God’s Presence in the Community of BelieversBy Stacey Weeks
April 17, 2020
“As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:6-7, ESV)
I love to run. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I love how I feel when I run. I love how running clears my mind and quiets my soul. I love how strong my body becomes after running regularly. I register for races because I need the motivation of a goal, but after I register, I question my sanity. Why do I keep doing this to myself? Why did I commit to another grueling workout schedule? And most importantly, why did I join with a friend? Now, I can’t back out. I have to continually remind myself that the discomfort of training is worth the glory of finishing with a strong body and mind.
Race day dawns with excitement. The crowd cheers, the gun explodes, and thousands of feet hit the pavement, but soon that excitement fades. The crowd thins. I’m left in the race, just putting one foot in front of the other, looking for the finish line. I am tempted to quit, but my friend encourages me. She wants to stop, so I support her. And as we pass mile marker after mile marker, the strangest thing happens. Our strength and determination increase instead of decreasing. Every stride brings us closer to the finish. We are encouraged as we help one another overcome difficulty and exhaustion. We pump worship tunes through headphones, and the remaining distance to the finish line shrinks. Mental fatigue lessens. Soon, people are lining the streets again, cheering because we are close to the finish. We become invigorated. The prize is in sight.
The Collective Race to the Finish Line
Just like our race, the Christian life is also one of highs and lows, of difficulty, exhaustion, invigoration, and encouragement as we look toward our finish line—an eternity spent in God’s presence.
Barnes Notes on the Bible calls Psalm 84:
[A] beautiful illustration of the life of Christian pilgrims—of the bands of the redeemed—as they journey on toward the end of their course. By prayer and praise and mutual counsel, by their songs, by the fact that difficulties are surmounted, leaving fewer to be overcome, and that the journey to be traveled is diminishing constantly—by the feeling that they are ever drawing nearer to the Zion of their home, they increase in strength, they become more confirmed in their purposes, they bear trials better, they overcome difficulties more easily, they walk more firmly, they tread their way more cheerfully and triumphantly.
They Christian pilgrims are close to the finish. They are invigorated.
Note the pronouns in Psalm 84: 6-7. They go through the valley … they make it a place of springs … they go from strength to strength. THEY “They.” Plural. The Israelites travel together. They help one another. They encourage one another.
In our utter exhaustion—when logic dictates that we should give up, that it makes no sense to get back up again and keep putting one foot in front of the other—it is a gift from God that we draw strength from one another. We cheer each other onward. I stumble, and you steady my feet. When the weak collapse, the strong carry them.
When despair hits hard, we collectively worship our way through the Valley of Baca because our eyes are fixed on the finish line, when we will stand before the Lord. I thank the Lord for the community of faith. It is a gift. We do not have to travel through our valleys alone.
Ministry in the Valley
Ministry is exhausting. It is spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. There have been many times I feared that I couldn’t continue, not because I lacked desire for God or because of a specific hardship, but because I was spent—entirely and utterly fatigued.
For too long, I failed to recognize that community is a gift; it is a blessing, especially during overwhelming stretches of life. Some of us are raising kids or caring for grandkids while serving in ministry. Some of us working full-time, providing for extended family needs, and struggling to maintain our responsibilities in our homes.
We are in the trenches of the day-in-day-out chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and serving. We are doing good things, but we are weary right through to the bone. And in our weariness, the enemy tempts us to pull back and isolate. He wants us to believe that hiding behind walls will protect us from hurt and rejection. But isolation is never a safe place. We need each other.
Together we will bear trials better. We will overcome difficulties more easily, walk more firmly, and tread our way more cheerfully and triumphantly when we walk together. We need to lead one another to the only place a weary woman can lay her burden down — the cross.
When we feel overwhelmed by the struggles of this life, we need to remind one another that this world is not our home. We serve an awesome and almighty God who has so much more in store for those who endure. Eternity in the presence of God is the prize that causes us to get up each morning, lace up our sneakers, press our feet into the starting blocks of the character of God, and chase holiness together.