A few days ago, a twenty-two-year-old young man lost his battle with cancer. His dad sent me a message telling me he died a “good and glorious death” with his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But he leaves behind a grieving family that somehow must continue to walk through life in spite of their sorrow. This week, I have another friend who is beginning his own battle with cancer. He is sixty-seven. Both of these families have a strong faith. They model that faith in their valley of sorrow.
The road that passes through the valley of sorrow is a very old road. For millennia, people have passed that way. Their experiences are all different. However, families of faith who pass through that valley, leave behind a legacy for others who will follow.
In the Old Testament, one such valley is mentioned. It is called the Valley of Baca. Baca means weeping. The verses themselves describes the experience of those who pass through that valley.
5 How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! 6 Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. 7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7 (NASB)
First, we are not able to face sorrow in our own strength.
How strong are you? I know how strong I used to be—or thought I was.I prided myself on my ability to endure—to outlast. But I have learned that time takes a toll on a person’s strength. With every passing year you are less the person that you were. Circumstances also take a toll on a person’s strength. With every problem laid upon your shoulders, your load becomes heavier and heavier, until finally your strength buckles under the load. Likewise, Sorrow takes a toll on a person’s strength. Your emotional muscles can only handle so much, and then you reach your breaking point when you can handle no more. Sin takes a toll on a person’s strength—weakens you—infects your life– until it eats away your spiritual self-confidence, and you learn your heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick. Life takes a toll on a person’s strength until you find you have no strength at all. That is why the Psalmist wrote: “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You.”
“I am bold to say, from Scripture and from experience, that no man ever felt or ever knew, spiritually and experimentally, what it was to put his trust and confidence in God, who had not been deeply emptied, one whose strength had been turned into weakness, his wisdom into folly, and his loveliness into corruption.” J. C. Philpot 1846
Some experience of life will inevitably leave you “deeply emptied” and passing through the valley of sorrow. In that experience you will come to the end of your own strength. It may come at the hands of some trial or trouble, or some personal physical weakness, or even some spiritual calamity that leaves you face down in defeat after some battle with the enemy of your soul. In that valley of sorrow, you will come to know and depend on God alone.
Second, the sorrows we face in this life, though a part of our journey, are not our destination.
This verse has reference to those who were walking the long road to Jerusalem. They were pilgrims on their way to worship. It was not always an easy journey. Baca may refer to a location passed through during their pilgrimage. Perhaps it was a place of great difficulty and great danger, but in this Psalm, Baca refers to the tears shed by those who pass through perilous times. They were on their way to an earthly city, but their hearts were aimed heavenward. They possessed a hope beyond this life. Like Abraham, they were looking for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 (NASB)
Zion is an earthly place. Zion is also a heavenly place—a place to which we have never been, but the road there is marked in our heart. That road to heaven begins at the foot of the cross of Jesus, and the way from there is simple. We simply follow Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh to the Father but by Me. John 14:6 (NASB)
Are the highways to Zion in your heart? Have you set your heart on a pilgrimage? People of faith are, as the old hymn says, “marching to Zion.” In your heart, you are marching to Zion, even though your feet may be locked behind prison doors. In your heart, you are marching to Zion, even though you may be trapped in a crippled body. You travel the roads to Zion when you pray, when you worship, when you open the pages of Scripture. Your heart is on pilgrimage. Jesus is the True North of your soul, and your heart, like a compass, always turns toward Him.
Your journey of following Jesus may take you through the Valley of Baca. Some people experience trial and judge God by the fact of their trial. I have a burden, so I must not have His blessing. I have a sickness, so I must not have His spirit. I have a problem, so I must not have His Presence. Others experience trial comforted that they have the promise of God’s presence. Even though they pass through difficulty, even though their soul is pressed by problems and their eyes are filled with tears, they look for God’s presence, for God’s providence, and God’s peace in the midst of that trial. And they find it! I should say they find HIM!
Third, people of faith, though passing through the valley of sorrow, leave their mark on that valley, making it easier for others who pass that way.
Their testimony is that even though they experienced trial, trouble and sorrow, they also experienced God’s Presence. As bitter as their trouble was, the comfort they received from God was sweeter and more precious, so that the valley is to be remembered not so much as the place where they met trouble, but the place where they met God. My friends, who I mentioned earlier will meet God in their valley of sorrow. In the days ahead, I will hear the story of God’s incredible strength that enabled them to pass through that valley. Are you in that Valley? Are you looking for God there?
The Psalmist said that these people who travel through the valley of sorrow make it a place of springs. How is that so? When pilgrims passed through this difficult valley on their way to Jerusalem, sometimes it was made difficult from scorching heat or blowing dust. At other times, when passing through that valley, they faced sickness or sorrow. They were forced to stop there. Out of necessity, they dug a well in this dry, parched valley. Time after time, pilgrim after pilgrim, trial after trial, they dug well after well, until the time came when that desolate place became a place of springs. Those who travelled that way after them would find refreshment there, because a brother or a sister had travelled that road,and while there, dug a well.
If you are walking through a dark valley, and if in that valley the Lord meets you, and refreshes you, are you not equipped to come to someone else in that same valley and offer them the refreshment that you received from God? That has been true in my own life. There have been moments when I faced a season of difficulty that seemed to me as dark as midnight. It seemed to me as if I would never find my way. Then, some person would come alongside me and say, “Brother, I’ve sat where you sit.” And they told me of their own time in that dark valley and how God brought them out. And though their light brought only a spark to my darkness, it was a spark from the heart of God. And though it was only a small, weak, refreshment, I was so thirsty for a single drop of His mercy that I found myself grateful beyond words!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB)
In my bondage, He is my Deliverer! In my weakness, He is my Strength! In my sickness, He is my Healer! On my deathbed, He is the Resurrection and the Life! In my sorrow, He is my Comfort! In my darkness, He is my Light! In the guilt of my sin, in Him is Redemption through His blood the Forgiveness of my sin! In my lostness, He is my Savior! In the face of my greatest fears, He is my Hiding place! In my storm, He is my Shelter! In my poverty, He is my Provider! At my wits end, He is my Hope! When I am not who I ought to be, He is still I AM WHO I AM! He is the God of all comfort—the God who is always there and always cares!
These are the people who the Psalmist says are blessed. Their strength is in God. They passed through the Valley of Baca and found God’s refreshment there. They become a fountain of refreshment for others.
“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” Isaiah 41:17-18 (NASB)
At one time or another, all of God’s children will pass through the Valley of Baca—the Valley of Sorrow.
As I pray for my friends today who are passing through the valley of sorrow, I also pray for those of you who may read these words. Remember, all of the experiences of this life are transitory. Whatever it is you face, God will bring an end to it. There is another side. There is a brighter day. If you are passing through the valley of sorrow, even that valley is the place of God’s presence.I know that it is a place of darkness. I know it is a place of discouragement. But it is also holy ground. The desolate wilderness is where Moses met God at the burning bush. The lions’ den became the home for angels in the time of Daniel.The fiery furnace, where three Hebrew children thought they would meet their end, is where they met one like unto the Son of God standing with them in the fire.
May God be with you as you pass through the valley of sorrow!
Photo by Madhu Shesharam