The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
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;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Psalm 23 is familiar to many and often looked to for comfort and encouragement in times of grief and great loss. In preparing to preach recently at Deer Run, God helped me to see a connection between this passage and the statements of Jesus in John 10 where He identifies Himself as the good Shepherd. As I look at these passages, I see four things that Jesus brings to us so that we can have HOPE in the valley.
I know that often it feels like the time in the valley is so desolate, and you’re so alone, that there can’t possibly be anyone else that is in the valley or could even understand. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, that is just not true. We all walk through the valley at times — many times more often than we admit and for most, more often than we like. Some of our valleys are much easier for others, and ourself, to identify. In the 23 Psalm, David writes of the “valley of the shadow of death”. It is one of the reasons this Psalm is used so often to comfort families and loved ones at funeral services as they walk through that valley. It is a valley that we all walk through from time to time but not the only valley we are likely to experience. There are the valleys of loneliness, rejection, hurt, anger, illness, poverty, hunger, need, exhaustion, despair, confusion, . . . I hope you get the point, the list goes on and on. You’ve probably seen yourself in one or more of these valleys as well as others that you have experienced. The good news is that God can, and wants, to bring HOPE to your valley.
The first quality that God desires to bring to our valley is Healing. Jesus states that it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick. He came to bring a wellness to the lives of those who realize they are sick — a healing to those who are hurting in the valley. David describes that in this Psalm as restoring the soul. As our Shepherd, God wants to bring healing to the innermost part of who we are. Healing is needed when we walk through our valley. God’s desire is for us to find and depend on Him as the one who heals.
Secondly, we find Opportunity in the valley. This can be extremely hard to grasp while we are in the valley but God can use our hardships and heartaches to prepare and refine us for greater things. It has often been said that an advantage of hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. While I wouldn’t suggest reaching that point purposefully, as Christians our valleys ought to cause us to evaluate where we are at and to look up. It is in the valley that we often have the opportunity to learn greater trust and dependence on God. The life lessons learned in the valley, while often the hardest, are usually not learned anywhere else. God’s gift of opportunity in the valley is a key component of the hope that we all long for.
Protection in the valley can often seem like a great mystery and contradiction to us — particularly while we are in the valley. Our mind often thinks that if God were providing protection, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. As one who had been in the valley numerous times, David realized that even when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death there was no need to fear evil because God was with him. David spent so much time being tracked down and hunted with Saul trying to kill him. He, more than many, understood the protection God could give as he speaks of God preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies. I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a great amount of confidence in the One protecting me for me to be able to sit at a table while my enemies are watching. God’s protecting us from the evil one went all the way to Calvary where the “Good Shepherd” laid down his life for His sheep — you and I. Holding fast to God as our protector goes a long way in bring hope to our valley.
Additionally, we have Encouragement in the valley. David realized that the rod and staff of his Shepherd were not meant to harm or frighten him but to bring comfort to his life. Sometimes it is in our valley that we are quiet and still enough to feel the comfort of God’s rod and staff in our life. David recognized that God’s presence in his valley was an encouraging reminder that His goodness and mercy would be with him all the days of his life. But it didn’t end there. It was in the valley that he was reminded of the great encouragement that comes with the promise of dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. Encouragement in the valley provides hope as we recognize the great love and faithfulness of the God we serve.
Do you need HOPE in your valley today? I pray that you would lean mightily upon God for insight into His Healing, Opportunity, Protection, and Encouragement that He desires for you to have.
But wait, there’s more! Whether you are currently in a valley or not, you have a job to do! Spread the HOPE that God has brought into your life. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians and instructs us to comfort others with the same comfort we have received through Jesus. Part of the opportunity of our valley is in the receiving of comfort and hope from our LORD so that we in turn can offer comfort and hope to others. We learn through scripture that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. He walked through the same valleys we find ourselves in. He knows our sorrows and our pain first hand. It is through His greatest valley that we find the foundation for HOPE in our valley.
Praying that you and I both receive and share HOPE in the valleys of life.