The theological term is incarnation. It means that God became flesh and dwelt among us. We want to understand what it means that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). That God is among us. God is with us (Matthew 1:23).
It is so easy to believe that God is with us when things are good. When you're on the mountaintop it's easy to believe that God is with us. But it's sometimes more difficult to sense His presence when you're in the valley. When things aren't going the way you would want them to. When you get bad news. When you're hurting. Maybe when you feel a little bit alone. When you're worried, or you're afraid, or you're battling depression. The reality is that so often, much of your life can be going really really well. In other words, you've got all these different pockets where you're kind of on a mountaintop. And then there's this one area that just weighs everything else down. That’s the trip through the valley.
Some seasons or pockets of your life are really good. Your marriage is blessed, but you've got a kid making crazy and stupid decisions. That hurts. Or you're really close to God and you sense His presence, but at the same time you're afraid you're going to lose your job. Or you're really excited about the holidays, and yet you just got really bad news about you or somebody else. There are so many good things and yet there may be one or two things that just take you down in the valley.
So where is God in those valleys? When you look at scripture, it's interesting that valleys represent several things. You see in the valleys there are often battles that took place. You may be in a battle in the middle of a valley right now. Valleys were seasons of desperation. Valleys were seasons of loneliness. But valleys were also a time of growth. That you may enjoy God in some ways on the mountain, but you experience Him in different ways when you're in the valley. In the valleys you get to know Him intimately.
Consider Psalm 84:5-7:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, O Lord, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
What is the Valley of Baca? The Valley of Baca was most likely related to a tree (similar spelling), and this tree would ooze out sap. If you walked by this tree people said the tree was called a weeper. It looked like the tree was crying. And that's why the Valley of Baca is translated in different ways in scripture. It's called the Valley of Tears. It's called the Valley of Weeping. It's called the Valley of Loss. Anytime you see a valley in the Bible you would see a place that was very dangerous. There'd be thorns. There'd be wild animals, probably vicious cats. There would be people waiting to jump you and rob you. In fact, it was very difficult to get through a valley without something bad happening. This is why the Psalm says this in verse five: "Blessed are those whose strength is found in you." Chances are there are times when you just say, "I've had enough. I can't do anymore. I'm overwhelmed. I'm exhausted." And the truth is if you don't know God intimately, then what you have, is all you have. But for those who are in Christ, we believe we have a strength that goes beyond just what we have.
It is our God who, when you hit the end of your strength, hits you with His strength. His strength is made perfect in your weakness. Blessed are those whose strength is found in God. The text doesn't say blessed are those who make it on their own. It doesn't say blessed are those who pull themselves up by the bootstraps. It doesn't say blessed are those who are really determined. One of the big problems in our world today is we almost idolize a spirit of independence. I don't want to need anybody. I want to be financially independent. I want to be completely good on my own. I don't want to trust people. I don't want people to be there for me. I don't need God; I don't need anybody. We were not created to be independent. We were created by our God to depend on Him and to depend on those He’s placed around us. Blessed are you when you realize you are dependent and you have a power greater than yourself.
In the New Living Translation, verse 5 says, "What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who've set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem." We're on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What does that mean? We may be in the valley, but we're going to what was known as the City of Refuge. Or we we’re going to the place that they call the place of peace. One commentary said, "To get to the City of Refuge, "you had to travel through the Valley of Tears." Sometimes to get to where you really appreciate the presence and the power of God, you have to push through a little bit of the pain to get to the presence of the goodness of God. For so many, the valley is the pathway to the place of peace. We've pushed through the valley. We're on a pilgrimage.
This is the way the Psalmist said it. What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, "who have set their minds." What you think about matters so much. What you think about matters. Paul talked about this a lot in the New Testament. To the Colossians he said, "Set your mind on things above, not on things below." Paul told the Philippians, "If anything is excellent or praise worthy, or admirable, or lovely, think about such things." Where you are is one thing. What you think about is something else. What you think about matters. Your current situation may be in the valley. But your mind can still be set upon God. Your heart right now might be racing, but your mind is set. Your soul may be aching, but your mind is set. Your emotions may be racing, but your mind is fixed toward God. When I cannot make it, His power is very real. I may be in the valley, but my mind is set on the kingdom of God. I'm on a pilgrimage. I'm going to the place of peace. I may be in the valley but my mind is fixed.
Verse 6 says, "As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs." In other words, I may be in the valley right now, but the valley is not my destination. I'm just passing through. I may be in the valley right now, but this is not my home. I'm journeying to the place of peace. My God will get me through this. I'm just passing through. David said something similar in Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me." I may be in the valley but I'm just passing through. I may be in a difficult time, but God's going to get me through.
Sometimes when you're in the middle of it you just want out. Get me out God. Make it go away. Make it stop God. I don't want this anymore. Just take it away. I just want out. What you have to realize is so often God may show you that the way is through the valley, not out of the valley. The road to the path of peace is often through the valley. I'm just passing through. "As they pass through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs." The King James version says "They make it a well." In other words, whenever you're in a dry place, what do you do? You dig a well. You make a well. You take and clear a way a little hole as a container for the provision of rain that God will send. God hasn't sent it yet. It's dry right now. But when you're dry and when you're hurting you make room for the presence of God. You make room for the provision of God. You make a well. But it hasn't rained yet. But I know my God will provide what I need so I make a container preparing for the presence and the provision of God. You make a well.
Make a well. Prepare for His presence. And if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. I need Your presence, Lord. I was able to go back to the mountaintop, because God met with me in the valley. We enjoy Him so much on the mountains. But we get to know Him intimately in the valleys. God never promised that you would never go through the valley. He promised you would never have to go through the valley alone. God with us. "And the virgin will be with child, and His name will be Immanuel, which means God with us."
I love the way the Psalmist phrases this portion of scripture. He says, "They go from strength to strength." They go from strength to strength. Blessed are those who experience the strength of God. “Blessed are those whose strength is found in you." Then they go from a little bit of strength to a little more strength. To even more of God's strength to even more of His strength. And then a little more of His strength until each appears before God in Zion. We go from strength to strength. Not our strength, but His strength.
God with us. In the flesh. Incarnation.
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