Yea, 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 Psalm 23:4
When I was little, I always wondered what this valley of the shadow of death was. Did God mean real death? If so, of course He would be with us! He would take us to Heaven, right? That's what salvation is all about. But I believe the psalmist meant so much more than that.
When I think of a valley, I often picture lots of green grass and flowers with a river running through it, but this isn't the kind of valley the psalmist is talking about. His valley is dark with lurking shadows leaping out at him. There's no greenery or flowers or flowing streams, and not a ray of sunlight finds its way within. There's only shadows and jagged rocks and high mountains all around so it seems like you're trapped. It seems like there's no way out into the sun again.
All of us have been in the "valley of the shadow of death" from time to time in our lives. Sometimes those valleys are enormous and deep and go on forever. Sometimes, they are smaller and we can climb out quickly. Valleys such as loneliness, despair, doubt, loss of job, death of a loved one, marriage problems, divorce, cancer, health issues, money problems, heartbreak, fear, terror, rejection. There are many valleys we must pass through in this world. In fact, I would venture to say that we are rarely out of a valley, or at least not on the mountain top very long before we tumble right into another valley!
What I find interesting is that God never promises to air lift us out of the valley. (Although He does do that sometimes!) Yet, He promises to walk with us in the valley. Think of that for a moment. The God of the universe, Creator of all things. All-powerful, All knowing wants to walk with you through your valley, your problem, your cancer, your heartbreak, your job loss, your grief. Right down there in the stinky, putrid valley with hard crusty rocks and no sunlight... yup. He would rather be no where else in the universe except by your side.. holding your hand and helping you through. That amazes me!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.For I am the Lord your God, Isaiah 43:2
And the best part is, if you truly lean on Him, you'll come out of the valley a better person, stronger, filled with more joy and faith than you ever had before. And you'll realize that maybe when you appealed and cried out to God to please air-lift you out of that valley, He didn't do it because He knew if you endured, that valley would change you from a caterpillar into a butterfly!
Our fallen world is full of valleys. Some are those we cause ourselves, others are caused by our enemy to try and trap us, and others are caused by people who've made bad choices outside our control. Some are just there, part of the landscape that we can't avoid. We are all on a journey after all, a pilgrimage to the most glorious place that ever existed. It is there we will find our rest. It is upon that glorious city of gold where we must keep our eyes focused. If we look away for even a second to our surroundings.. to the valley we are in, we risk losing the hope that keeps us moving forward.
Just look at what awaits us as the psalm continues:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever is a long, long, time!! Just thinking about the joy that awaits us should help us make our way through the valley. Along with the fact that God is walking right beside us. We are never alone!