as an excuse to sin? Never!
A Valley or a Thorn?
“…a thorn was given me in the flesh…”
Only a few months ago I was standing in my kitchen and for the first time in my life I completely blacked out. After about 5 minutes, I slowly began to wake up, with my wife and oldest daughter standing over me, a pool of blood on the floor, completely blind and unable to talk. As I lay on my side, and the pain became tremendous, and I mumbled to my wife, “I know my neck is broke – call 9-1-1.”
At the hospital my inclinations were proven true. My fall was so hard, that not only did I break my neck in three areas, but I hit the back of my head with a force that broke a bone in my face. I had a laceration on the top of my head that went down to my skull. After my initial examination and head scan, the Emergency Room doctor said that I would be shipped to a larger hospital for further care.
There was a pivotal point which radically changed my entire outlook and gave me great comfort. While I was still in the emergency room, and on the C.T. (computed tomography) table, I said, “Oh Lord, I am in tremendous pain, there is no way I can lay on this back board for another few hours, especially if I have to be transferred.” Almost immediately this came to my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you, even in this.” I answered, “Lord, I do not even know what this means.”
Now I knew the verse, I had read it many times in the past, but this time I had a dilemma on my hands. What would I do, trust God or focus on my agony? What do I do with a verse I do not fully comprehend? Within moments afterward, I was given a tremendous peace and He caused me to focus on Christ and His finished work. Literally my mind was given over to the “things above.” My affections, my desires, my thoughts were only upon Him. Oh what a sweet and close time of fellowship I had with the Lord during those three days, even during the 30 hours of intense nausea and vomiting and tremendous pain.
Now the question at hand became clear among some, was I entering a valley or was it a thorn? Was this of God, the Devil, or some fault of mine? To answer this really does not matter to me, and although we have gained some insight on what happened, it was my reality at the time as I was lying there in pain. Amazingly, my circumstance was turned into a tremendous blessing. As I laid there in my neck brace, a blessed thorn was birth as a reminder for me in my life – one that I believe was much needed; although let me assure you, I am not some “super-spiritual” person desiring to go through this again. The Lord used this, proving yet again, the truth of Romans 8:28-29 as a testimony in my life.
There are some significant lessons we can learn from this. It’s not so much of asking, why has this happened, as it is asking, how shall I respond? Thorn or a valley, who cares? Am I seeking Christ or lesser things? Look at Paul, was he not sent a messenger of Satan? Where was Paul’s focus? Was Satan sent so Paul would learn to verbally cast off every pain, every fear, thereby learning to practice shifting all blame somewhere else? Was it not for His response that he would not “become conceited?” Although Satan is a master deceiver, shall I be consumed by focusing on him? Maybe the valley we are in is really not a valley at all, but really a thorn and perception that is in need of repentance. Maybe the Lord is trying to get our attention causing us to see ourselves for who we really are and bring us to a place where we are truly humbled and trusting upon Him. For in the way of humility comes much grace, but the proud are against God. For when we are humbled, grace comes flowing showing us that God “will work all things for our good” and we can “count it all joy” being thankful at all times.
Whether it’s a thorn or a valley, or maybe some combination of the two, are you in need of more of God’s overwhelming grace? If so, then let the Lord bring about an increasing humility. Although it would be far better for us to humble ourselves, the fact is that often we are unaware of how much pride we are carrying. Oh that we would count far more as joy, being thankful, and showing increasing love, patience and grace to those around us. Lord, grip our hearts for the things that move Yours. Amen.
Stay the Course
“Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
My final point is that we would be encouraged not to rush God in doing His good work in us while amidst the valleys. Remember, there is a season for everything and God is in ultimate control. Although we must never presume upon His riches, goodness, mercies nor grace, we are to pray, hope, and trust that He indeed is for us.
Let us run headlong into the “strength of His might,” putting on the “whole armor of God.” May we run the course “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Oh that we would “keep alert with all perseverance” and “making supplication for all the saints.” For us to stay the course we must come to understand God’s working is for our eternal good and lasting “full effect, that you(we) may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In the midst of various valleys, many of which are extremely difficult, we need to remain steadfast, fulfilling the reality of our conversion, the demonstration of the power of Christ in us to live godly and deny worldliness. For in and through Christ, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” The Apostle Peter thought “it was right” as long as he was walking the earth to stir us up to the reminder of the “qualities” we have been given.
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you and entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Let us remember here, this is not a call for human work added to salvation, nor an attempt to earn salvation by our good works, nor to justify a form of legalism whereby we amend grace with our efforts – no, never! Rather, this way is given to us, those truly converted, having had His laws written on our hearts, with new desires, new power, and to be fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we find that we are without understanding amidst the process of waiting out the valleys and unable to “count it all joy” when we “meet trials of various kinds,” then let us “ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given” to us.
Let me pause here a moment to warn us all, for if we do not “ask in faith,” we are double-minded. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” “He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Let us take heed, we should expect nothing from the Lord if we are “double-minded” and “unstable in all” our ways.
Closing with some final thoughts, let me say this, often we may feel that God is nowhere to be found, that He does not answer prayer, and that He really does not care for us. When you think about this, are we not really saying, “I am assuming God to be an unloving harsh taskmaster who is more concerned in ‘beating me behind the woodshed’ than He is lavishing His love upon me and walking with me through the valley with open arms.” Are we not saying, “Oh I believe in grace to a degree of sorts, but I must add my attitude, my workings, my emotions, my ‘sinlessness’ onto my belief of grace so as to please God and then feel ‘I’ have achieved some ‘spiritual’ place in the Father’s eyes.” Are we not saying, “Has not Christ indeed died for no purpose.” Oh how blind we really are. If in the valleys we are not resting and trusting upon the fully finished work of Christ, the grace freely given us and paid for by way of Him becoming our propitiation, we indeed are in sin and in need of repentance of our unbelief.
For nothing can I add, nor nothing can I bring;
oh to the cross, cling to the cross, for my Savior alone will I sing.
You see, like Peter, we must all answer the question, especially amidst our valleys, “Who do you say I am?” What are we really doing with Christ? Who or what are we really trusting upon? Lord, really?
Do I live my life in light of the claim to Him that I make?
If I make such a bold statement that Christ indeed is my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer, then for what motivation has led me such a way? Was it because of rote memorization? Was it religious affiliation? Was it my upbringing? Or was it because of my emotions or mental ascent? Has my motivations been given me by the effectual working of God’s powerfully converting grace, grace that has made my heart anew, in reality, and unto a trusting in Jesus Christ alone – plus nothing? Has my sin become a stench in my nose and wormwood to my taste? Am I loving what He loves? What has propelled me to say, “You Jesus are Lord?” How then shall I live?
Let us never leave our first love, and may we not be deceived “from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” It is by grace we have been saved and this through faith in Jesus Christ. Now, if grace is what we need in order to be saved, then what makes us think we can do anything, that is by human means, to really please God? The moment we take the true grace of God out of our life, we run head long into legalism. And the moment we use grace as our excuse to reject obedience to Christ, we enter into sins of all sorts deceiving ourselves. Both extremes are wrong, and if left in either state without repentance, the proof we never were of Him will become evident. Let us seek to walk with Christ in humility and in the simplicity and purity of devotion.
“Yet, dear brethren, none of these things furnish us with an excuse for falling into a low state, and it may possibly be true that our mental decline is the result of our weak spiritual condition. It may be that we have left our first love, that we have wandered away from the simplicity of our faith, that we have back-slidden in heart, and grieved the Holy Spirit, so that our God walks contrary to us because we walk contrary to Him. Perhaps the rain is withheld because prayer has been restrained, and the heavenly wind has ceased to blow because we have been too indolent to spread the sail. Has there been no unbelief to hinder the blessing? We often talk of unbelief as if it were an affliction to be pitied instead of a crime to be condemned. For us to give the lie to Him who has unveiled the secrets of His heart to us, and almost, I was about to say, gone out of His way to bless us in an extraordinary and unusual manner, must pain the great Father’s heart. Perhaps we feel less love to Jesus than we once did, less zeal in doing His work, and less anguish for the souls of others; if so, it is no wonder that we enjoy less of the presence of God, and are soon cast down. If the root is not strong, how can the branches flourish?”
 Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV (All Scriptures in this chapter will come from the English Standard Version [ESV] unless otherwise noted.)
 Ecclesiastes 1:18
 Hosea 4:6
 John 15:7, 10
 Romans 12:1-2
 Matthew 7:3-5
 Jeremiah 17:9
 Romans 7:24
 Mark 1:12
 Hebrews 12:2
 Hebrews 2:18
 Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1
 Mark 1:12
 Hebrews 2:17
 James 1:13
 Matthew 6:13
 James 1:14
 Hebrews 12:6
 Hebrews 3:13
 See author’s book, Foothills of True Grace
 Romans 8:28-29
 John 2:24
 Romans 6:11
 Regarding true conversion, see this author’s book, Realities of a True Christian.
 2 Corinthians 13:5
 Romans 8:16
 Matthew 7:21-23
 John 3
 Romans 8:13-14
 John 2:23-25
 John 2:24-25
 1 Peter 2:23 (22-24)
 2 Corinthians 10:12
 Ephesians 2:19
 John 15:1-19
 Romans 6:1 (5:12-6:14)
 2 Corinthians 12:7
 Colossians 3:1-2
 2 Corinthians 12:7
 James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5
 James 1:2
 Ephesians 5:20
 2 Chronicles 7:14
 James 1:4
 Ecclesiastes 3:1
 Ephesians 1:11 (sovereignty of God)
 Romans 2:3
 Romans 8:31
 Ephesians 6:10
 Ephesians 6:11
 Ephesians 6:18
 2 Peter 1:3
 2 Peter 1:12-13
 2 Peter 1:8 – read all of 2 Peter 1:3-15
 2 Peter 1:8-11; also see the author’s book, Christian, A Dangerous Title To Claim
 Jeremiah 31:33
 James 1:2
 Hebrews 11:6
 2 Peter 1:4
 James 1:8
 Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20
 Revelation 2:4-5
 2 Corinthians 11:3
 Ephesians 2:8
 Galatians 3:1-3
 Romans 6:15
 Charles Spurgeon, “An All-Round Ministry”, Chapter five, “A New Departure.”