A blog series on “Kingdom Vision”; to live and orient our lives according to His ways.
By Eric Basye
“Blessed is the person whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the roads 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.
A Blessed Life?
I remember many years ago, while I was much younger in my faith, holding onto this belief and hope that the pathway of following Jesus was always good. Perhaps some of you can relate, but a part of this “good“ was that the Lord would be with me in all that I did, and if I simply relied on Him, He would be faithful to fulfill the desires of my heart. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I prayed for a successful football game, or that I would shoot well on the basketball court, or better yet, that the Lord would bless me with a successful hunt. You can only imagine the disappointment that often came with the losses, a poor performance, or an unsuccessful hunt. I realize now how utterly foolish this way of thinking was. Since then, my thoughts have matured, but I still find myself operating with a false hope that the “blessed Christian life” is one free of conflict, hardship, and difficulty.
When the Storm Comes
Not too long ago, I facilitated a retreat for my staff at CLDI. Throughout the weekend, we conversed about finding joy in the Lord amid hard, challenging circumstances. How do we find shalom amid busy lives, chaotic schedules, technology, and information overload, and being on the verge of burnout? As part of the solution, we discussed the importance of Sabbath, rest, and finding quietness despite business. Quietness to reflect on the goodness of the Lord, gratitude for His abundant provision, and remembrance of the joy that He alone gives. As our last exercise, I had my staff imagine that they were a tree. Left to their creativity, they decided on the tree, the setting, the colors, and all of the sights and sounds that went along with it. As we further developed the scenery in their imagination, we talked about the warm sun that shown down upon the leaves, giving reason for the flowers to bloom, the birds’ to chirp, and the squirrels to run about. But then, the inevitable happened. Just as it happens in life, clouds began to brew on the horizon. The clouds culminated, and as the storm came, the violent wind shook the tree, but amazingly, the tree withstood the test of the storm. After the storm had come and gone, the sun again began to shine, and the water from the rains brought nourishment and strength to the tree.
Testing the Root System
Reflecting on this imaginary scene in our minds, so many powerful analogies came to mind regarding the Christian life. Notably, you knew the storm was coming as the dark clouds culminated on the horizon. Yet, just as quickly as the storm came, so also did it pass. And interestingly, it was the storm that provided the much-needed water to nourish and strengthen the tree. And even the wind, as aggressively as it shook, proved only to strengthen the tree as the roots burrowed deeper in the ground, providing strength and additional nutrients for the growing tree. It was also notable that the harvest of fruit that fell from the trees was the most abundant during this violent storm. It’s interesting to think that perhaps it was the storm that provided so much life needed for the tree.
The Lord, Our Dwelling Place
As I think about the story, I believe that it shares many similarities with Psalm 84. The first four verses speak of this longing we have for the Lord God. He is our dwelling place; our souls long to be in His presence. For He alone gives joy. We see this in other passages, too, such as Psalm 34:8-9, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” As well as Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Strength to Strength
Yet, as we read on in verses 5-8, we have this imagery of being on a pilgrimage, ultimately destined for the City of God. But on this journey, it is essential to pass through the Valley of Baca, a place of weeping, an arid land, marked by suffering and hardship. Yet, it is in this place as the people of faith sojourn that they make it a spring. No longer marked by drought, the abundance of water and life are present as they pass through, “going from strength to strength.”
Giving thought to this particular passage, I am taken back to the words of Isaiah 58. Addressing the people of God in how they are to rightly pursue the Lord, Isaiah instructs them to live in the way of faithfulness to God and to love their neighbor, especially the vulnerable among them. God calls them to this radical way of living and being, very contrary to the kingdom of this world. But he says, if you do these things, “I will give you a full life in the emptiest of places – firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.”
A Full Life
I find these passages incredibly interesting and encouraging. Of course, nobody in their right mind is excited about a pathway of hardship and difficulty. But as a Christ-follower, we know that this is a part of our journey, for just as He suffered, so will we also suffer. With an orientation toward the City of God, we will pass through many valleys like the Valley of Baca. But as Christ-followers, we know that it is through this pathway of long-suffering that the Lord will give us strength, not of our own accord. He will move us to a place of humility and great dependence upon him. And amazingly, in a way that only makes sense if the Kingdom of God is real, He will give us a full life in what first appeared to be an empty place.
“Behold our shield, O God, and look upon the face of Your anointed. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside… For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!” (v. 9-12).
1. Mich. Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002).
4. Eugene H. Peterson, ed., The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002).