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When Christians say that they are going through a spiritual valley, they mean that they are in a period of life during which their personal relationships with God have hit an all-time low. Now a man can have a bad day and still be in a good place with his wife, or he could have a bad day while he and his wife are locked in a bitter battle of wills. The second scenario is far more miserable than the first, because the man’s relationship with his wife has such a big impact on his personal stress load. As long as he is at odds with her, he feels he can’t rely on her to give him any kind of support or encouragement. Instead, someone who should be his closest ally is operating like his worst enemy, for no other human knows how to knife him better than his spouse.
Now when Christians descend into spiritual valleys, they feel as though their own Creator has turned against them. Getting attacked by God is far more frightening and devastating than getting attacked by your closest human allies, because no human can even come close to torturing you to the degree that God can. And as long as Christians feel locked in a war with God, they feel incapable of enjoying whatever aspects of their lives might be going well.
Being caught in a war of wills with your own Creator has a very crippling effect on your insides. You find yourself dragging through life in a gutted condition, with every problem feeling overwhelming while every blessing feels like a set up for more pain. It is because valley travelers are in such bad internal shape that you see them getting permanently stalled in grief, depression, and hatred even when their circumstances don’t seem to warrant such extreme reactions. Often valley experiences kick off with some very intense trials, such as the loss of one’s health, or the loss of a close friend. Valley trials don’t look particularly unique to the outside observer—often they appear to be very common issues. And since many other Christians boast of sailing through similar experiences on clouds of abundant joy and grace, valley goers tend to look like whiny brats when they get permanently stalled in bitterness over what is happening to them. While other Christians are talking about how close God drew to them in their dark times, valley goers bitterly complain that God has totally abandoned them in their hour of need. Trying to perk up a pessimistic soul who is entrenched in valley blues is often impossible to do, because as another human, you can’t fix what’s really wrong with them.
It’s God who drags us down in the valley—it’s our endless conflict with Him that drains the life out of us and makes us start wishing we could just die already and escape the constant misery. We feel like He’ll never get off our backs and never stop persecuting us. We’re convinced that we’ve become some toy that He’s getting off on smashing, and that He’s lost all interest in ever relating to us in a positive way. So when we come across a post that claims that someday we’ll actually thank God for being so vicious to us, we scoff and think “What is this person smoking?” How can it possibly be that we would ever come to view our hellacious experience as being anything other than us getting mercilessly tortured by some sadistic creep of a God? This is the mystery we’re going to explain in this post.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SUBMISSION AND INTIMACY WITH GOD
Submission is the dominant theme of all valley experiences. Submission is a soul attitude which says, “Not my will but Yours be done.” Submission only comes up when there is a conflict of wills—when you and God disagree about something. When you’re in the valley, your entire conflict can be boiled down to you intensely disagreeing with the way God is treating you. You feel that the way He is running your life and especially the way He is personally relating to you is all wrong. You dearly want certain things that He is refusing to give you, and what you hate is what He keeps ramming down your throat. All of the rage you experience during this period is your reaction to God demanding that you submit to Him to degrees that you never have before. From where you’re sitting, His new demands are totally extreme and unreasonable. You often feel that He is asking something from you which is not humanly possible, and this pitches you into a deep depression until you’ve lost all hope that your relationship with Him will ever evolve into something positive.
Now we don’t all go through valley experiences, so what determines who God chooses to persecute in this way? Well, suppose you want to dig a tunnel through the base of a mountain that will be large enough for a four way highway to get through. Are you going to fuss around with a chisel and a hammer to accomplish this goal? No, you’re going to get out the dynamite and start blasting. For a project this large, extreme measures need to be used.
Spiritual valleys are a tool God uses to rapidly and drastically deepen your submission to Him. The goal is to accomplish radical changes in your spiritual priorities and personal maturity level in a very short period of time. To God, ten years is a mere blink of an eye. To a soul in the valley, ten years feels like an eternity. How long your personal valley experience lasts and how horrible it is depends on where you’re personally at in God’s specific maturity program for you as well as what His plans are for you in this world. Some callings require much higher levels of spiritual maturity than others due to the challenges involved and the scope of the task. If God has such a calling planned for you, He’ll pitch you into the valley sooner rather than later in order to get you equipped to serve Him well in a tough area. In many other cases, valleys begin as soon as souls who are seriously seeking God arrive at a point when they’re ready to graduate on to the next stage of maturity.
It’s important to realize that spiritual valleys are not an indication that you’ve been holding back in your personal walk with God. On the contrary, the fact that God is dragging you into a valley period is a fabulous sign of progress. You’re never going to get that tunnel built by chipping at the stones with some cheesy little chisel. But once the dynamite starts blasting, some serious progress is made. In the same way, it is impossible for you to ever reach certain levels of intimacy with God without drastically increasing your level of submission to Him.
Submission is key that unlocks the doorway to intimacy with God. When you enter the valley, you do not understand this principle, which is why you feel like the whole thing is an epic waste of time. And since we all start off thinking we’re so much wiser than we really are, we don’t realize how much we don’t understand when it comes to spiritual matters, and we feel quite capable of accurately assessing the wisdom of God’s methods with us. We then conclude that He’s handling us all wrong, and we spend a lot of time vacillating between self-pity, sorrow, and anger.
Now if you talk to souls who are going through valley experiences with God, you’ll find many common themes. One that is particularly revealing is how valley goers are so grieved by the loss of their personal relationship with God. Souls in the valley often report having had a far more positive view of God before their valley began. Many of them also feel that their valley period began during a time in their lives when they were really longing to get closer to God. This is one of the reasons they feel so rejected by God: because they feel that He has responded to their personal desire for Him in a very hostile way. When He saw them reaching towards them, He smacked their hands away and kicked them onto the ground—this is often how it feels to souls who are in the valley. And yet the fact that God’s personal rejection of them is triggering such sorrow reveals how much these souls are still longing for deeper communion with Him.
What is it that makes deep intimacy with God possible? Deep submission. The deeper your submission to God is, the more possible it is for you to commune with Him. But why does this correlation between intimacy and submission even exist? Because God is only willing to relate to us on the basis of a Creator who fully dominates His creatures. If God were willing to relate to us like our peer friend, all of this submission would not be necessary. Continuous compromise is a major theme in friendships, for in friendships the power is shared equally between the two partners. As our Sovereign Creator, God is not willing to share any of His power with us. He demands that we fully accept and align with His decision before He will allow us to know Him well. As long as we’re trying to find ways to wrangle power away from God by trying to find ways of controlling His behavior, we will be kept locked out of intimacy with Him. But the more we submit, the closer God will invite us to come to Him.
Spiritual maturity can be thought of as you and God traveling through an eternal hallway together. Every ten feet, you come across a locked door which God will only open if you agree to increase your submission to Him. Every time you pass through a door with Him, He shares some new insight about Himself which allows you to know Him better. The more doors you pass through, the better you know Him, and the closer you feel to Him. But if you stop submitting to Him, then you get stuck at whatever level you are at and He refuses to take you any further.
Once you understand that submission is the key that unlocks new levels of intimacy with God, you realize what a wonderful gift God is giving you by dragging you into some hellish spiritual valley. The only way to come out of the valley well is to put your all into submitting to God as He keeps revealing the limits of your submission to Him in different areas of your life. While normal spiritual maturity is like you and God casually strolling through that eternal hallway at a relaxed pace, the valley is like having God get behind you and start shoving you through each room so that you keep slamming into a new door every few seconds. It’s frustrating, overwhelming, and exhausting. It feels like nothing you do is ever good enough for Him, because no sooner do you make some new epic level of sacrifice in your relationship with Him than He’s demanding even more. And yet by the end of it, you’re going to find that you have traveled many miles in the same amount of time that it takes other souls to only pass through a few rooms. Spiritual maturity skyrockets during valley periods, but the souls doing the maturing are blinded to the incredible progress they’re making because they’re so focused on the fact that God keeps slamming them up against a new door.
You’re not going to get anywhere without increasing your submission to God, and yet you won’t even have the chance to practice submission until He creates a conflict in your life. In this world, many souls are trying to speed up their own rate of growth by intentionally inflicting hardships on themselves. When we act like this, we’re trying to take the lead in our relationships with God. We’re trying to get behind Him in that long hallway and make Him pick up His pace so that we can get to the next door faster. This strategy never works. Anytime we try to shove, drag, or lead God, He freezes in place and refuses to budge an inch. God will not be led by us, nor will He allow us to progress one inch forward until we get back into a subservient position with Him. If we refuse to step out of the lead position, God will actually start dragging us backwards through doors that we’ve already passed through, and He’ll take away the insights we’ve already gained. You see, it’s utterly hopeless trying to get God to submit to you in any area because He simply won’t. He has all of the power in the relationship whether you want Him to or not, and there’s nothing you can do to change that reality. You will always be the loser when you try to dominate God, and you’ll lose in ways that are far worse than you expected when you first tried to start pushing Him around. If we want to keep moving forward with Him, we must stay in a subservient position to Him, accepting our place as the eternal followers.
Now once you understand how impossible it is for you to increase the rate of your own submission development, you realize what a great gift it is that God is creating such a fabulous opportunity for you by dragging you into a valley period. Valleys aren’t just about crossing through one or two doors—they’re about flying through tons of doors at a very accelerated pace. When God drags you into a valley, He is creating an opportunity for you to gain something that only He can give you. He is inviting you to come much closer to Him. He is making what is humanly impossible possible.
Before you understand the spiritual principles we’ve been discussing in this post, you judge your valley experience entirely by how lousy it makes you feel. Because the progress is happening too fast for you to recognize, you insist that it is not happening at all, and you spend your days feeling enormously frustrated and depressed. Meanwhile, Christians who do not understand valley experiences feel very threatened by your negative depiction of God, so they look for ways to shut you down. Telling you that you’re being punished for unconfessed sins or accusing you of being a rebel are popular strategies for getting you to shut up and go away. And while the accusations of other Christians increase your own fears that God has permanently turned His back on you, God keeps slamming you into door after door, and He alone sees the fabulous progress you are making. When the day finally comes when He stops His insane pace and lets you catch your breath, you suddenly realize that some shocking changes have taken place deep down in your core. Your submission to God is far deeper than it ever was, and your understanding of Him is far richer. You can’t pinpoint exactly when the changes happened because they were happening so fast, but it’s clear to you that God has done something miraculous in your life. You then leave the valley, and eventually you come to understand the principles we’ve been discussing here. All of that submitting to God has greatly increased how much you personally value Him, and the more you value Him, the more you cherish any experience that has helped you to grow closer to Him. Eventually you learn to see the valley as one of the greatest gifts God ever gave you in this world because it has taken you to places which you would have never reached otherwise. You come to see that God dragging you into the valley was not at all a case of Him rejecting you, but rather evidence of how eager He was to greatly enrich His personal communion with you. That’s when you find yourself endlessly thanking and praising the same God who you used to accuse of being a cruel Monster back when you were going through valley hell.
We all start off thinking that we are far wiser than we actually are, and we are so quick to find fault with the way God handles us. But in the end we learn to appreciate how brilliant and efficient His methods really are. We learn to cherish Him above all else, and we find ourselves wanting Him to always have His way with us for all of eternity.
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Total Surrender to God: Understanding the Process
Why the Holy Spirit Left You: Guidance for Panicking Christians
Understanding Your Complete Loss of Faith: Great News for Devastated Christians
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Understanding Trust Development: Learning to Feel Safe with a Monstrous God
The Trenches of Refinement: Too Upset to Praise