Treating A Valley Of Sorrows As A Spring
September 9, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Even When Going Through A Valley Of Sorrows
1. We read Psalm eighty-four in today's first scripture reading. From it I would like for us to remember verses six to eight in particular. I will read them to you once more.
How blessed it is!
Through you a man takes courage,
A man sees the broad paths in his heart.
Even when going through a valley of sorrows, he will treat it as a spring.
Rain will fall, but you cover him in blessings.
They will increase in strength more and more
At last, in Zion [they] will meet God.
-- Psalm 84:6-8
3. The phrase "How blessed it is!" is repeated across the entire eighty-fourth Psalm three times. We could easily say it is the song of someone who truly knows happiness or blessedness. This person is calling somebody a blessed man. In the place I just read to you, [he] sings that the man is blessed when "Through you (God) a man takes courage, a man sees the broad paths in his heart." However, I don't understand this by itself very clearly. When I go to the next statement, I think it is a bit easier to comprehend. The blessed person is this -- "Even when going through a valley of sorrows, he will treat it as a spring." Let's start by looking at this first.
4. Do you recall how the words "valley of sorrows" are translated in The Kohgoyaku Bible, [Protestant translation in Japanese, New Testament 1951, Old Testament 1955], we used previously? This part is actually translated as "the valley of Baca." Each time in church I heard this passage from this Psalm since I was a child, I would think, "Did I really hear you say valley of fools or what [because in Japanese the word 'baka (fool)' sounds very harsh just like the infamous four letter words in English]?" Actually though, this "Baca" refers to balsam trees. It is a species of shrubbery that grows in arid land. Therefore, by saying valley of Baca it is saying "dry valley" in its nuance. However, interestingly enough, though the spelling is different, there is [another] word with just about the same pronunciation with the meaning of "weep." You can definitely consider it a play on words here. No doubt then, for the person making a pilgrimage, the path going through the arid valley had probably been such a hard path a person felt like weeping. Therefore, it is also "a valley of sorrows."
5. Yet, this psalmist is not claiming that the person who does not go through this "valley of Baca -- valley of sorrows" is happy and blessed. He says that the blessed person can treat this time of going through even such a valley of sorrows as a spring, [a flowing fountain of life].
6. Just like those who traveled and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem back then always had to go through a place they would call "the valley of sorrows," when we live we always have to go through [our own] deserts, [our own] valley of sorrows. Those who think they are not blessed because they must go in an arid wilderness will stay exactly that way for as long as it lasts. Because they must go through an arid valley they think they cannot live at an abundant level in their hearts and so their rustling hearts will remain dry and rough [like fallen crunching leaves] for as long as it endures. However, the truth be told, it is not a curse when one must go into the desert. It is when one cannot treat deserts like flowing fountains that is really the misfortunate state to be in.
7. Mr. Naoya Tokita is a Christian and a baritone singer. He originally lived in Kobe, but when he became a victim of the Great Hanshin Earthquake [in January 1995], he took up temporary residence in [scenic] Sasayama. I met him through a connection I had when I was involved in a new mission start in Sasayama, and I invited him to the church and had him sing for us. He is completely blind. As a premature baby at six months he was born with retinopathy. He has a phrase he is all the time saying. "Blindness is an inconvenience but never a misfortune." -- Psalm eighty-four was the scripture words read at the worship service the day Mr. Tokita came to church. That afternoon along with his singing of hymns, he told about his life, where he had treated his own valley of sorrows as a spring.
8. The decisively important thing in our lives is not whether we are passing through a valley of sorrows or not. What truly defines one's life is whether or not one is able to treat such places as places where springs gush forth from the ground.
A Man Sees The Broad Paths In His Heart
9. Well, how about you, are you able to treat [your own] valley of sorrows as a spring? With that [question], I would like to go back again to verse six. The scripture says, "How blessed it is! Through you a man takes courage, a man sees the broad paths in his heart." "The broad paths" is the path that goes to the temple in Jerusalem. The person is a pilgrim setting his thoughts upon the temple. The pilgrim is heading for the temple and says I will treat [my] valley of sorrows as a spring. What significance might this have [for us]?
10. In order to understand what he is saying we will need to consider just a bit the way in which he had been living. The lyrics beginning in verse two tell the kind of feelings he had been living with as follows.
Oh Lord of the armies, how loved it is where you are!
As I yearn for the gardens of the Lord, my soul seems to expire from it.
Facing towards the God of life, both my body and being cry out.
By your altar, a bird builds a dwelling
The sparrow sets its nest and places its young [in it].
Oh Lord of the armies, my king, my God!
How blessed it is!
When one is able to dwell in your house!
Even more, when one is able to praise you!
-- Psalm 84:2-5
12. Where it says, "Where you are" stands for the temple in Jerusalem and where it says, "the garden of the Lord" is its court yard. He is yearning so much for the garden of the Lord to the extent that his soul is fainting, because he is expiring. He is not seeking for the temple itself as one might suppose. God himself is whom he is seeking. He is seeking God simply because he is expiring. The temple is a place to worship God. Therefore, to seek God means specifically to worship God. He is longing for God and takes supreme joy in worshipping God.
13. Since he is seeking "God," we ought to keep in mind that this doesn't merely mean that he is seeking "something for God to give him." Of course, God does satisfy us with good things. Even in verse twelve of this psalm the scripture says, "The Lord gives to the one who walks the perfect way and will not refuse him good things." Even this person knows that well. Nevertheless, he is primarily seeking for none other than the Lord himself.
14. [And why?] Because he is "the God of life." Because he is the living God, the God who makes humankind alive, the God who gives life, the God who is the source and spring of life. When we are thirsty, we want a cup of water. But, more important than to seek for a cup of water is to seek for the source [of the water] itself. It is not an evil act to seek from God something urgent and necessary for one's life. But, the truly important thing is to seek for the source of life itself. The most important thing is to seek to know God, to truly worship God, to seek to live in a living relationship with God.
15. "As I yearn for the gardens of the Lord, my soul seems to expire from it. Both my body and being cry out to the God of life." He makes that statement like that. "Through you a man takes courage, a man sees the broad paths in his heart." -- this means that he is a person who longs for God. He is a person who knows the joy from worshipping God. He is a person who knows the joy from living satisfied by the true life in a relationship with God, seeking the source of life. When one has that joy, one does not determine one's life any longer by how one will walk in the arid land or how one will walk in the valley of sorrows -- because the water of life comes from God the source, the spring. Though such a person may walk in a valley of sorrows, he keeps walking still treating it as a place from which gushes forth a spring.
At Last They Meet With God At Zion
16. Then the scripture goes on to say the following. "They will increase in strength more and more. At last, in Zion [they] will meet God, " (verse eight). The pilgrims were not weakened by the long journey. The arid land did not become something that caused them to weaken. Instead, as the temple, their goal, became closer, they increased in strength more and more.
17. We can pattern a week of our day to day lives after the journey of the pilgrimage as it is depicted here in this text. Our day to day life is punctuated by worship services on Sundays in the length of a week's time. It is the journey of a pilgrimage that goes from worship to worship. When we give honor to worship we are not dishonoring the other days. Because the ancient pilgrims knew the joy of worship, as their journey progressed their strength increased more and more. Likewise, we should also walk stronger and stronger through the six days of each week day the more we learn how to worship the Lord and experience the joy from it. Busy modern folks get worn out from a week of day to day living and so it is not strange for them to welcome Sundays. However, it is precisely for that reason that the act of looking towards Sunday and of getting a mastery of living by growing in strength more and more has great significance.
18. In addition, our entire lives even can be patterned after the journey of the pilgrimage which is written here in the text. He says in verse five the following. "How blessed it is! When one is able to dwell in your house! Even more, when one is able to praise you!," (verse five). It's true. And this statement of "how blessed it is!" will soon be directly fulfilled. In today's gospel reading, Jesus put it like this, "Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. And believe in me as well. There are many places to live in my Father's house. If there weren't, would I have said that I am going to prepare a place for you? Since I am going and preparing a place for you, I will come back, and I will welcome you to where I am. Thus, where I am you will also be," (John 14:1-3).
19. Jesus has prepared a place for us. That's what Jesus' being on the cross means. Jesus was crucified so that we, sinful as we are, can still be forgiven for our sins, meet God the Father, and live in the Father's true house which is in heaven and not in the temple on this earth.
20. The worship each week in this world is no more than a miniature model of the perfect worship in God's true house which is in heaven. Before too long, the day will come when we will truly know and meet God. At that time, we will agree from the heart with the words that the psalmist had spoken, "How blessed it is!," and we will think, "I totally agree with you!"
21. Thus then, the person who lives aiming for that day when he or she will finally meet God is not living his or her life on this earth as a person who is merely rotting and decaying away. Of course, the body is growing weak and is deteriorating [more each day] and one's faculties are diminishing. However, as Paul put it, even though our "outer man" is wasting away, our "inner man" is being renewed each day, (Second Corinthians 4:16). The statement that "our strength increases more and more, [and] at last we will meet with God in Zion is actually coming into fulfillment even in our own lives. How blessed it is!