By Pastor Glenn Pease
Tommy Dorsey, the Gospel song writer, was at a Christian gathering in St. Louis when he got the message that his wife had died in child birth. He rushed back to Chicago and found that the baby also had died. Both were buried in the same coffin. He was a preacher's kid and so he had been exposed to death and funerals, but he was angry with God. He went through a deep valley of darkness and doubt. The following Saturday he went to the piano, and the words of this well-known song came to him.
Precious Lord take my hand,
Lead me on let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand precious Lord
Lead me home.
He found peace with God in his valley, and he made it a place of springs. He wrote, "And so I go on living for God willing and joyfully, until that day when He will take my hand and gently lead me home." This is what verse 6 of Psalm 84 is all about. It is about turning burdens into blessings. It is about getting good out of evil. It is about experiencing pleasure in pain. The valley of Baca was a dry waterless valley that Pilgrims had to pass through to get to Jerusalem and the temple. It was not a pleasant place, and so it was called the valley of weeping, or the valley of tears. The implication is, God's people living in a fallen world cannot escape the reality of that fallenness. They can be Pilgrims on their way to the house of God to worship, and yet have to suffer the experience of the Valley of Baca.
Charlie Brown and Linus are standing by a fence with their faces resting in their hands as they lean on it. Linus says, "Sometimes I feel that life has just passed me by. Do you ever feel that way Charlie Brown?" In his typical melancholy mood he replies, "No, I feel like it has knocked me down and walked all over me." Life does this to us even when we are God's children. The Pilgrimage to God's best, which is Jerusalem, often takes us through the Valley of Baca-the place of pain. Down in the valley, valley so low are words that convey the idea that the valley is a low point in life's journey.
Here is a saint of God who has a passion for praise and a passion to experience the pleasures of worship, and a passion for God's presence, and he sings of the blessedness of others with like faith and passion. Yet, he is honest, and faces the reality that they too must pass through the Valley of Baca. God has not built a by-pass for His people. The place of pain and problems is somewhere in the itinerary of every traveler. Sam Shoemaker, one of the great Christians of the 20th century said, "Everybody has a problem, is a problem, or lives with a problem." The fact is, all three can be true at the same time. Life is a packaged deal. You can't just choose the pleasure and reject the pain. The valley is part of the package, and so the question is, how is the Christian to deal with the valley in a way that is distinctive from the way non-Christians go through the valley?
The answer is surprising, for it is another of the major Biblical paradoxes. The way the believer is to deal with the valley of pain is to make it a place of pleasure. Notice verse 6 again, "As they passed through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs." The dry barren Valley of Baca is to be made a place where life-giving and refreshing water is to flow freely. If God works in everything for the good of those who love Him than those who love God are to work with Him, and strive to make a spring in every dry valley; and oasis in every desert. It is not just in God's hands, the believer has to cooperate. The Psalmist does not say that God makes it a place of springs, but they do-the Pilgrims passing through the valley. The autumn rains that cover it with pools are God's doing, but they have to make it a place of springs.
The bringing of good out of evil is a joint project of God and man. One of the greatest examples of this is from the life of King David. We all know of his valley of Baca. His lust and adultery led him into the driest valley of his life. It was the major mess-up of his whole career, and he suffered a lot of pain because of it. But he worked with God in that valley, and he made it a place of springs. He did not cast Bathsheba aside, but he took her into his life and loved her the rest of his life, and by her brought into the world his most famous son-Solomon.
Solomon went on to give Israel it's golden age. He wrote a large portion of God's Word and gave every age the blessings of his wisdom. David went on to write many of the Psalms so that out of his pain, out of valley of Baca, there has flowed the springs of great pleasure for millions of believers. David did not let his sin, folly, and pain stop him from being a channel of the water of life. He is the great Old Testament example of passing through the valley and making it a place of springs. The Son Of David, the Lord Jesus Christ is the great New Testament example.
"He left the splendor of heaven
Knowing His destiny,
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha
There to lay down His life for me."
The valley for Jesus was not just the cross, but the whole incarnation experience. He gave up equality with God the Father, and all the glory of heaven, to endure the sin filled environment of a fallen world. He was despised and rejected, and then crucified. Jesus experienced pain beyond our comprehension. Yet, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus made His valley of Baca, His valley of weeping and tears, a place of reaping and cheers. Heb. 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." The pain of the cross was also a pleasure because Jesus knew the consequences of that pain. There would be a vast race of the redeemed who would enjoy the pleasures of eternity with Him.
A doctor told me of a mother who was giving birth, and in her pain she groaned, "Oh Jesus, Jesus-but you are a man, you wouldn't understand." The fact is, the suffering of Jesus was very much like the giving of birth. He even used birth to illustrate the pain and pleasure of His disciples. In John 16:20-21 He said, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come, but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world."
The point of Jesus is, pain is real and it is bad, but when you know it is a passing experience that will lead to a permanent pleasure you can anticipate that pleasure, and realize the pain is a process you have to go through to get to the pleasure, and then you can experience the pleasure of the pain. That is how Jesus could endure the cross. He could see the end result: The great pleasure of salvation, and so on the cross Jesus was like a mother giving birth. He was giving birth to the whole plan of the new birth that would bring forth millions upon millions of children of God.
The paradox of pain and pleasure mixed is a part of the whole plan of God. The cross is the great example. It is a terrible symbol of pain, yet, also the Christians greatest symbol of pleasure, for it represents the price Jesus paid for the eternal life of pleasure for all God's people. One of the best pains of life is the pain of the conviction of sin and repentance, for this pain leads to the pleasure of salvation. It is very good suffering that leads a person to salvation in Christ. Blessed are the pains that give birth to pleasure in Christ.
The analogy of the pain and pleasure of child birth run all through the Bible. Paul even uses it to describe the whole creation of God as it waits for its new birth into a new heaven and new earth with all evil abolished forever. In Rom. 8:22 he writes, "We know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of child birth right up to the present time." In the next verse he includes all Christians, male and female, in the child birth pain. "Not only so, but we ourselves, that have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." We are all waiting for the new birth of our bodies. Our spirits are born anew by faith in Christ, but our bodies will not be born again until Christ comes again.
Paul confirms the message of Psalm 84. We as Christians cannot escape the valley. It is inevitable that we will find ourselves in dry places of pain and sorrow. But Paul also confirms we can make it a place of springs. We can let every pain that makes us groan remind us that in Christ we will have bodies that will never suffer again, and by anticipating that pleasure, get pleasure even in the midst of pain.
Some of the pains a Christian may have to endure is unjust pain inflicted by an unbelieving world. It is just plain evil, and yet the Bible says there can be pleasure in suffering pains if you recognize that it is being Christ-like to do so, and it can be pleasing to God. In I Pet. 2:19-21 we read, "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps."
Here is the pleasure of pain endured for the sake of Christ which produces a spring in a dry place. The bottom line is this: The Old Testament and the New Testament agree, there can be pleasure in pain, and a believer who has a passion for praise, worship, and a passion for the presence of God, will be ever laboring to make every valley of Baca a place of springs. In other words, they will be ceaselessly seeking to bring good out of evil. The valley is not a place where you settle down and live. The valley is a place you go through. Sometimes it takes only minutes as you sink into a blue mood, but then quickly recover. Other times it takes days, months and even years to get through the valley. The point is, the believer is to always look on the negative realities of life as passing and not permanent.
One of the springs that believers are to produce in the valley is the spring of optimism, the conviction that somehow, sometime, somewhere, the pain will end in pleasure. David Redding, one of the great preacher of our day, author of 15 books, had a wild and rebellious son. He had to forbid him to ride his trail bike because he was so wild on it. But one day he needed an errand done and he asked his son to do it. He tore off on his bike with tires screaming, and he had a collision on the highway. His leg was almost torn off, and there was a long hard battle in the hospital to save it. It was a valley of pain, but because of a proper response of the will in this desert, the son decided to become a doctor. Years later he said, "Dad, I thank God for that motorcycle accident." He made a spring in his valley, and made that desert produce the fruit that blessed him and many others.
His father made a mistake by letting him use his bike. The son made a mistake by being so careless and wild. Yet, out of the pain of their mistakes they produce springs of pleasure. This is what the Christian is to do every time he or she is in some valley. Trust in God and seek His strength and work diligently to figure out how to make the valley a place of springs. Jesus said even the children of darkness can be wiser than the children of light. He told a parable of a crooked manager who was wasting his masters possessions. He got fired, but before he lost his job he gave all the customers a major discount on their bills. So when he lost his job he had a lot of friends who would help him find another position. The point of Jesus is, here was a bad man in a valley and he had the good sense to figure out how to make a spring that would produce pleasure in the midst of his pain. Jesus did not commend him for being a crook, but for being an optimist, and recognizing, there is a way to get to pleasure through pain.
The Prodigal never would have come home if he never had pain. As long as sin was pleasure he stayed away and lived as a rebel. It was the pain of poverty and feeding with the pigs that moved him to return to his father. Pain brings people back to God for it robs them of their independence. The Prodigal's pain brought him home to a party and great pleasure for his father and himself. It was the pain that led him to the pearl of great happiness.
Pleasure is the goal God expects His people to aim for, and never cease to strive for just because they are in a valley of pain. They are to pass through and leave it a better place for others who will pass through by making it a place of springs. The Christian is to make every place in this fallen world a better place. If it is a dark place, make it a place of light. If it is a painful place, make it a place of pleasure. If it is a place of tears, make it a place of laughter. The Christian is to add positives to every negative situation in life. To do otherwise, and to add to the negatives, is to be cooperating with evil rather than good. Every valley of Baca is to be better because the Christian has passed through.
This is where worship becomes very practical in every day life. Worshiping and praising God can seem like an escape from real life. It can appear to be irrelevant to the world we have travel through. But the fact is, it is our growing and effective worship and praise that enables us to be strong and wise in making the valley a place of springs. Praise is what lifts us above the pessimism of the valley. It gives us an optimistic spirit that can find a way to make an oasis in the desert. Coming to the house of God to praise Him is not meant to be just an hour service out of the week. It is a place to get a mind-set to take you through the week with the strength and wisdom to make springs in the valley. Praise is the most practical thing you can do to becomes an optimist in this fallen world full of valleys.
Praise will help you to see the way to pleasure in the midst of pain. Praise will help you find the silver lining in the dark clouds. The buried treasure of pleasure is best discovered by the power of praise. The more you see to praise God for, the more you will be able to make springs in the valley. If you seldom praise, you will let the valley get you down. You will begin to see only the reasons for pessimism and weeping, and lose your motivation for making springs.
Horace Greeley was one of the great newspaper editors who made the famous statement, "Go West young man." He fought slavery, alcohol, and monopoly, and was victorious in many of his battles for what was right. But he was notorious for his bad hand writing. He fired a number of his employees, but some noted that his letters of dismissal were so illegible that they could be deciphered without an interpreter. Some of the fired people took these letters of dismissal to a neighboring newspaper, and used them as recommendations from Greeley. Nobody could read them, and so if you said it was a recommendation, it was presumed to be just that.
The point is, some saw a way to use their dismissal as a recommendation. They saw the way to make a spring in their desert. Jesus commended the secular mind for seeing positives in negative situations, and He said that Christians need to learn to do this. The best way to practice finding pleasure in pain is to learn to praise without ceasing. It is the praiser who will produce the highest number of springs in the valley.
A pagan woman in the life of Jesus taught this lesson. She came to Jesus begging Him to heal her daughter. But Jesus was focused on ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and He did not want to be detoured. He said no, but she would not take no for an answer. Jesus tried to dismiss her by saying you don't take food from the children and throw it to the dogs. This would make most people retreat like a dog with its tail between its legs. Most would just say I quit. Not this woman! She saw in the very illustration Jesus used a hook to get His attention. She said, but sir, you know that even house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master's table.
Jesus was impressed, and said, woman your faith is great-your prayer is granted. What can be a dryer valley than one where even the Son of God is saying no? Yet, this woman saw a way to release the springs of Christ compassion, and she went away happy. She just saw a minor detail in life. She saw that puppy dogs don't need to take away the food of the children, for all they need is the scraps. This woman was saying, Lord I have faith in your power, and know it only takes a scrap, that will not deprive any of the children of your care, to heal my daughter. She did not ask Jesus to forget His focus, and sacrifice a major portion of His time and energy. She just said, throw me a scrap Lord and I'll be happy. Jesus did just that for He saw in her a noble example of one who could pass through her valley of Baca and make it a place of springs.
How can we develop this spirit of optimism? It is by means of praise that we develop the eye for seeing the way to pleasure through the valley of pain. May God motivate us to be pregnant with praise so that we can give birth to more pleasures as we pass through the valley of Baca.