by Mike Ratliff
23 Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Genesis 40:23 (1599 Geneva Bible)
My natural tendency is to heartily participate in self-pity, outrage, and un-forgiveness 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. 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, he attacked Joseph with his fiery darts. Jesus Christ Himself experienced these flaming darts so why would 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 un-forgiveness. 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.
Yesterday, I was a very joyful person. I was rejoicing in God all day. It was great! We went to our Small Group last night in person instead of on Zoom for the first time in months! That was wonderful. We had a great Bible Study time. And old friend in our group and I were discussing the topic of this post. He made the comment that God would use that to prepare a Christian for something. The leader of the group, using the notes given to him by the Adult Eduction leader at our church had us go through 2 Peter 1:5-10.
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 2 Peter 1:5-10 (NASB)
I made several statements during the study about how what Peter was talking about here was the process the Holy Spirit uses in our Sanctification. Then the notes the leader was using had us read 1 Peter 1:3-4.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3 (NASB)
I was the one who read that part out loud. Then I made the statement that instead of our Sanctification this scripture was referring to our Justification. It got quiet. Some in the room understood what I meant right away. Some were confused. So I did a very quick explanation of what Justification is and what Sanctification is, why they are not the same thing, and why it is imperative not to confuse them and use passages that are talking about one to try to discuss the other. It was at that point that it got even quieter and I wondered if I had gone too far. That self-condemnation started. I am a Bible Teacher. I can’t help it. When we are in this mode, this just comes out. In any case, when we were done, I went to the leader and told him that I was sorry that I had taken over his lesson. He told me that he really appreciated my input and that he looked forward to it because he loved learning.
So, in a space of just about an hour or so I went from being in that full of joy mode that we all love, to be full of self-condemnation and self anger under a dark cloud of despair to going right back to being full of joy again. That is unusual for me for in most cases when the cloud of despair hits it is there for hours to days sometime. Even in the midst of it I can still function as a Bible teacher/leader as I did in out Small Group or as I write these posts. I can do that because I have learned to be very observant when this happens. Most around me last night probably couldn’t tell anything was wrong. However, as I attempted to explain doctrine to my friends I knew that Satan was trying to make me despair. As I worked through it though, I just kept seeking the Lord’s face, worshipping Him with a grateful heart.
As I sat down this evening to write this, the doubts and 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!