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Seeing the Light in Dark Times

From Lifeway
As we continue our study of Psalm 23, I invite you to a familiar oasis where we will see that God is closer than you think in times of crisis.  In the first four verses of Ps. 23, David takes the gentle picture of a shepherd with his sheep to describe the relationship God has with us and we with Him. Everything makes sense in our understanding of a shepherd leading his flock to green grass and calm waters. Then we get to v. 4, and it doesn't fit. The valley of the shadow of death conjures thoughts of a dangerous situation where a sheep's life is in jeopardy unless the shepherd is alert and attentive.

PSALM 23:4  4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  

But why would a sheep be going through such a place? Not because he strayed off in sin; that is not the point here, because the shepherd is pictured as going with the sheep not snatching him back to the pasture he left behind. No, the reason the sheep is going through the valley is because the shepherd lead him there.

The connection between vs. 3 and 4 confirm this: The path through the valley is also one of the paths of righteousness in which God leads. "He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . "

But why would a good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep lead a lamb into a valley filled with danger and death threats? There's only one possible answer: "To get to some better place!" Philip Keller is an Australian shepherd whose wonderful little book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 includes this observation about these barren valleys:
"The shepherd knows from past experience that predators like coyotes, bears, wolves, or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs and from their vantage point prey on his flock. He knows these valleys can be subject to sudden storms and flash floods that send walls of water rampaging down the slopes. There could be rockslides, mud, or . . . a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep. But in spite of such hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop."

When you're walking through some unfamiliar valley and the shadows linger . . . When you have cancer and have to decide whether it will be chemotherapy or some other way . . . When you're trying to decide as a matter of Godly stewardship whether to take your money out of the market or let it ride... When your finances are tight, and you are taking on yet another job to make ends meet, remember this:  Your Shepherd has appointed even this hard time as one of His paths of righteousness. He is leading you through this valley for reasons that probably won't be apparent. But rest assured, He is taking you to the high country, where the sun is warm and the grass is lush. Every valley is pathway to something better. As Psalm 84:11 says, "No good does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly." Or as Paul put it, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom . 8:28). The valley isn't good, but the Shepherd is. He knows the way.

David tells us how to be fearless in adversity. He tells us that even in the valley of the shadow of death, he didn't dread the distress he would face or cringe in the face of crisis. How do you fight fear when you don't know what's going to happen next and your imagination is working overtime ? How did David do it? David tells us his confidence came from three sources:

He stayed in God's presence.
In v. 4, David says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." First, he speaks of God's nearness, His presence. When you step into your valley, and it's so dark you can't even see the path ahead, and you the possibility that there are predators and enemies laying in wait for you, your Shepherd has something He wants you to hear: I will be with you. Don't turn to drugs or resort to drink or find some other substitute that you think will help you get through this valley. All you need is your Shepherd.

Hebrews 13:5b-6 says it like this: "He has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?"

He saw God's power.
A shepherd's rod was a two-foot club made of oak, with a rounded head that was whittled from the knot of the tree and had sharp bits of metal pounded into it. This club was used to defend the flock against attacks. It pictures the shepherd's power, wielded against overpowering enemies. David said he had no fear in adversity because of the comfort of God's power, protecting him from that which would ruin him. And you need not fear. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4).

He experienced God's leading.
Your staff . . . comforts me, he said. He was referring to the shepherd's crook, with its hook on one end. A good shepherd would use it to guide the sheep, lest they stray away. Just a gentle tap of the staff on a lamb's side would move them back in the fold. And the crook could gather up a sheep from a place where it might have fallen. David felt comforted that his Shepherd was guarding his steps, making sure that he made it through the darkness safely.

David was supremely confident, not only about his present circumstances but of grace in the future that would see him all the way home. He believed that valley times were appointed for His good. He learned things about God that could be learned no other way in the deep ravines of life. He stayed close, and trusted in God's protection and guidance all the way.

 All because he could say, "The Lord is my shepherd."
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