Life is filled with highs and lows, valleys and hills. We move from mountain top experiences to deep in the valley, experiences. Often when we are in the depths of despair it seems as though we have been in this valley forever and that there is no way to ever get out. In visiting with a friend whose wife had died three years earlier he kept talking about how fresh the pain was. “It doesn’t seem that I have healed any at all since she died. The wound is as open today as it was the day after it happened.” I don’t know if it was that way all the time for him. But when I asked if there were any good times that he could remember in those last three years, he seemed to think about it for sometime before saying, “If I’ve had any good times since then I don’t remember them now.” One thing that is true in dealing with grief and recovery is that it is vital to think of good or at least better times we’ve had and to ask what was different about those times that made them better? If one can begin with having some better times and see what caused them to be better then they can do those kinds of things again and again.
I suspect it was on a day when David felt like he was in the valley of despair that he wrote the twenty-third Psalm. Picture him as an older man, who has gone through lots of wonderful, successful times in life, but also some horrible times when he knew for sure that his mistakes had cost the lives of many in Israel and had horrendous affect on his family. As he sits alone, he begins to think about his relationship with God during those good and bad times and how God had always been true and faithful to him as a Servant of the Lord. I can imagine him picking up his pen and dipping it in the ink. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the quiet waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake. Yes and even if 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 comfort me. 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 will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I can see David, laying the pen down and leaning back in his chair to think of the words he had just written. Since it was written to be a song, he may even have moved over to the harp and began to strum a tune as he worked to put the words with music. As he pictured himself as that sheep being led by God he could begin to move through the valley to come out on the other side.
There are tons of things about this Psalm that stand out. It is so important for us to remember that God is there to love and lead us as his sheep. He tenderly takes us to the place where we have plenty to eat and drink and is careful to lead us into quiet water that won’t cause us to stumble or fall. The paths he leads us down are ones that are right for us and lead to right relationships with him. But it is in the middle of the psalm as that he reached the high point. He described walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I’m told there is a valley in that part of the world known as the “Valley of the shadow of death.” It is said that it is a steep path down a very narrow strip of land on which the shepherd must lead the sheep in single file so that one isn’t nudged over the side and falls to destruction. The shepherd walks in front of the sheep, calling them by name, he leads them closer to him and to the other side of the valley. He uses the long stick or staff and rod to push them in the right way and to keep them on the path. It takes a skillful, patient shepherd to lead his sheep through the valley. Thank God we serve one who is the most skillful shepherd of all. His love is overwhelming and his staff at our side makes us feel secure while he watches and leads.
Our problem in those times when we feel low, distressed and down is that we too often sit down to relax and make ourselves at home in such situations. The secret of recovery is in walking through the valleys instead of making ourselves at home in the valley. Certainly some valleys are deeper than others. But God’s offer is for us to never walk alone and that no valley is so big we can’t get through it with His help. On the other side a table of fellowship awaits. If we keep walking there is at the end of the road a final home waiting for us prepared by the Lord for his own. It will be great to see you when we get there.