Being a disciple of Jesus, Peter had seen Jesus perform many miracles like the feeding of the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21), the healing of the sick and the lepers (Mark 1:40-44; Luke 7:1-10; 4:38, 39), the stilling of the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41), the casting out of evil spirits (Mark 1:21-28) and many more found in the Gospels (John 21:25).
Seeing what his Master did, he felt great and high spiritually. He had many mountain-top experiences. One of his mountain top experiences was walking on the water. After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side, to Bethsaida while He dismissed the crowd (Mark 6:45). By the time Jesus came to them, the boat was amid a stormy sea. The disciples saw Him walking on the water and were terrified thinking it was a ghost. He calmed them and identified Himself to them. Peter answered him, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus.
What a wonderful experience! What a high point in his life! Peter would never dream of walking on the water. But he did, by the command of the Lord. However, his mountain top experience did not last long. Suddenly he got distracted by the surrounding circumstances – the strong wind and the stormy waves. He lost his focus. He became afraid. And he cried out, “Lord, save me” and the Lord came to his rescue, and said to him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:22-33) What a frightening experience! What a valley experience!
Dearly beloved, Peter’s mountain top and valley experience is a lesson for us. Life is a journey of mountain and valley experiences. A mountain top experience is a high point in your life that you want to celebrate and remember. Blessed memories like finding a life partner, getting married, becoming a parent or a grandparent, getting a promotion or graduation day, being told by your oncologist that you are now in remission or those moments of spiritual blessings during a church camp or a mission trip are things that you want to cherish and treasure for a long time.
However, life is not always a journey of mountain top experiences. There are valleys too. The Psalmist calls it “The valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). Job reminds us that man is born to have troubles as surely as sparks rise from a fire (Job 5:7). When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer or any incurable sicknesses, when a loved one passes on, when you did not get a promotion at the end of the year, when your marriage is topsy-turvy, when you failed an important examination, when you did not make it in your interview, when you are told to retire by your boss, when your best friend betrays you, when God seems to be far away from you or when you are in a crisis. All this and many more are valley experiences.
Mountains and valleys – where are you right now? Are you on a mountain top? Or are you in a valley? Perhaps some of you are in a mountain top experience and you are enjoying the serenity of God. But what about those who are in the valley of the shadow of death? Is there a way of escape? Didn’t the great Shepherd say that He will make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside still waters? (Psalm 23:4)
A Christian confesses, “I’ve been going through a deep valley for some time now. God seems so distant, prayer seems to bounce off the ceiling, and there is no more motivation to read the Word and pray. My spiritual aspiration has come to a dead end.” Have you ever had a similar valley experience? You are facing a crisis in your life. You have been crying to the Lord for help and relief. But God seems to be silent.
Have you ever felt like God was giving you a deaf ear to your prayers? You prayed and waited on Him, but there was complete silence from Him. And you wondered whether He ever heard you or lost interest in you. The feeling is unbearable (Psalm 77:7-9).
What should you do when God is silent? Should you call a friend and ask for help? Should you do something or anything to find relief from such an unbearable feeling? How would you deal with your low ebb of spirituality?
Let me suggest a number of things you can do when you are in the valley of the shadow of death:
- First, do not be discouraged because discouragement can lead to depression. When God is silent, He has a purpose. God’s silence is part of His training program for His children. One of the lessons you and I need to learn is to wait on God patiently (Psalm 40:1). We can’t hurry Him because His time is not our time (John 7:6, 8, 30). He makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). James Hudson Taylor aptly said, “It is not lost time to wait on God.” Waiting on God is not a waste of time though waiting on God is a trying time. Therefore, let us not be disheartened when God seems to be silent despite our persistent calls to Him.
- Second, continue to pray persistently (Luke 18:1-8). When God is silent, we must not stop talking to Him. Our God is a prayer-answering God. He hears every prayer, and He answers every one of them (Isaiah 65:24). This is one thing we need to know, and that is when our faith is shaken, we need to stop and listen to the voice of the Lord. It is that voice that brings us peace as God reminds us of His promises. We just must be still enough to listen (Psalm 46:10; 1 Kings 19:12). Though our circumstances have not changed we have peace of heart and mind which passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:6, 7). We know we are not alone. We know that God is with us. His promise of healing is fresh in our hearts and our expectation is that we will see it come to pass according to His will and purpose. That is all we need to know. Therefore, we must keep calling on Him because He is just a prayer away.
- Third, accept the sovereignty of God. Despite all adverse circumstances, God is still on the throne. He is still in control of every circumstance and situation. We may not understand everything about His sovereignty but this is a clear teaching of the Holy Scripture (Psalm 115:3; Exodus 9:29; 1 Chronicles 29:11, 12). Therefore, let us learn to submit ourselves willingly and unreservedly to God who is our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19) and He will grant us our heart’s desire and fulfill all our plans! (Psalm 20:4)
- Fourth, have faith in God even when circumstances seem to go against us (Matthew 13:58; Mark 11:22). This is tough but Hebrews tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Abraham was a good example. Unable to have a child because of old age, the Bible says, “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Romans 4:18-21)
- Faith in God is dynamic, not static. Faith grows daily. There are many occasions of faith. Therefore, let us seize every opportunity to exercise our faith and grow in it (James 1:2-8; 1 Peter 1:6, 7).
- Fifth, when God is silent, He always has a reason. Habakkuk repeatedly called the nation of Judah to repentance, but she stubbornly refused to change her sinful ways. Out of desperation, the prophet asked God, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” (Habakkuk 1:2)
Sometimes God brings us to difficult places as if He were indifferent to our circumstances. We cry like the Psalmist, “Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1) God seems to be turning His head from our cry. He does it in order to give us time to strengthen our spiritual muscles and deepen our faith in Him. Therefore, when God seems to be silent, our part is not to give up but to wait on Him, for He has a reason for doing it.
Dearly beloved, are you in the valley now? Is your faith shaken? Do not be disheartened because after you have gone through the valley of the shadow of death, you will discover that God was with you all that time though when you were in those valley experiences it did not feel like that He was there (Isaiah 43:1, 2; Hebrews 13:5). He did this in order that you might become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, Romans 8:28 (“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”) is a comforting verse for Christians who are going through the valley experiences of life. Amen.