by Mike Ratliff
23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Genesis 40:23 (NASB)
My natural tendency is to heartily participate in self-pity, outrage, and unforgiveness thereby opening doors in my heart that Satan enters causing me to become discouraged. When this happens to me, I find that my circumstances drive me to become very negative and impatient. I suppose that this is one of my besetting sins which clings closely to me ready to cut in on me causing me to drop out of the race God has set before me to run with endurance. (Hebrews 12:1-2) My sense of joy that strengthens me as I run this race comes from looking unto Jesus. My focus has dropped from Him to me and my circumstances. When this happens the slide into self-absorption is very quick. I suddenly find myself in this ugly spiritually flat mood whose fuel seems to be anger that sometimes results in outrage. I have often pondered how this happens. Prior to my personal restoration in 2004-2005 I was probably in this mood or mode the majority of the time. Since then, however, these falls into this dark ditch have been rare enough so that when I find myself there I am very surprised. Now, I implore the Lord and ask why this has happened. Why am I so full of joy on Tuesday and so fleshly and down on Wednesday?
Early in my restoration, I was convinced that I had actually committed some horrible sin to bring this about. But, as God has matured me I have learned that He is teaching me something. When I am walking in the joy of the Lord, running the race with endurance it is because He is with me and drawing me to do that. There is not one thing I can do to cause this to happen. I can deny myself, turn to Christ, worship Him, fast from the world and feast on Him and find peace and joy, but that is not the same thing as walking in such a way so that Christ’s character is being manifest through me no matter what my circumstances are. I would dearly love to stay in that place all the time, but God has other plans. He has taught me that when I detect that I am sliding into the Valley of Humiliation that I am being taught something or am being prepared for something. My response to finding myself in this valley is, as I said earlier, to turn to God in humility. I draw near to Him and He draws near to me. My sense of overwhelming Joy that I slid from is not there and I have learned to not expect it. Instead, I must walk forward in bold brokenness in obedience fully expecting some battle requiring godly armor and much prayer.
When Joseph was forgotten by the cupbearer (Genesis 40) surely he struggled with the temptation of becoming impatient and complaining. When Satan saw this, surely he attacked Joseph with his fiery darts. Jesus Christ Himself experienced these flaming darts so why would we think that we would be exempt from that dreadful experience? (Matthew 4:3) As we struggle in our personal Valley of Humiliation doesn’t Satan come to us, trying to reinforce our negative feelings by telling us to not waste any time praying useless prayers or singing empty praise songs or quoting archaic scripture? He tells our hearts that it is all a waste of time. We are in this dark place because God has rejected us. We are sinful and have disqualified ourselves. All of our beseeching, seeking God’s face is for naught. It is all a waste of time. Satan loves to kick those who are wounded and down. However, He is nothing more than a tool in the hands of God. God is allowing Him to attack us like this. Why? The fires of tribulation are the refining fires that burn away those parts of our hearts that are not of God. We may love to be out of the fire and walking in the light before Him, fully rejoicing in all things, but we don’t become the refined Christian that God is designing when we are on the mountaintop. No, we are refined in the fire. My personal fires are dark, ugly, spiritually flat experiences of emptiness, despair, anger, and unforgiveness. However, what God has taught me is that when I am in the Valley of Humiliation, I must not participate in any of that self-focused, self-absorbed prideful stuff. Instead, I must seek His face. When I am kicked in the face, accused of things that I did not do nor never even considered, I must respond in gracious humility as I rely on God’s grace to uphold me. When I do this, I find that I have learned what God was teaching me. He has actually changed my heart. After a time, or a season, I find myself again back in the race, in the light, full of joy with no sins clinging closely to me tripping me up as long as I keep my eyes fully fixed on Christ the author and finisher of my faith.
I have found that when I am in the Valley of Humiliation I can worship my Lord and rejoice in Him deeply. This may sound strange to some, but I have found that the Valley of Humiliation is a wonderful place to be for a season if I use that time to pray deeply, worship God deeply, rejoice in Him because He is my all-in-all. I may rejoice and worship on the mountaintop, but the fires of tribulation seem to draw an even deeper devotion for Him from this Christian.
On the other hand, one thing that I have found while in the Valley of Humiliation, the things I love to do, such as listening to certain preachers via podcasts, are not very attractive. Nor do I want to listen to my favorite Christian music. It seems that those things would distract me from the lesson God is teaching. Also, I have sat down in this chair to write a post for this blog while deep in the fire. I had NO drive or motivation or anything encouraging me to write. What I have found, though, is that as soon as I turn my heart to God, asking Him to help me, I can write with a clarity that surprises me to no end. In fact, this post is one of those.
I had a great day Sunday. Our old pastor, our original pastor who started our church back in the 1970’s, has come back to be our interim until we find a new pastor. I haven’t heard him preach for quite some time. It was amazing to hear him again. He has pastored many churches and specialized over the years in coming to churches that have lost their pastor for some reason or another and he would begin the healing process and pastor it until God would move him to the next one. I sat there listening to him as he opened the Word to us amazed at how the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart through his fine exegesis of 1 Peter 1. What a joy!
However, since then I have struggled for some reason. I have been experiencing a dark cloud of despair, which seems to have dropped over me. Why? I am convinced God is teaching me something and allowing our enemy to attack me. In this situation I must not give in to it, but turn to our Lord in prayer, put on the full armor of God, and remain obedient. Since this has begun I have been quite calm. I have done good work at my job and I have been able to keep my eyes on the prize knowing full well that Satan is working very hard to make me despair. As I worked through this day, I just kept seeking the Lord’s face, worshipping Him with a grateful heart. As I sat down this evening to write this, the attacks became very severe. However, I asked God to help me and now in just a few minutes here we are at the end. I pray that the one(s) God had me write this for will read it, be encouraged, and use those fires they are in right now to draw closer to God than they ever have before.
Soli Deo Gloria!