Christ’s disciples in 2018 are a fiery bunch.
This generation of believers with its fearless youth and impassioned young adults is up for anything, it seems. They’re more eager than ever to get started on Heaven’s work.
Apostles are practically coming out of the woodwork. We’ve got new converts preaching to congregations, and we’ve got brand-new followers quickly becoming leaders of all sorts of movements and causes.
The Christians of this generation get full points for spirit. Their enthusiasm for the Kingdom oozes out of every conversation and Instagram post. And in a progressively perverse culture that’s running full steam in the opposite direction of Heaven, thank God for the zeal that’s driving the young Church to stand up for righteousness!
These young followers are the ones who get things done. They understand the culture, as wayward as it is, so they have the opportunity to be effective ambassadors from within it. They’re open-minded. They’re accepting. They’re overflowing with love and brimming with excitement for revival. They’re travelling all over the world to spread the joy abroad.
Disciples in 2018 are more eager than ever.
But looking around, I sometimes wonder if eagerness is all there really is.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I count myself as one of these passionate devotees. I’ve been burning with passion for the Kingdom ever since I was a little girl. Just look back for five minutes at some of my earliest articles. You’ll see very quickly that 13-year-old Karis was a bit of a zealot. And while I may chuckle at my youthful vigour and fierce fervour, I don’t apologize for it one bit. The first moment that I was struck with the weight of our work as the hands and feet of God, my heart was set on fire.
From that point on, I dreamed day and night of travelling to impoverished villages to preach the Gospel. I envisioned myself speaking in front of thousands of people, calling the lost to come to Christ. I imagined myself discipling crowds of strangers everywhere I’d go. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful,” (Matthew 9:37) and I was determined to be the one to gather it all.
I never lacked the passion. The flame of enthusiasm I had within me brought me to tears many a night, because I simply couldn’t wait to get started. I wanted to grow up so that I could do something. I wanted to move out so that I could change things. I wanted to get on with the program and start living for something that truly mattered instead of studying for spelling tests and writing book reports.
Come to think of it, that desperate junior high impatience is what birthed this blog in the first place. It was my way of jumping the gun; I wanted to get ahead of schedule. I didn’t have to wait until I graduated, I could start witnessing from my own home!
No, I was never in need of passion. But as time dragged on, I learned that I did need something else.
I needed a walk through the Valley.
And walk through the Valley, I did. Just as the Good Shepherd had led me through green pastures and beside quiet waters, so did He lead me into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I was led, feet dragging, right into the darkness of a very long night.
I know the Valley looks different for everybody. Sickness, loneliness, addiction, anxiety, financial destitution, conflict—no Valley looks quite the same. But while everything about me looked alright from the outside, my Valley was entirely internal.
My walk through the Valley brought me more pain than I’d ever experienced before. It was a time of intense inner turmoil, and it was exhausting. I was confused. I was asking questions I’d never before asked, and receiving answers I’d never wanted. I was digging deeper in my heart than I’d ever dared to go . . . and what I uncovered discouraged me to no end. My introspection revealed flaws that I’d once thought were strengths. My honest searching yielded some of the most humiliating discoveries.
And that crucible felt like an eternity. Every single day, God brought another flaw up from the depths of my heart and broadcasted it before my eyes. He took my desires and showed them to be trivial. He ripped my identity off of me like a flimsy mask. He took my dreams and goals and plans and opened my eyes to the selfish ambition festering beneath all of them.
God took His chisel to my heart and scraped away the sins I loved the most. He tore from my hands things that I would never have let go of on my own. He took my purest attributes and showed me how filthy they truly were; He took my holiest thoughts and feelings of devotion, and revealed the pride hiding within them. God took everything that I thought made me who I was, and He turned it all upside-down and inside-out. All I could do was look around at the smouldering remains of everything I’d ever treasured and ask, “What next, God?!”
There was always something next. One more secret sin to humiliate me, one more stubborn stain to be scrubbed. But eventually, we made it to the other side. And then, after an agonizingly long season of daily demolition, he began to build me from the ground up—but this time on His terms, not mine.
That was my Valley. And it was good for my soul.
My Valley was discouragement. And discouragement was good for my soul because it caused me to cling to the Lifeline that much more tightly. When I was in despair, God was my only hope, and I felt it in my bones every day. I couldn’t get enough time in the Word, because time spent outside of it sapped my strength savagely. Being alone in prayer was the only place I felt sane. Reading the Scriptures was the only way I could cope.
Discouragement was good for my soul. Because of it, I craved the Lord. I longed for God like the deer pants for streams of water. And even when there was no answer, even when Heaven seemed closed and my prayers seemed futile, it made me pray all the harder.
Now, years after the fact, I think back to the person I was before heading into the Valley. Boy, did she have a lot to learn! I think back to what consumed my thoughts and the way I thought about life, and all I feel is sweet relief that I’m not that girl anymore. Sure, she was enthusiastic. And I’ll always admire her passionate little heart that was ever bursting with excitement. But she couldn’t have changed soon enough. And it took a Valley to make that happen.
Honestly, I think it always takes a Valley.
This is why I look with apprehension at all the hype of the young Church—new believers becoming activists on Day 1, social justice warriors on Day 2, and pastors on Day 3. In the words of Chuck Swindoll, many Churches seem to be “snatching people straight from the birthing process and throwing them in places and positions that require maturity.” Call me a skeptic, (and I’ll likely agree,) but something seems scary to me when a population of ambitious young Christians are already running for the Big Leagues before they’ve had a chance to taste trial.
I know from experience that you can’t magically gain discipline, and neither can you spontaneously gain patience. And while I’ll always be the last one to pooh-pooh enthusiasm, I still wonder if enthusiasm is enough.
Proverbs 12:2 - Even zeal is no good without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps misses the mark.
Why do we ignore the massive precedent of chastisement and development set before us in the Scriptures? Moses had to tend sheep for 40 years in the wilderness before he was ready to tend the flock of Israel. Joseph had to excel as a slave and as a prisoner before he was ready to be Second-in-Command of Egypt. As a young man, he had dreamt that one day his brothers would bow down to him. And it took about 14 years of captivity, slavery, hard work, imprisonment, and huge responsibility before that dream became reality. Abraham had to learn trust and obedience by waiting on the Lord for 25 years before seeing Him come through. Did you know that even the great Apostle Paul, after his conversion, spent 14 years in preparation before his first missionary journey?
The more I read and the more I study these stories written down as examples to us, the more I wonder if a lot of us are bypassing our Valleys. Christianity, at least among young people, is becoming rather trendy. It’s fun to be in community, it’s exciting to have a sense of purpose, and it’s rewarding to “serve.” But I fear that this hip new wave of Christianity is concerned far too much with self-fulfillment, and far too little with true servanthood.
Oswald Chambers put it most succinctly:
The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus
is service to him.
And ain’t that the truth. I’ve learned it the hard way, and I know I’m gonna have to keep on learning it. We are a nation that’s obsessed with productivity, a culture frantic for action. All we do is work. We work to feel worthy, we work to feel valuable. We do and we do and we do, and we don’t leave much time for waiting. Because waiting sounds like laziness, and if you lack ambition in today’s world, you might as well be written off as “obsolete.”
But I think the Bible holds a very different stance on the whole issue. Throughout the Scriptures, it seems like God takes a very special interest in the preparation of His beloved servants. Through pain, trial, and suffering, He slowly and carefully guides them to maturity.
Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72 - Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
Just spend a moment skimming through the Proverbs, and you’ll find no shortage of precedent there for discipline. “The one who loves their child is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24) “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself.” (Proverbs 15:32) Perhaps my favourite passage of all is found in Proverbs 3:11:
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
The Valley is good for the soul. It may be hard on the body and on the mind, it may be emotionally draining and psychologically exhausting, but for those who remain faithful, it’s good for the soul. While my Valley—the first of many that I’m sure will come—was the most difficult experience I’ve endured thus far, I look back on it with nothing but thankfulness. Because surely, to have gone through that and to have become who I am now is infinitely better than to have stayed the person I was at the beginning.
But here’s the catch: I could’ve bypassed it. I could have put off my trek through the Valley—or at least, I could have closed my eyes and marched through it in my beloved ignorance. I could have overlooked the flaws God wanted me to see; I could have brushed off the problems He wanted me to deal with. I could have plugged my ears and continued to convince myself that everything was fine.
And I would have made it through an entire Valley without making one inch of progress.
And unfortunately, I think that’s what a lot of us are doing.
We don’t want to waste time in the Valley because there’s work to be done . . . and because of that, I suspect we have a lot of unprepared workers and immature leaders out in the field. They’re zealous, yes. They’re bold, yes. But until they’ve tasted the fiery crucible, where silver is refined and gold is purified, I wonder—are they ready?
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man, and skill a man,
When God wants to mould a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods—watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts Him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He choses,
And with every purpose fuses him,
By every act induces him
To try His splendour out—
God knows what He's about.
Friends, the harvest is plentiful. And perhaps the workers are few, but before we run out into the fields in a frenzy of excitement, let’s pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send us out in His timing. He’s surely working on some formidable witnesses somewhere, behind the scenes. I want to be one of them. I don’t want to be all enthusiasm and no discipline; I don’t want to be all feelings and no substance. I don’t want to find myself in the thick of ministry only to crumble at the first storm that blows in. To echo Charles Spurgeon, “Mere sunshine faith is not worth having.”
So, even if it takes 5 decades of Valleys to prepare me for 5 years of service, God knows what He’s about.
And that’s good enough for me.