Here are five things I’ve learned make the difference as you go through the valley. All Christians walk the places of shadows at some point in their journey through life.
The shepherd David penned one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:
“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.” (Ps. 23:6)
In the Palestine winter months back in David’s day, shepherds would take the sheep down to the lowlands where there was more grass and it was warmer. But once summer arrived and the temperature rose, it was in the sheep’s best interest to move to higher ground.
The only way to get the sheep from the low ground up to the high ground was to go through the valleys and gorges that are common in Palestine.
In this psalm, the better translation for this valley is “dark valley” or “valley of deep darkness.” The valley of deep darkness is not just about death; it’s about all those trials in life when, for a season, the shadows overtake the light.
Valleys are impartial, inevitable, and purposeful
Everyone will go through the valley, and often more than once.
Even the most obedient sheep still have to go through the valley.
Just before David talked about the valley, he wrote,
“He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.”
(vs. 3, NASB)
He then went on to say that sometimes that means going into dark valleys.
Righteous paths can still have valleys and shadows.
An artist knows you
can’t have a great picture
if you don’t have shadows.
The divine artist
knows the same thing is true
about a human being.
Valleys are impartial and inevitable.
The Bible does not say, “Count it all joy IF you encounter trials” but “Count it all joy WHEN you encounter trials…”
Whether they come as a result of this sin-sick creation,
as a wilderness experience preparing us for battle,
as divine discipline when the perfect Father loving corrects,
or on the anvil as we watch everything about ourselves melted down, hammered out, and chiseled so that we better reflect His image,
They are also purposeful.
The shepherd was taking the sheep to a better place.
Our shepherd is leading us to a place of refined faith and cultivated usefulness where we reflect His image more clearly. Peter’s testimony, James’ inspired words, and the Hebrews “hall of the faith” all witness to this fact:
This doesn’t mean the valley is easy, but it does mean our pain, our trial, and our journey will not be wasted. If your path is currently through the valley or you see one in your future, here are five things I’ve learned make the difference in the ability to endure.
When you go through the valley
1- Draw Close to the Shepherd
The shepherd is not a long distance guide. He enters the shadows with us and can use those shadow moments to draw us closer to Him.
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
(Isa. 43:2-3, NLT)
The enemy loves to whisper in our ears,
“You are alone. He’s left you to fend for yourself. A good shepherd wouldn’t bring you here.”
Resist those lies by drawing close.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Don’t resist the shepherd and don’t blame him.
Remember we don’t have His perspective, but we have His promises.
The journey will be much more bearable if we walk beside the shepherd instead of pouting ten steps behind.
So draw close. And when you draw close …
2- Talk to the Shepherd
When David got in the valley, he stopped talking ABOUT God and he started talking TO God.
Have you ever noticed how the pronouns change from the first three verses to the last three in Psalm 23?
The psalm opens with, “He leads, He guides, He restores,” but David adjusts his language to “… for YOU are with me; YOUR rod and staff comfort me.” It’s no coincidence this shift happens in the valley.
Martin Luther said,
“The thing that separates Christianity from all other religions is its personal pronouns.”
David knew the value of crying out to God.
Over and over throughout the psalms, he recorded this phrase,
“Hear my cry, O God.”
The same shepherd-psalmist who didn’t hesitate to talk to the shepherd-Savior is the one who testified,
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Don’t equate darkness with distance.
Draw close to the shepherd and talk to the shepherd.
And while you’re there…
3- Treasure Hunt
God is able to redeem anything believers go through.
This is the essence of what Paul told us in these well-known words:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
(Rom. 8:28, NASB)
He did not say all things are good.
He said there is NOTHING we go through that cannot be redeemed by God so that something good can come from it.
Any valley we go through – God can enter it with us – to bless us and change us so that we look more like Jesus. That’s Treasure.
Consider how a pearl is formed.
A grain of sand makes its way inside an oyster’s shell through a crack. In response to the irritation, the secretions and coatings produce a pearl. All oysters don’t produce pearls — only the ones who recover from the irritation and the wound.
A pearl is basically a healed wound.
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
(1 Pet. 1:7, NLT)
John MacArthur notes the benefit of this fire of testing is immediately for the Christian.
When a believer comes through a trial still trusting the Lord, he is assured that his faith is genuine. That’s Treasure.
God through His Spirit will reveal to us where He is turning wounds into treasure.
We may not ever fully understand, but in His grace, we get a glimpse of how far He’s brought us.
In fact, one day we just might look back and thank God for the journey.
Not that we’d ever want to go through it again or wish it on anyone else, but we’ll look back and realize we’re in a better place because we went through the valley.
And we will leave the valley — that’s the next thing.
4- Keep Walking
The word is through — through the valley. The place of shadows is not a permanent home.
When the darkness closes in and you don’t know what else to do, just take the next step. Do the next thing. Hold on for a little longer. Keep walking, even if it is with a limp.
Keep walking by faith, not by sight. You can’t afford to stop and analyze why you had to enter.
Faith chooses to survive what it cannot explain.
God never did explain the valley to Job. The phrase “valley of deep darkness” is used nine times in the book of Job. Job was on the right path, but he never did understand why God sent him through the valley of deep darkness.
Survival-grade faith declares,
“It is enough to know that I know the shepherd and He is guiding me for His name sake. God wouldn’t lead me anywhere if it couldn’t bring Him glory and me good.”
So Keep Walking. There is a better place. The shepherd has promised to get us there.
And one more thing …
5-Praise Him Through the Valley
Matt Redman was interviewed about his song, “Blessed Be Your Name,” written in the weeks following 911:
“It’s really a song born out of the whole of life —
a realization that we will all face seasons of pain or unease.
And in these seasons, we will need to find our voice before God.”
Almost two years ago, I entered my own totally unexpected valley; it caught me off guard in every way imaginable.
Initially, I handled it with staunch resolve and faith. But as the issues dragged on and the complications mounted, I became weary and lost my way. I took my eyes off the Savior and only saw the storm. And I lost my “voice.”
When God began to get my attention, He did so by calling me to praise Him in the middle of the storm. The first part of my voice He rescued was the part I used to praise Him.
The praise returned my eyes to the Savior and slowly my voice returned fully. And now I write so others might hear and recognize the song. I could not speak words of comfort had I not first been comforted.
“… the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
(2 Cor. 1:3-4)
(That’s a lot of comfort!)
The shepherd’s presence changes everything
Before I went through the valley, I believed in God.
But it was during my time limping beside Him through the darkness that I learned whether or not I believed Him.
(There is a difference.)
The shepherd never left me in the darkness and it was the shepherd who pulled me back from the edge.
If you are in this valley, I pray these few words will lead you back to the side of the shepherd.
Once you’re in a valley, the only way out is THROUGH it and the best place to be is BESIDE your shepherd-Savior.
Psalm 23 doesn’t promise
the absence of shadows.
the continuing presence
of the shepherd in the midst of them.
And dear friend, that changes everything.
[clickToTweet tweet=”An artist knows you can’t have a great picture without shadows; The divine artist knows the same” quote=”An artist knows you can’t have a great picture without shadows; The divine artist knows the same.”]
[clickToTweet tweet=”Faith is not immune to trials ~ Faith is fueled by trials.” quote=”Faith is not immune to trials ~ Faith is fueled by trials.”]
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