Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Dark Valley

Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss with hope for anyone in an emotional valley.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Remember that your Shepherd led you there, and remember that you're going through this valley of deep darkness, that you will come out on the other side. It may not feel like it. It may seem in the marriage you're in that this valley of deep darkness is going to last forever. I'm telling you it won't.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, August 6. Decisions, decisions—every day, we're faced with big decisions and small ones. Trying to figure out the right choices all the time can get tiring. The best thing to do is to admit we don't know what we're doing and that we're like a sheep following a shepherd. Here's Nancy continuing in a series on Psalm 23.

Nancy: We get a lot of emails from our Revive Our Hearts listeners, and I always enjoy reading those and just knowing how we can pray for people. We do have a team of prayer partners, by the way, who will take those requests before the Lord and lift you up to the throne of grace, so we love getting those prayer requests. But it's interesting how many of those emails are people who need guidance from the Lord.

They don't know which way to go. Do I take this job? Do I quit this job? Should I marry this person? How should I deal with this situation with my parents? How do I deal with this situation with my child? We're in this financial predicament. What do we do?

Of course, they're asking us questions that we can't really answer. We can pray with them about it, but all we can do is point them back to the Shepherd, ultimately, because Psalm 23 tells us that our Good Shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

If you want to know which way to go in your life, big issues, little issues, everyday issues, monumental, earth-shattering issues, you need to get to the Shepherd. You have to follow the Shepherd. He's the one who knows where to go. He's the only one who can see ahead. He's the one who knows you, made you, loves you, has a plan for your life. He leads His sheep in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Now, the literal translation of that verse is that He leads me in right paths for His name's sake. He leads me in paths, and wherever He leads is always the right path. You can trust that if you are following your Shepherd, He will never lead you into a wrong path.

Now, left to ourselves, we will go down lots of wrong paths. We'll get stuck in all kinds of predicaments and places we never should have been, and we never would have to have been if we had been following the Shepherd. But if we follow our own judgment, our own ways, we will get lost. We'll get hopelessly lost and mixed up. We need His guidance.

If you decide to run your own life, even in little issues, if you resist His leading, you will end up on wrong paths. If you marry out of God's will, if you make a purchase or a move or a job change without inquiring of the Lord and without obeying what He shows you from His Word, and then you end up in a mess, don't blame the Lord.

In fact, there's a verse in Proverbs that says this is our tendency. Proverbs 19, verse 3, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the LORD,” (NLT) and isn't that true? We get in these situations. I read a lot of the emails coming in from people who are in very, very messed up situations, and in some cases, it's clear from what they're telling us that they violated the Word of God. They never should have married that person.

Now, we have compassion on them. They're in the situation now. We want to help them. That's why it's great that we have a Shepherd who restores our souls, but first we've got to acknowledge we never should have followed that path. There has to be repentance before there can be restoration.

That's why Proverbs says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (3:5-6). He will lead me in right paths when I follow Him.

I'm so glad we have a God who leads us, a God who points the right way, who takes us in the right way. Life is just filled with so many choices, and you think any one choice—if I'd gone to a different college or I'd majored in something different or I'd taken a different first job—you just think how different the whole course of your life would be. Just one little choice can affect the whole course of your life.

Aren't you glad we have a Shepherd who leads us through the maze of this life, who's always leading us in light of what He knows is best? I think as we seek God's will, it's important to remember that God's will is not a place. It's not a job. It's a lifestyle. It's a heart.

He leads me in paths of righteousness, right paths, for His name's sake. I don't think God is as concerned about what city you live in, what house you live in, though we need to inquire of the Lord about those things, but ultimately, God's will is a lifestyle. It's a heart attitude. He leads us by His Word.

Second Peter chapter 1 says that God's Word is a lamp shining in a dark place. This is a dark world, and if you want to know which way to head, you better have a lamp. You better have a light, and God's Word is that light. It's a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. God guides us by His Holy Spirit who lives within us, the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth, who reminds us of the things of Christ, who helps us apply the Word of God to our lives.

We have the resources to walk in right paths. We have a Shepherd who guides us. God has promised to lead us in right paths, but let me say that sometimes those paths that God chooses for us, those paths in which He leads us, don't seem to be right paths. We get on those paths. We say, “Lord, I thought I was following You, but this is a mess. This is rough terrain. This is hard.”

I've been reading Pilgrim's Progress, and there are some tough, tough places that he goes while he's following the Lord. He's on the right path, but he goes up this hill of difficulty. He goes into some of these very treacherous places. We'll look at another one of those later in the series in Psalm 23. He's in right paths, but they're hard.

Sometimes in the midst of those hard places, you can stop and say, “Did I miss it? Did I miss the Shepherd? God, did You lead me here?” God's ways, God's leading will sometimes be hard.

He may lead you into a fiery furnace as He did those three, Hebrew young men. They were right smack dab in the middle of God's will in that fiery furnace. By the way, they never got any closer to the Lord Jesus than when they were in that fiery furnace, when He made a personal appearance to be right by their side. They were in the will of God. That was a right path for them.

God's path may lead you into a desert as it did with the Jews when they came out of Egypt. They were headed for the Promised Land. They were so excited. We've been delivered. We've been rescued from 400 years of captivity and bondage, a picture of our salvation, being delivered out of sin and out of the world. Now we're headed for the Promised Land, but God says, “First, I want to lead you through a desert.”

Now, the 40 years of wilderness wandering, that wasn't God's original intent or plan for them, but the Scripture says in Exodus 13, God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, though that was the nearest, most direct route. God led the people out of Egypt by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea, toward a hopeless situation. God led them there, into that wilderness, toward that Red Sea where they were going to be utterly, absolutely dependent upon God. That was a right path. That was God's will.

God led His own Son, Jesus, into a wilderness. Matthew chapter 4, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (verse 1). That was a right path. He was following His Lord, and then sometimes God may lead you into the valley of the shadow of death, a right path, or as the original language says it, “into the valley of deep darkness,” deep darkness.

Max Lucado says, “The path of righteousness is a narrow, winding trail up a steep hill. At the top of the hill is a cross.” He leads me in right paths. Could that be a right path, a narrow, winding path, up a steep hill to a cross? That's where He led His Son, and if you're going to be like Christ, there will be times when God leads you there as well.

It may be hard. It may be hard to understand, that wilderness, that fiery furnace, that valley of deep darkness, but it is a right path if you've been following your Shepherd. As you're on those paths, those hard paths that are the right ones, God is fulfilling His eternal purposes in your life.

Why does He do it? He leads me in right paths for His name's sake. It's all about Him. It's not about me. It's not about my happiness. It's not about my convenience. It's not about my preferences. It's what pleases God, what is for His name's sake.

See, ladies, you have to come to the point in life where you care more about His sake than about your own. Our reason for living is to bring glory to His name. The God of this universe doesn't exist in order to save your broken marriage or to get you out of debt or to help you feel better or to help you cope better with stress. We exist to glorify Him, not to get Him to do what we want Him to do.

All things are of Him and by Him and through Him and for Him. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth and above it—all of it revolves around Him. The way we live, everything we do reflects on Him. His reputation is at stake, so He leads us for His name's sake.

If I could just say, to put this in the context of other Scriptures, He also leads us there for our sakes. You know why? We need affliction. Isn't that what the psalmist said in Psalm 119? “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (verse 71).

There are things God will do to conform you to the image of Christ when you're on the hard path that may never happen any other place or any other way, and you know what? It's not just for your sake. It's also for the sake of others. The apostle Paul said, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation” (2 Corinthians 1:6).

You don't know who else's life—your mate, your children, your parents, your boss, somebody in your church, somebody you don't even know, somebody generations down the road—who may be affected and brought closer to the Shepherd because of your willingness to walk in that hard path.

So let your Shepherd choose the right paths for you. You say, “Lord, You're not taking anybody else down this path! Why just me? Why do I have to go down this hard path and everybody else around me, they're just on easy street?”

God says, “Leave that to Me. I'll choose the right paths for you.” Don't compare the path He chooses to the path He chooses for someone else.

I've sometimes wondered when I'm on the path, “Lord, did You forget to read the map? Are You sure? Is this what You mean?” But you know what? I've learned better than to question Him because I know that I know that I know that He's always right, and looking back, I can say 100% of the time, I can always see that His paths were right.

I can't always see all that I will see and all that I will know in eternity. There's much I don't see. Sometimes you just have to be willing to live with mystery, with something you can't understand, but over and over and over again God has shown me that was the right path. I look back, and I thank Him. I say, “Lord, You knew. You knew. You knew that that was the right path for my life. Thank You, Lord.”

He leads me in paths of righteousness, righteous, right paths for His name's sake. The psalmist has talked about lying down in green pastures, walking by still waters, having his soul restored, being led in right paths, but now he comes to that part of the psalm that, perhaps, is why this psalm is so often quoted in funerals. He says in verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Now, in the original language, the valley of the shadow of death would be better translated, “the valley of deep darkness.” This is not a verse just about death. Death may be one of those deepest valleys. It may be a part of very deep darkness, but he's talking more broadly than that about any valley of deep darkness.

The valley here is not some sort of lush rolling meadow between two hills. It's a deep, dangerous, dark ravine in the hills of Palestine. You see, early in the year, the flocks would graze in the lowlands. Then in the summer months, the sun would melt the snow on the mountains, and the shepherd would lead his flocks to higher ground where they could graze, where they could find more pastureland. But in order to get them from the lowland up to the highland to new grazing places, he had to take them through these ravines.

These were places where there were sheer cliffs, where tall trees would block out the sunlight, so they were places that were gloomy even in the daytime. In the night, there was just this deep, penetrating darkness. One misstep in these valleys, these ravines, and you could fall down a deep precipice onto jagged rocks and lose your life.

There were serpents. There were wolves. There were hyenas lurking, ready to attack these helpless, defenseless, clueless sheep, and the shepherd would take his sheep through these ravines. They had to go through them to get to the higher land, and what a picture of the fact that our Shepherd has to take us through some dark valleys, through some dangerous and difficult places in order to get us from the lowlands of our Christian life up to higher ground!

You say, “Lord, I want higher ground in my life. I want to know You better. I want to be closer to You,” and God says, “Oh, really? Then there's some paths we need to take that are hard ones.”

This phrase, “deep darkness,” the valley of deep darkness—that deep darkness phrase is used nine times in the book of Job. Job understood in his suffering and in his excruciating pain what it meant to be in deep darkness, and he says in Job 28, it's like the pitch-black darkness of the bottom of a mineshaft.

You can't see. It's oppressive. Isaiah says this deep darkness is a place where people stumble around as if they were blind. It's a place where there's deep despair, hopelessness. It's a fearful darkness. It can include any great danger or cause of terror.

I told you earlier that I've been reading Pilgrim's Progress. There's a place in that story where Christian comes to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and he describes it as a solitary place, a lonely place. He says that the road that went through that valley was narrow. It was treacherous. It was a place of deep darkness and terror and demonic oppression.

In fact, in that place, he actually came right up to the very mouth of hell, not into it, but right up to its mouth, and he could see the flames flaring up, leaping up from hell. He said,

Over that valley there hung the discouraging clouds of confusion while death spread its wings and hovered over it. It was a thoroughly dreadful sight, everywhere there was nothing but disorder. The path here was so dark that often, when Christian lifted his foot to take a step forward, he did not know what he would find when he put it down.1

Does this make you think of any seasons of your life when there was just dark, deep discouragement, confusion, clouds; you couldn't see to take the next step, had no idea where you were going, what was happening—voices? In this time in the valley of the shadow of death, he was hearing these demonic voices screaming at him. It was terrifying.

In fact, in John Bunyan's other writings, including his autobiography, we learn that he had some of his own experiences, some real life experiences, in the valley of deep darkness, particularly during a 12-year period when he was imprisoned for his faith, for his preaching. He was in prison while he was in his 30s. His wife and four children were left to fend for themselves during that 12-year period, and Bunyan says, “I was once in a very sad and low condition for many weeks.”

In fact, he describes being tormented with thoughts of death. He says, “I was at this time so possessed with the thought of death that I often felt as if I was on the ladder with a rope around my neck going up to the hangman's noose.” He said at another time, “Suddenly there fell upon me a cloud of great darkness which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life,” no sense of God's presence.

The valley of deep darkness—if you haven't been there at some point in your Christian life, you probably will be between here and heaven at some point, and there are differing degrees of it. It's not all as torturous and tormenting as what we've just read, but it can be—for Christians, for Christians who are following the Good Shepherd.

Remember what the verse right before this one was, verse 3, “He leads me in paths of righteousness”? This valley of deep darkness is one of those right paths that He sometimes leads His sheep into.

When you get into this valley, assuming you didn't get there of your own doing, assuming you didn't leave the Shepherd and just go off on your own, and you stumbled into that ravine, then don't blame your Shepherd. But if you've been following your Shepherd, you've been trusting Him, loving Him, obeying Him, serving Him faithfully, and He leads you into this dark place, this valley of deep darkness, then when you get there, remember how you got there.

Remember that your Shepherd led you there, and remember that you're going through this valley of deep darkness, that you will come out on the other side. It may not feel like it. It may seem in the marriage you're in that this valley of deep darkness is going to last forever. I'm telling you, it won't. It may last for all of time, but it will not last for all of eternity. And eternity is a whole lot longer than this life.

Remember how you got there. Remember that this is the Shepherd who loves you. This is the Shepherd who cares for His sheep. We want the Lord to take us on to those higher grazing places, that higher ground, but we don't want to have to go through the valley of deep darkness to get there.

Can I tell you, there are no shortcuts? You have to do it. You have to go through it. It's easy to remember that God is with us when all is well, when you're lying in those green pastures or beside those still waters, but remember that He's also with us when all does not go well, when we find ourselves in deep darkness, in times of unexplainable depression, illness, health issues, rejection, loss of loved ones, financial pressures, relational/marital issues, times of tormenting thoughts, sometimes fierce, unrelenting temptation, times of intense loneliness.

You feel like no one else understands. No one can enter in to what you're experiencing, times of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical nightmares, times of confusion, unanswered questions, deep, profound mystery—doesn't seem consistent with God's ways that this would be happening in your life.

Even when you come to face your own death, remember, “Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The trials and the attacks may seem unrelenting, no letup, no relief in sight, seems to go on forever. When you're in the midst of that valley, trust your Shepherd.

Trust His heart. Trust His goodness. Trust His wisdom. Trust that He knows what He is doing, and remember this: His goal is to lead you to higher ground, higher, greener pastures, even closer to His heart.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving hope to anyone going through a dark valley right now. That message is part of a series called, The Lord Is My Shepherd.

A woman responded to this series on the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. She wrote, “This study has come at a time when I am weary, worried, and cannot sleep at night. I lie in bed at night and rehearse the 23rd Psalm, and I feel the tension leave my body. I'm still not sleeping soundly every night, but God has used these Scriptures to comfort me night after night.”

We're truly thankful as we watch truths from the Bible intersect with practical life issues. I hope you'll connect with God on a deeper level, learning to walk with Him, even through dark valleys.

Nancy co-wrote a Bible study workbook that will lead you on a daily walk with God. It's called Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival. Each day, you'll search Scriptures on topics like holiness, repentance, and honesty, and you'll begin to see how acting on these topics will bring joy and peace to your life.

We'd like to send Nancy's workbook, Seeking Him, when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Ask for it when you donate by phone. Call 1-800-569-5959 or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you're in a dark valley, how do you know God is really there with you? Find out tomorrow as we pick up on Psalm 23 on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress.

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