Hills and Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I read a devotion at Crosswalk.com that was originally published on September 22, 2017, titled, 3 New Ways to Think about Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of the Transformed4More Ministries, that she runs with her identical twin sister. I bookmarked that devotion as I wanted to go back and study it later as Psalm 23 is not only a universally loved and recognized psalm in the Bible, but one of my favorites that I use when I’m praying. Here is what she wrote:

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

  • God will meet our needs.
  • He will give us peace.
  • He will restore us.
  • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

One thing I’ve discovered about life is that it, at various times, is not anything like I thought it might be as it has unfolded, and this became very clear to me in the past dozen years. I needed to take some time to think about Question #2 above as during these past dozen years I felt like I had taken up residence “in the valley,” and I had no idea how to move beyond it as it almost seemed like I was trapped there by unseen forces beyond my control that were not willing to yield no matter how hard I tried to open the doors, whether I was trying to find another job for many years after I lost my last job a dozen years ago, or trying to find affordable housing to rent on a very low income for years, too, that never materialized.

As the author states in part of the answer to Question #2 above:

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.  (Quote source here.)

While there is no doubt that at times over these past dozen years I’ve gotten “bogged down” in my circumstances, in no way did I ever want to “pitch my tent in the valley” and stay there. And I am absolutely not the “wallowing” type. Also, I found myself getting frustrated when so much of what I read from “Christian” sources always seemed to put the onus back on us (me, in this case) to change as if I had any kind of control over the circumstances I found myself in (I could control my attitude, but not the circumstances). Every day over these past dozen years I’ve “put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out,” as stated above. And he has walked with me through each and every day, but it is nothing like what I thought it might turn out to be like when this situation first started a dozen years ago that turned my life upside down from life as I knew it before that happened.

During this time, and specifically the last six plus years when I was forced to live in hotel rooms as the only housing option I could find, I was practically begging God at various times to get me out from under hotel room living (for one thing, it’s expensive and it’s a very transient way to live especially with other guests coming and going all the time). During those six years I had applied for a low income senior apartment at a variety of senior apartment complexes in two different states where I lived, and I was put on waiting lists that I never heard back from time and again. I didn’t know anyone who had come close to having the same issues I had when it came to trying to find a low income senior apartment. In fact, I had a friend who got right into an apartment in a very large low income senior apartment complex the first time she went there looking for an apartment, and I had inquired about renting an apartment there three separate times over a several-year period, and I was told all three times that I would have to wait at least a year or longer for an apartment to become available. However, they never called me back, nor did they return my calls when I called to inquire where I stood on their waiting list.

As I mentioned above, I am not a “wallower”; I’m a “doer.” But I felt like no matter what I tried to do, I kept running up against walls that were a mile high, a mile wide, and a mile deep. I spent six years starting from the first day after I lost that job a dozen years ago looking for another job that never materialized; and that job search overlapped into the first year of the six-year hotel living saga that started in 2014 at the same time I was forced to take Social Security at the age of 62 just to have any income again. I was not wallowing in self-pity; but I was very angry and very, very frustrated, although I never let it show.

I can vouch for all the “doers” out there who are not inclined to “wallow” during the valley times they find themselves in as they go through life. It is frustrating when nothing you try to do ever works out (and I have been covering all of it in prayer for years now, too). But in the midst of all of my frustration and anger, I believe with every fabric of my being that God is sovereign; that God is still in control; and that my faith is still very much intact.

Six months ago my six-year hotel room living saga finally ended. I published a blog post regarding it on my second blog titled, A New Beginning,” so I won’t repeat that information in this post. While the “valley” of hotel room living has ended, there are still other “valleys” as well as hills on the landscape that have to do with the changing forces going on in our society today, and those affect all of us at some point and in some way (the Covid-19 pandemic that started over a year ago is just one example).

In a devotion published on September 19, 2020, on InTouch Ministries titled, The Believer’s Valley Experiences” by Dr. Charles Stanley, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church and founder of InTouch Ministries, he writes:

Have you ever had heartache so deep or hardship so difficult that it’s almost impossible to stand? Like a giant wave crashing on the shore, some trials threaten to overwhelm us.

We all experience valleys in life. They might be of our own making—for instance, when we choose to disobey God and our fellowship with Him grows cold. Or perhaps other people cause our suffering, in situations such as job termination, marital infidelity, or betrayal by a friend. And sometimes our heavenly Father Himself leads us into the valley. Although He could steer us around suffering, He chooses not to because He has a specific purpose in mind.

Psalm 23 uses four words to describe these valley experiences: shadow, death, fear, and evil. These terms evoke images of oppressive circumstances, grievous affliction, and deep discomfort, and there is no way to hurry through them. That’s because both the depth and length of the trial are determined by the Lord.

Thankfully, God promises to be with us and to use every valley—even those of our own making—for our benefit (Rom. 8:28). It is our job to walk steadily, attuned to His presence and trusting in His promises. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post, Hills and Valleys,” actually comes from a song I heard this past week on YouTube (see YouTube video below). I’ve spent most of this blog post focusing on the valleys, so I will end it with a focus on the hills from Psalm 121:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out…

And your coming in . . .

From this time forth . . .

And even forevermore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here