“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Psalm 23:4
Of all the verses in the Bible, why has this one held my attention?
I find that when I’m reading the Bible (which I try to do consistently), a word or a phrase will stick out to me more than the words around it. It’s almost like it’s printed in a different color. Something in my mind (or maybe my spirit) picks up on it and won’t let go.
Such is the case with this verse today.
So, since it’s Think Right Thursday, it would be fitting to walk through this process with you.
Finding Life In The Dark Places
What does the valley of the shadow of death look like?
A valley is a vulnerable place to be. In ancient Israel, shepherds would often have to lead their sheep through deep ravines to get from one good pasture to another. In these ravines, the footing was unsteady, trees and briars hung over the edges, and there was no way up the steep, rocky sides. If you were surrounded by enemies in such a ravine, they clearly had the high ground and the tactical advantage over you. It was literally a position of “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” where you were walking in the shadow of death.
For some of the patients I’ve come across over the years, the valley of the shadow of death was that place where the symptoms of their disease were so intense that death was always looming in the back of their minds. It just seemed imminent – you could feel it when they walked in the room. It’s a dark, terrifying place. They could be overcome by their disease at any moment. By the time they came to me, they had exhausted the cumulative knowledge of the medical establishment and were just trying to survive.
My goal (and challenge) with those cases is to back them away from that position and move them toward good health, but as I’ve shared many times, if their mind is filled with fear that they will never have good health again, their physical recovery will be halted at that point. My hands are tied by their negative belief until we can overcome that belief.
I heard a preacher say this once, “If you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death – DON’T STOP!! RUN!!”
I feel for those patients who have given up running in the dark places.
On the other hand, it seems like there are more and more people for whom the sense of danger is more vague but no less real. We live in a culture where people are afraid to go out of their homes. They are afraid of their neighbors, their government, foreigners..anybody who makes them feel unsafe. It’s a type of anxiety and it steals their freedom, their joy, and their health.
Is the world a dangerous place? Certainly, and more so every day. Are their fears legitimate? On some level, yes. There are bad people everywhere, and everyone in this world has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to harm you, but the potential exists in everyone to do something that could make your life unpleasant. On His way to the cross, even Jesus told His disciples, “Boys, buckle up, because in this world you’re going to have trouble.” (my paraphrase)
I also noticed today that the Psalmist doesn’t say, “it feels like I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”
“Feels” has nothing to do with it. The danger is real. Jesus didn’t mince words. This life is full of trouble and sorrow and fear and pain and sickness and all whole host of other bad things. That’s just a hard fact. You can’t hide from it, nor can you honestly pretend it doesn’t exist. Trouble is real.
But Jesus didn’t stop there, and neither did the Psalmist. Jesus’ whole statement was, “In this life you will have trouble, BUT FEAR NOT (or TAKE HEART or BE OF GOOD CHEER), for I have overcome the world.” John 16:32-33 (emphases mine)
Likewise, the Psalmist continues his thought: “THOUGH I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I SHALL FEAR NO EVIL, FOR THOU ART WITH ME.” (emphases mine)
I don’t deny the presence of evil, but I deny it the right to terrify me, control me, or direct my thinking.
Because God is with me.
How can I be so sure?
Well, look at verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1)
How did The Lord become my shepherd? He invited me into his “flock” and I accepted the invitation. I choose daily to let Him lead me like a loving shepherd. I trust Him. Verses 2 and 3 show examples of the things He does to demonstrate that He is taking care of me:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me by the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2-3)
What does that even mean?
It means that He supplies my physical needs, takes all the burden of my acquiring my daily provisions off my shoulders, encourages me, refreshes my mind, and gives me direction on the right things to do from day to day, just because He said He would.
So, even when things look bad, I can trust that He is not going to leave me alone. He promised to look after me. I am never alone. Never. No matter how bleak things look, I have His promise to care for me. Psalm 91 says, “though a thousand fall by your side and ten thousand at your right hand, it shall not come near you.”
In fact, my prescription for you this weekend is to spend at least 15 minutes studying Psalm 23 and Psalm 91. Psalm 91 is a contract of protection between you and God. He’s amazing.
By the way, it’s worth mentioning that not everyone comes out of the valley of the shadow of death alive. For some, death is the only exit from the valley. But, no matter what the outcome, you never have to fear any part of the process. In fact, I have often admired terminally ill patients who, when I talked to them, were at peace with the process. They fearlessly stepped from this life to the next. They knew what the next life held for them, so they feared no evil. They took their last breath in my presence and their first breath in His. It was glorious.
For most of us, however, the valley of the shadow of death is simply a season we go through in life, where things look bad for awhile, but we can trust that God always has His hands over us, and He brings us through.
The Next Step Is Yours
If you have accepted the free gift of reconciliation with God that Jesus gave up His life to give you, then you have all the promises of supernatural protection available to you.
If you haven’t, I personally invite you to do so. There is no way we could ever be holy enough to approach God on our merits. We are imperfect beings; we all fall short of God’s standard and are doomed to spend eternity separated from Him. If a judge fails to punish evil, then there is no justice. If God did not judge and punish sin, then He would not be righteous, just, or good. Has has to be consistent with upholding the law. God’s desire was to have you in His family, but sin had to be dealt with, so He made a way to get sin out of the way for good. He sent His Son, Jesus, to live a sinless life, and offer Himself as a sacrifice to meet the righteous demands of justice. Jesus died and was separated from God in our place (we call it Hell). After three days, God raised Him from the dead and declared that His sacrifice paid the debt of all sin for all mankind.
He extended you a gift, now, you have a choice: you can accept this free gift of reconciliation with God as a gift, or you can reject it. If you receive the gift, you receive everything He promised us in His Contract, the Bible. But the voice is yours.
To accept the free gift, simply tell Him. Say this out loud:
“God, I’ve been living my life apart from you, disobedient to You and Your ways. I was wrong. Please forgive me. I see now that You love me and want to love me like a good father. I turn away from disobedience and turn back to you. I acknowledge that Jesus gave up His life to pay the price for my disobedience, but then you raised Him from the dead. Jesus, be my Savior, be my Lord, and be my friend. From now on, I will live for You. Fill me with your spirit and lead me in the new life you have for me.”
Welcome to God’s family!! I am so excited for you! If you prayed that prayer, the Bible says you are a new person now, even though you probably don’t feel any different. Inside, you are a new person. Please send me a comment on Facebook to let me know that you prayed. If you live in Naples area, I can recommend a couple of great churches that will give you a Bible to study, and encourage you in your new faith. I also would love the opportunity to personally greet you and pray for you.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas