“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.” Psalm 23:4
This passage immediately takes me back to Israel as we stood atop what is known as the Valley of Shadow of Death. The depth, length and vast maze of the valleys, in addition to the caves and animals that might live there explain quite easily why it was known as the Valley of Death. I have included some of the pictures from my trip to Israel of this location, as well as the monastery that is located there. It is believed that these valleys are where David hid from King Saul when he was trying to kill David.
As I look at these and think of the depths of the valley. I have walked through many Valleys in my life. While I prefer the view from the mountaintop, I know the journey it takes to get to those moments. I also realize it is hard to live there in the comfort that I expect.
I have learned over the years, like David, that I don’t have to fear the valley. God has always been faithful to me. He has walked me through poor financial decisions that led to bankruptcy, car repossessions, and a home foreclosure. He has seen me through homelessness, being a single teenage parent, a divorced mother of three children, job losses, betrayals, and the death of my parents. He walked with me through the death of two of my very best friends, and many other close friends and family members. I know that whenever the enemy tries to though evil at me, God will use it for His purpose. I know that no matter what I face, God will be with me. He has never left me, even when I tried to leave Him.
This passage also takes me to a book A Shephard’s Look at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller that was part of the Journey discipleship program that I have walked through several times. The writer talks about the use of the staff and the rod. I might get this part wrong as it has been a few years since I read the book, so just going on memory, the staff is used for comfort. The hook can be used like an arm to pull the sheep to safety if he wondered off or got himself into a troublesome predicament. The rod, could be used for correction of the sheep. More frequently thought, it was used for protection against predators.
When I think about the comfort of the staff and rod, I see God’s hand in my own life. There have been times He has had to pull me back from an edge of more than one kind. He protected me from sexual abuse even thought I didn’t understand what was happening and saw it as rejection. He protected me from myself when I was suicidal and cutting. He kept me from going too far down the drug or alcohol path at a time when everyone around me was using. When I went to my first Alcoholic Anonymous meeting as part of an assignment for school, I heard a story very similar to my own from the speaker. I know that “there but the grace of God go I.” There have also been times where He tried to hook me, but I kept going farther. I am so thankful that His arms reach even the impossible distances we go. His staff is a comfort to me. I know I can never be too far from His reach, and because of His faithfulness to pull me in, I really just want to stay in the arms of the Shepherd now.
And His rod, I admit I have probably needed it for correction more that I should have. I had a wild streak, and even after it ended, I have always been pretty strong-willed. He is patience with me. At times, I need the sternness, but other times it is just a gentle tap pushing me in the correct decision. Now I see that rod of correction, and I welcome it. I want to be all that He created me to be. Gentle nudges don’t always work for me; I know I need strong guidance to get out of my own way most of the time.
I also see the rod for my protection. I know some of the predators that I have allowed into my life. I also know that He set up a perimeter around me of protection, one I learned from an early age. I may never know all the harm He kept me from, but I know enough especially looking back with knowledge of the places I put myself into as a teenager and young adult. That does not even take into account the predators in the spiritual realm that I may not have even known about. I know God as my protector, and I find comfort in knowing that I am safe regardless of what tries to come against me.
Sometimes we read through scriptures, especially ones that are so frequently quoted and we don’t pause to consider how it really applies to our own life. When I quote this scripture on most occasions, I don’t pause to consider my own Valley of the Shadow of Death. I just know God is with me. I am far removed from the picture of a shepherd with a rod and staff, so I fail to comprehend why they are a comfort. It is just words I say. I am thankful for this opportune time to pause and really meditate on this scripture. To be reminded of that valley below, that in the natural I dared not get too close to the edge of, but have walked through in the spirit with Him. To bring to my memory the story of a shepherd and understand more fully what the rod and staff were for. On the surface, I don’t want to be in danger, corrected, or protected; I think I can do it on my own. Yet, my life is a testimony of just that and God’s faithfulness. I know He is there; He has never left. I know He alone is my source, my protection, my defender, and my safety. I want His correction because I trust that He wants what is best for me in every circumstance. So yes, even when I walk in the valley, I will not fear. I know He is with me. His rod of correction and protection in my life and His staff that draws me back to Him, I welcome. They comfort me because I know He cares.
Prayer – Lord, thank you for this moment, that has been stretched out due to my schedule to sit and reflect on the valley and Your faithfulness. Thank you for teaching me that You are ALWAYS there for me. Thank You that I don’t walk in fear because I know you are near. And I thank you for your protection from things I know about and those that I don’t that have sought to steal, kill and destroy what You have placed in me. Thank you for Your correction for I know that You correct those that You love. Continue to hold me close and continue to correct any area of my life that does not reflect You. I want to be fully available to You in the mountains and in the valleys, in the desert and beside the still waters. I admit I wouldn’t mind the ocean too! Love You Lord! Amen.
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