Waiting in the Valley of Perseverance

Three days ago, I’d never heard of a rover called Opportunity or the Valley of Perseverance. I first heard about it from the Holy Spirit himself. I’m in one of those seasons right now. It isn’t darkness, exactly, but it is dimmer than usual. There is a subtle resistance in my spirit, a sense that I’m having to work just to keep moving, having to press through when I’d rather lay low. We all have those times when it feels more like walking through mud than walking on water, and I’m in one of those. I wouldn’t classify it as depression or doubt or fear or even anxiety. Nor is this a time when God seems silent. To the contrary, he seems remarkably close. My times in his presence are rich. I can hear his voice. That makes me suspect there is more to this season than a bad mood.

But what to call it, then? When I asked the Lord about it — “Lord, am I sliding backward? Am I spiraling down into an old familiar darkness?” — here’s what I heard: “This is the Valley of Perseverance.” I’d never heard of such a valley. I assumed it was in the Bible somewhere, but I couldn’t recall where so I looked it up.

It isn’t in there.

The Valley of Perseverance is a place on Mars, and I’m just finding out about it though it happens to be in the news right now. Earlier this year the rover named Opportunity got stuck there. Somewhere in mid-June, a dust storm kicked up, a big one that has since grown to epic proportions. Because Opportunity is powered by solar energy, the severe dust is keeping the rover’s solar panels from being able to absorb light. So now, two months into this storm, there sits Opportunity surrounded by dust and grounded, unable to charge its batteries for the lack of light.

Researchers monitoring the situation are hopeful for two things to happen. Eventually, the dust storm will settle, they assume, though that won’t be the end of Opportunity’s challenges. When the dust settles, it will inevitably settle on the rover’s solar panels, solving nothing. The second hope after the dust settles is that a wind will blow through and clear the panels of dust. This is a quote from a NASA report on the situation (but doesn’t it sound like something out of Isaiah?): “The sun breaks through the haze over the Valley of Perseverance, and soon the light there should be enough to allow Opportunity to charge its batteries.”

But for now, the only option open is to wait it out. 

I’m stunned by this revelation, taken by it. That God would draw from this story to speak to my inner angst is powerful. It reminds me that he is not just my friend, or even the God whose got the whole world in his hands. He is the God of the universe, and certainly big enough to hold me in the valleys.

In this word, he has shown me that not all down days (or weeks, or seasons) are generic. Some of them are specific and require a specific response. This one I’m in? This is the “dust” of a flurry of projects and responsibilities running concurrently. Most of them are not storms of my own making. They are moments and circumstances and situations with expiration dates that require my patient endurance as they play out. Weighty though they are, most are best conquered with waiting. Doing nothing, even.  Sometimes circumstances beyond our control will necessitate our sitting in the Valley of Perseverance for a season. Nothing to do but wait it out.

But the waiting proves us. And shapes us.

In Paul’s encouragement to first-century Christians dealing with pressures of faith, he writes that “suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4). Perseverance in Paul’s use of it is about handling pressure with grace. It is a solid biblical word that gives one the sense of a floor beneath the feet in confusing times. It is a prescription for allowing tough seasons to build character.

So I hear you, Holy Spirit: Hang in there. Wait. Don’t force things. This storm will pass. The dust will settle. The wind will blow. The light will shine. The batteries will recharge.  As with Opportunity, who sits on a far planet also under Your gaze, the call is to persevere, and to use this waiting to build character.

It is a good word, and a gift. I hear it. Give me courage and wisdom enough to let it form me.

Lord, give us wisdom and patience to wait out the storms, the dust, and the confusion. Give us grace to endure seasons in the Valley of Perseverance, so we can again draw strength from your light and move beyond this place.

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A word about unfulfilled promises

Another post by my friend and collaborator in ministry, Angel Davis. This week, she shares deeply and mystically about the holy discipline of waiting: 

I know I’m not alone in the years of waiting and praying for promises of God to be fulfilled for my loved ones and those with which I have the privilege of ministering. So many are hurting and lost, searching for true identity and in desperate need of healing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have seen countless and countless answered prayers — exceedingly and abundantly more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined (and I still have years to go). I know there will be more to come. And yet there remains a yearning, a deep groaning at times, for those unfulfilled promises of God that have been prayed over for years and years.

The temptation is to pepper God with endless “whys.” “Why, God, haven’t you answered my prayers?” It is a very human thing to question what we don’t understand but that question can work against us. It keeps our eyes on our circumstances — on us — and that limits us. As long as I confine my faith to what I can understand, it will be a small world, indeed.

Perhaps a better question might begin with “what.” “What, God, are your purposes being played out as I wait?” “What do you want me to see and learn?” These questions put the emphasis back on God and his work. They open the door for us to enter into “the more” with God.

And what is “the more”?

Here are a few things I’ve learned about “the more” in my years of waiting, yearning, and praying.

  • Waiting helps my faith grow.
  • Waiting helps my hope grow.
  • Waiting helps my love grow.

Examine that list. Are these not the very things the Bible tells us will remain and never fail? (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Of course, not all waiting is holy, but the ordained waiting to which I’ve been assigned (my cup and my portion) has been the greatest expander of my faith. Waiting does the sometimes-painful work of prying our fingers off of fear, the kind that hinders faith. Waiting gives time for God to search my mind and heart (Psalm 139:23). Waiting allows space for God to teach me how to move forward fearlessly, and to empower me to see things from his vantage point (focusing on the solution rather than hyper-focused on the problem). Waiting also causes me to cling more deeply and surely to His truths and promises. This is “the more” that makes the struggle worth it.

In that transformation, hope rises. My hope is banked on Him and not the circumstances or the one for which I am interceding. God Himself is Hope. I come to know Him (His true character) more through the waiting, through the desperation, through the seeking, asking and knocking.

And hope rises …

From it I receive more and more of His heart of love. At times it seems like glimpses or trickles; other times it feels like a flood into my soul. And sometimes, it sure doesn’t even seem like love. Yet as I consistently bring my feelings to His throne of grace, as King David did, then I get to exchange fear, frustration, yearnings, groaning’s, heartaches, for Him — for His grace and love. And as I receive that from Him, then I have it to give back to Him as an offering. In turn, He enables me to love more deeply and purely. He takes our sacrifice of waiting and all that He accomplishes in it and will do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ever dream or imagine.

In the process of holy waiting, we get glimpses of the story of God. He is behind the scenes working things out in ways we couldn’t imagine much less carry out. And like those giants of faith in Hebrews 11, we may not see the full fruit of answered prayers on this side of Heaven, but this we can bank on: If we allow God to grow our own faith, hope and love, we can leave an indelible mark on this earth for His glory that will carry through into eternity.

That, my friends, is worth the wait.

Angel H. Davis is a Christ follower who lives in Athens, Georgia and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in healing prayer. Read more from Angel in her book, The Perfecting Storm: Experiencing God’s Best Through the Trials of Marriage. This is an exceptional resource for those who want to see transformation in their marriage.

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Habit #3: Joyful people know how to wait.

Our church has been in a season of remarkable transition in the last year or so — a season of trusting and waiting and listening and deepening. Change is not usually easy and this is no exception; but I have noticed a sweetness to this season.  God has worked in such gentle and unmistakable ways.  Every need provided for, every shift purpose-filled. Watching God’s hand move over our community of faith has been an amazing, faith-building experience. It causes us to suspect we are on the cusp of something pretty powerful.

God’s theme through this season is an old one:  wait. It has not been lost on us that the word “wait” is such a primal theme in the texts we call “wisdom literature.”  Evidently, wise people know how to wait.  Waiting on the Lord is a popular theme for the psalmist and a proverbial one for Solomon. Mary waited and pondered and she, too, was a wise woman.

Wait, God says. And the more I do it, the more I realize it isn’t what I thought it was. In moments of spiritual clarity, I see that waiting is not a gap of emptiness between two events. It isn’t a staring contest with God; we’re not toe-to-toe waiting to see who blinks first.

I’m struck by the connection between the term “waiting” and another biblical phrase, “the fullness of time.”  While the waiting may seem to stretch on as empty space from my perspective, I am beginning to reckon that from God’s vantage point, this isn’t space at all but a full, rich basin of intangibles all designed to prepare me for the next thing.  While I’m drumming my fingers or begging and pleading for movement, God is no-holds-barred working out his will.

Who knew the time was so full?  Shaping, preparing, stripping, educating, awakening.  All that must happen before we can move on wisely.

Think “desert travel.” After experiencing their complete lack of faith in their own future, God told Moses that not one person of the original generation of exodus travelers would make it across the line into the promised land. Everything and everyone that smacked of faithlessness and fear would be eradicated, because he simply wouldn’t allow those traits to seep into the DNA of his people. Those forty years they were marching in circles, God was busy sloughing off the old, birthing the new.

In the same way, our desert travels are not empty time but the very fullness of it, as God sheds from us everything that isn’t fit for the promised future he has appointed for us.  He strengthens us with layers of spiritual sinew designed to help us stand (“mount up on wings like eagles; run and not grow weary; walk and not faint”) when this new thing happens.  We get impatient and beg for movement while God works, knowing that a move in one moment less than the fullness of time will crush us.

Wait, he says.  Not because he is finishing a crossword, or because he hasn’t yet figured out which direction the map is taking us.  Wait, he says, because we are in the middle of something important now.   Foundational work is being laid here, work that will help us hold the next thing.

Wait.

Wait actively — patiently (which is to say, lovingly), prayerfully, expectantly.  Wait like the father who stands at the window, watching for his long-lost son to return.  Wait like Mary, who knew from the moment of conception that she and her son were headed toward greatness.  Wait like the angel assigned to a slab in an empty cave, sitting for who knows how long so he would be there when someone stopped by, to tell them of an unprecedented power and presence unleashed into the world.  Wait like Paul, who sat in blind silence for three days while God completely rewired and wound him up for a new thing.  Wait like John, who steeped in desert-island darkness long enough for his eyes to adjust, revealing the unhindered, unfurled Kingdom of God in three-D splendor.

Wait.

In our own season of waiting at Mosaic, we’re leaning heavily on God’s promises as we build our faith muscles.  We’re learning to fast, something our circumstances didn’t require from us nearly so much in past days.  We’re learning the kind of worship that looks like quiet trust (“Though he slay me, yet shall I praise him”).  And we’re developing a more holy hunger.

In days past, we might have gorged on the first available opportunity to come our way.  These days, we are allowing the wait to purify our motives.  We aren’t on our own time any more; we are yearning toward the fullness of time.  The work of waiting is creating in us a deeper hunger for the Kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Right now, we can almost taste it.  Maybe God will move the day we can actually taste it — taste and see that the Lord’s timing is delicious.

What if that is what all spiritual waiting is really about?  What if our waiting is answering Jesus’ own prayer?  What if our waiting is actually more important than the thing we’re waiting for? Wouldn’t that be just like God?

“I came that my joy might be in you,” Jesus said. As it turns out, joy is not a moment (like an emotion) but a process of being at peace with God’s pace and time.

Joy is embedded in the waiting.

A few questions for those challenged to wait: Do you have a knack for focusing on what you haven’t done instead of on how far you’ve come? Do you ever spend energy worrying about how slowly things change? Does your life move so fast that often you don’t have time to stop and notice the progress? Do others ever get frustrated with you because you are so hard on yourself?

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