Last May found me in a particularly glorious time of life. I wrote about the wondrous exhilaration I was experiencing and the joy I was feeling so tangibly. I journalled about the rest I was being given. The peace. The excitement. The encouragement.
I was high on life. I was in the Oasis.
And I'm here today to report that I've moved on. The hands on the clock have kept on ticking, the days have kept on coming, and I've kept on walking.
So now, here I am. In the Valley. It's quite the place. Rest is hard to come by, whether it's physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional. Quite often my heart feels heavy. The feelings of inspiration and motivation I once knew so well seem to consistently elude my grasp. My mind is tired of thinking, my heart is tired of feeling, and my spirit is tired of waiting.
I went back and read about my time in that Oasis last year. I recalled how my spirit soared each morning. Waking up was a joy! Each evening, my soul sang. I felt like I was being refreshed, renewed, and refilled to the point where I was overflowing! Every day was a gift just waiting to be unwrapped. The days held nothing but encouraging moments and unexpected surprises. I felt closer to God than I'd ever felt. He ministered to my broken spirit and put me back together. He strengthened me and calmed my nerves. He led me beside still waters. He made me lie down in green pastures. He restored my soul.
I was on top of the world. I was at peace. And so, I reveled in the beauty of that wondrous time. I drank of God's mercies to my heart's content. I delighted in spending my time reading His Word and learning new things every day. I ate my fill.
And it's funny. Because even then, I knew that my time there wouldn't last. I knew the Oasis was not my final resting place. I knew that God would give and God would take away. I knew He would lead me through the meadows, and I knew He would lead me through the valleys. And so I took to heart Deuteronomy 6:11-12 which says,
When you have eaten your fill in this land,
be careful not to forget the Lord.
We're funny people, aren't we? In our times of prosperity and wealth, we think we've done it for ourselves. In our times of difficulty and need, we blame God and ask where all His blessings are. He gives, and we take the credit. He takes, and we give Him the blame.
Right now, I'm in the Valley. I'm not gonna live here. I'm not gonna stay. I'm still marching through, I just don't know how big this valley is. I won't know how large it is until I reach the other side. And while I'm here, I'm so tempted to complain. Because it's hot and dry. Growth is scarce. Shade is sparse. The rain doesn't come, but the winds sure blow. My feet hurt, my head aches, my eyelids droop, my steps falter. I'm still moving, but it's nothing like the brisk trot with which I traveled through the meadows.
But I'm still moving. And He's still with me. I'm praying we reach the Oasis soon. I look forward to arriving at the next pasture; the next refreshing river... but once we get there, I want to be able to look back on this time of my life and know that I spent my time in the Valley well. I want to be able to look back with the satisfaction one gets after finishing a marathon, or after acing an exam long-prepared for.
As a university student, I'm enrolled in a number of various classes. And while I have many different profs teaching me many different subjects, the classes are structured very similarly in order to facilitate effective learning. And there are a couple things that I've noticed. Firstly, only about 5% of my grade depends on my attentiveness and participation in class lectures. Not much of my final grade comes from my attendance or engagement in class discussions. Most of my grade rests on the projects, assignments, essays, tests, and exams, because these are where I get a chance to show what I've learned. They are where I can prove that I've retained the knowledge I've been taught.
Imagine if you had a class structured purely around debating, discussing, movie-watching, and lecture-listening. Without any exam to prepare for or any paper to research for, it would be a breeze! You'd get all the "fun" aspects of a class without the stress of a final or the intimidation of a major project. You could simply show up, play the part, have a good time, feel inspired, and then move on with your day. It wouldn't matter if you retained what you "learned" during each lecture, because you would never have to actually practice it. And by the end of the semester, you may remember having good times and participating in lively discussions, but there wouldn't be much tenable proof of your learning. When pressed, it would be hard to come up with any firm knowledge. Your education would not have much substance to it.
It's the same way in life. Last May, as I wandered through the Oasis, I learned about trusting. Now that I'm in the Valley, I actually need to trust. In the meadows, I learned about endurance. Here, in the Valley, I actually need to endure. Back in the green pastures, I learned about patience. Now, in the Valley, I actually need to be patient! The Oasis is where we are renewed and encouraged. The Oasis is where we may learn and discover and grow without resistance. But the Valley is where the rubber meets the road. The Valley is where all of our learning is tested and shown its worth. If the Oasis is for our theoretical education, the Valley is for the practical application.
Deuteronomy 8:2-5 - "Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.
Jesus taught His disciples to trust and obey. To have faith. Then He sent them into the storm so that they could practice it. God showed the Israelites His mighty hand in Egypt. He displayed His power that they might believe. He rescued them so that they would see that He is their protector. Then He brought them into the wilderness for 40 years so that they could actually live by the principles they'd been taught. He humbled and tested them to prove their character; to find out whether or not the things they'd seen and witnessed actually made a difference in their hearts.
Even Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days for the purpose of being tempted. He knew that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. But in the desert, he got a chance to live that out. He knew not to put God to the test, but it was in the desert that He actually practiced that principle. He knew to bow to no one except God the Father, but in the desert He got the chance to stand firm by that Truth. He got the chance to face the lies. To say "No!" to temptation. And after He was tempted, He came forth as gold. He was given what He needed. He aced the exam. The things He knew were tested with fire and shown to be worth more than just words.
I want to ace this exam. I don't want to "barely pass." I don't want to come through this valley dragging my feet and feeling defeated- not when I have the chance to prove the worth of the things I've learned! The tests are effective for our growth. The hard times are where the progress we've made becomes real instead of imagined. The Valley is where the concepts we've been taught get to come into play. The desert is where our words become actions. Where our faith becomes stretched and strengthened. It's a fight, but it's a good fight! I don't know how much farther I must go before I reach the other side of this Valley, but I know that I want to succeed. I don't want to jog to simply get to the finish line, I want to run the race to win!
I've prayed for courage, but courage is produced only in the face of fear. I've prayed for patience, but patience is only developed through frustrations. I've prayed for faith, but faith grows stronger through stretching circumstances; it must survive doubt. I've prayed for endurance, but endurance is only strengthened when we want to give up, but don't. I've prayed for wisdom, but wisdom is practiced when there are difficult decisions to make. I've prayed for more focus, but higher focus is only useful in distracting settings. I've prayed for obedience, but obedience is only learned through the actual act of dying to oneself and following Christ.
I don't want to be the person who merely talks. I do enough of that, already. I don't want to talk and write about how I've "learned so much about trusting God" during the easy times, and then lose all heart during the hard times. I don't want to merely talk about how much I'm learning about patience during the good times, and then give way to my frustrations and bitterness and anger during the rough times. I want my life and my words to match up. I want my faith and works to align. I want my knowledge and my deeds to be one and the same.
I've prayed for growth. And He's given me that chance by leading me into this Valley. And once He leads me to the next Oasis, I pray that I will be able to look back on this Valley and say with confidence:
Job 23:10 - "But He knows the way that I take. When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.