The Valley of Baca
Imagine being in the middle of a large, dry, lonesome valley. You can’t see any life, or any relief from the scorching sun by day or the pitch black of night. You’re alone, you don’t know how you got here and you don’t see any end to this painful, exhausting, life-depleting valley. As your hope of ever getting out of this place fades, the tears come, perhaps slowly at first, then faster and faster. After a while, when you’re all spent and you don’t have any more tears left to cry, you notice something on the ground right below your feet. Wonder of wonders, a pool of water has appeared, right where your tears have landed. And it’s not just a little puddle of mud, but a spring. Your tears have become a spring of cool, refreshing, life giving water! And on top of that, it’s starting to rain – blessed rain! You stoop down and cup your hands to take a drink. You can feel the strength beginning to come back, the energy starting to flow, and the hope rising. You stand up and, slowly at first, and then with increasing strength, continue your journey.
What in the world happened? Psalm 84:5-7 gives us a clue. It reads, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion.” (NASB) I heard a teaching from these verses that has impacted me both personally and professionally.
These verses begin with the secret of the miracle – “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You.” The psalmist is pointing out something most believers know – at least in our heads – but have difficulty applying in our lives. When we are in the valley, we need to change our focus from our strength (of lack of it) to God’s. When we stop trying to rely on our own strength, when we acknowledge our pain and sadness and brokenness are too great for us to handle on our own, and begin to take hold of the strength that God’s great, good hands provide, then we can “go from strength to strength” (vs 7). This is often a real challenge because we are hearing opposing messages from our past, from our own beliefs, and from our culture.
For example, do any of these messages sound familiar?
- When the going gets tough, the tough get going
- You can do it, just a little more effort
- Just pick yourself up by your boot straps
- You’re only as good as your last success
While these messages may have some value to spur us on or encourage us to complete a task, they can also set us up to run the performance race – and that’s a race no one wins.
As a Christian counselor, my delight is not so much to see my clients grow in their own strength but to acknowledge their weakness and brokenness and in turn rely on God’s strength. That perspective is very different from the philosophy of most secular counselors, and even from many other Christians. But relying on God’s strength rather than our own is a major theme of the Bible. When Moses tried to help his fellow Israelites by killing a cruel Egyptian taskmaster, he ended up running for his life and making conditions worse for his people. When God called Joshua to capture the city of Jericho, He gave the very odd instructions to march with trumpets and clay pots rather than swords and spears. When Gideon was preparing for war, God trimmed down the army from several thousand to only 300. And Jehoshaphat was told to send his choir out to battle before his army and have them sing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
The New Testament continues this theme of our weakness vs. God’s strength.
Consider these verses:
- “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 14:5)
- “For while we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
- “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong…so that no one may boast before God.” (I Corinthians 1:27-29)
- “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
This psalm states that those whose strength is in God are “blessed” – and then he gives us a mental picture of how that manifests itself in our valleys. Many Bible scholars tell us that “Baca” can mean “weeping;” so the Valley of Baca can be translated as the ”Valley of Weeping.” That’s where the miracle of the tears comes in. When we’re in the midst of this valley, and the only strength we have left is the strength to cry – both physically and crying out to God – He turns our tears, our weaknesses, into springs of water, His strength. And then He sends rain to cover us with blessings. The blessings may not be what we are thinking of, or looking for at the time. But His blessings are most definitely what we need. They enable us to “go from strength to strength,” as the verse says.
How do we receive God’s strength and blessings in practical ways? The second part of verse 5 says “in whose heart are the highways of Zion.” In other words, our focus, our thoughts, are on God more than on our valley. Believe me, I know this is difficult. It takes determination and self-control to be able to shift our thoughts away from our pain and towards God. But that’s exactly what this verse is suggesting. We can choose – with effort and deliberation – to think about God by reading or hearing His Word, by meditating on His names or His character, by listening to and singing some of the great classic hymns or powerful contemporary Christian choruses, by listening to sermons or going over notes from past sermons, and by talking with other Christians about the things of God. It sounds simple…and in truth, it is. It just isn’t easy! But it can help when we change our focus from our own pain to God’s strength.
The coming holiday season can be a difficult time for many. I encourage you to take heart in what these verses are saying. Don’t try to muster up your own strength to get through this time of year. Instead, turn your focus to His strength. Allow Him to change your tears of depression and pain to springs of water in your Valley of Weeping. Tap into His blessings by choosing to concentrate on Him.