God Is With Me in the Valleys of Life
The Government is my shepherd,
Therefore, I need not work.
It allows me to lie down on a good job;
It leads me beside still factories.
It destroys my initiative;
It leads me in the path of a parasite for politics’ sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit spending,
I fear no evil; for the Government is with me.
It preparest an economic utopia for me;
By appropriating the earnings of my own grandchildren.
It fills my head with false security;
My inefficiency runneth over.
Surely the Government should care for me all the days of my life;
And I shall live forever in a fool’s paradise.1
I don’t know about you, but when I go through the valleys in my life, I don’t trust in the government to get me through. I trust in Jesus to help me through.
You will immediately notice that the narrative mode changes: He becomes You. In the first three verses, we’ve seen the Lord referred to in the third person: “He makes me to lie down; He restores; He leads me … for His name’s sake.” Very abruptly, however, third person becomes second person, and David says, “You are with me.” He stops talking about the Shepherd and begins talking to Him. It’s as if he has been talking about God, and then in the midst of the shadows he realizes that God is right there: “I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” An essay becomes an intimate conversation.2
The same is true in our lives. There will be times when we go from talking about God to speaking to Him. The psalm shifts from God and how He operates with people to my personal experiences with God. The psalm shifts from God and His leading to my need for Him in challenging times of my life. God leads the flock, but each individual sheep notices the personal presence of the Great Shepherd.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
Here in this verse, we see four ways that God comforts me in the valleys of life.
FOUR WAYS GOD COMFORTS ME IN THE VALLEYS OF LIFE3
He directs and guides me.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley…” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
Sometimes, I will go through some difficult valleys. I can’t avoid them. But I can know for certain that God is still there directing and guiding me.
We know from the previous verses that “He leads me … He guides me …” The shepherd uses the staff to direct the sheep. The shepherd’s staff is more recognizable to us. That long piece of slender wood with a crook formed at one end. With the length of the staff the shepherd can reach ahead or behind or to the side to tap the lamb into movement away from or toward a certain direction. Christ is the Good Shepherd who directs us maintaining our covenant relationship with Him. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Sometimes, the path of righteousness for God’s name sake is through the valley. Notice here that there is a change from stating that God leads me to the personal nature of the leadership.
“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, NKJV)
Donald Grey Barnhouse, whose first wife died, was driving his kids from the funeral. One of the kids said, “Daddy, I don’t understand, where did Mommy go? I don’t understand what it means that she died.” Barnhouse was trying to figure out how to explain death to his kids when, just then, a truck passed by and cast a shadow over the car.
He looked back at the kids and said, “Kids, would you have rather been hit by the truck or hit by the shadow?” Well, of course, they would have rather been hit by the shadow because the shadow doesn’t hurt. It just darkens things for a moment. Then in his own wisdom, Barnhouse said these words, “Kids, when you die without Christ, you are hit by the truck. When you die with Christ, you are only hit by the shadow. The shadow is all you get.”4
Although this promise has an inexpressibly delightful application to the dying, it is also for the living. If you are depressed by any difficult trial, then you are walking through the valley of death–shade. 5
He delivers and frees me.
“…I fear no danger…” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
Sometimes the sheep will stumble into a hole. Sometimes they will get so enraptured with that lush green grass that they nose themselves into a thorn bush trying to reach for more and the fleecy wool gets tangled in the thorns. The shepherd’s staff has that crook in the end which is used to pull sheep out of a hole or to reach around the neck of an entangled lamb and, with a firm but gentle tug, free the lamb from the snare. So Christ delivers and frees us from pitfalls and snares.
I learn to fear no danger as I learn to trust Jesus. He proves time and time again that He will deliver and free me.
He defends and protects me.
“…your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
Not all will submit to the sovereign rule of the Lord. Some resist the Shepherd. To these the Lord applies the rod. The shepherd’s rod was about two feet in length with a knot at one end and a handle carved in the other. The knotted end might be weighted and impressed with sharp metal or stones. A skilled shepherd could wield it like a cudgel or mace to crush a predator’s head or he could throw it with precision at a charging attacker. To the sheep this rod is a comfort giving strength in the face of dangers. The rod defends and protects the sheep within the flock. But to the enemy the rod is a fearful thing, a sign of power that threatens to undo the devious plan. To the enemies this is a terror. To the sheep this is a comfort.
Sheep are danger prone. Cliffs and predators are two threats sheep consistently face. As sheep graze, they pay little attention to their surroundings, drifting from one tuft of grass to the next. The sheep might even wander out onto a ledge or crag of a cliff face. It isn’t until the sheep wishes to return to level ground that it realizes its plight. The shepherd’s staff is designed with a crook for such emergencies. With it, the shepherd can hoist the sheep to safety.
Predators pose a second great danger to the sheep. Shepherds are equipped with a club-shaped weapon called a rod to protect the sheep. In a world of predators, it seems we need the protection of God more than ever. God often provides rescue for his people, whether from circumstances of our own making or from situations that are no fault of our own. 6
When we worry about troubles that might come tomorrow, we steal our peace from today. God wants us to live each day abundantly, seeing all there is to see, doing all there is to do.7
“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, CSB)
The shepherd uses the “rod” to beat off the external enemy, while he uses the crooked “staff” to snatch us from harm’s way. 8 Jesus, as the Great Shepherd has perfected the skill of using the rod and the staff in our lives. Jesus summarizes His skills in John 10:
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27–28, CSB)
Which leads us to the next great way that God is with me in the valleys of life. He is watching me. I am not alone.
He disciples and watches me.
“…for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
God is with me, watching me. He doesn’t just watch me to see if I will mess up. He is giving me watch-care. He is taking care of me while I am in the valley. You learn different lessons in the valley than you do on the hilltop. You learn different lessons of faith when things are dark than when there is light. God leads me through the valleys of my life and He gives me comfort along the way.
“teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, CSB)
He teaches the most lessons during the valleys of life. But He never leaves us. Even after I die, Jesus will be with me, caring for me, and teaching me – from this life to my afterlife in Heaven.
We just commemorated the attack on Pearl Harbor yesterday. Which reminds me of the following story.
On December 7, 1941, Rev. Peter Marshall was speaking to the cadets at Annapolis. A “day of infamy” was unfolding at Pearl Harbor, which now lay in the flames of an enemy attack. The room was filled with young men who would soon sacrifice their lives for their country. He told them the story of a dying child—a little boy with a disease who asked his mother, “What is it like to die? Does it hurt?” The mother thought for a minute, then said, “Do you remember when you were smaller, and you played very hard and fell asleep on your mommy’s bed? You awoke to find yourself somehow in your own bed. Your daddy had come along, with his big, strong arms and lifted you, undressed you, put you into your pajamas as you slept. Honey, that’s what death is like. It’s waking up in your own room.”9 10
“…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, CSB)
1 Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively, Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).
2 David Jeremiah, What Are You Afraid of? Facing down Your Fears with Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013), 243.
3 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2008 Edition. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 72.
4 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 72.
5 Charles H. Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters, ed. Roy H. Clarke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 63.
6 Deron Spoo and Kyle Idleman, The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible’s Biggest Ideas (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2017).
7 Sarah Young, The Jesus Calling Discussion Guide for Those Facing a Life-Changing Diagnosis (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016).
8 Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 1–72, vol. 13, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1986), 195.
9 Rev. Peter J. Marshall, ed., The Wartime Sermons of Dr. Peter Marshall (Tulsa, OK: CrossStaff Publishing, 2005).
10 David Jeremiah, What Are You Afraid of? Facing down Your Fears with Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013), 238.