Over the past couple of weeks, we have explored who our Shepherd is and what it means to rest in the meadow beside the still waters.

God wants the best for us, and as we heard last week, He guides us on the right path and calls for us to return to the path when (not if) we wander. God is the source of strength when we need it.

This week, we head into the valley. David, the author of this Psalm, understood dark valleys. His predecessor, King Saul, hunted him for a long time, trying to kill him to save his throne.

So… David understood the dark valleys. As a shepherd, he also understood the trade tools and how they can help him protect his flock.

In Psalm 23:4, it says,

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Let’s start with the second half of this verse. The rod and staff (or shepherd’s crook) were tools used to help protect the sheep.

The rod would be used to fend off bears, lions, and other vicious animals that came for the flock. The shepherd’s crook was used to pull a lamb to safety when it wandered where it wasn’t supposed to be.

Do you ever feel the Shepherd’s crook pulling you back to the path?

There it is again – that path. The path is safety, security, what is known, and what is good for us. But, just like any curious sheep, we wander from the path, and the Shepherd must pull us back to safety with his crook.

Sometimes it a gentle lifting out of our circumstances, and other times it’s a quick yank to get us out quickly – and it may hurt a bit along the way. All of this is for our correction and guidance.

Let’s go back to the first part of the verse – the one that most people are familiar with and tend to dwell on quite heavily.

It says,

Even when I walk through the darkest valley.

We all have dark valleys that we experience in our lifetimes – in fact; you may be in one right now. You might feel like there is no way out, that the God of the Universe does not see you or does not hear you.

That is not true – He does see you, and He does hear you.

Your valley may be financial, emotional, relational, or even spiritual. The good news is you don’t have to stay in the valley forever.

When I was coaching, I told my team that there was a downhill for every uphill. That downhill often led us into some flat and winding valleys, but the uphill is what got us out of the valleys. At the top of the hill, we could see the valley with perspective and see our journey.

The valleys serve a purpose for us – they offer a time of reflection; however, we don’t always see it that way when we are in them.

Valleys are lonely and disorienting. Every twist and turn looks like the one before it. You might be feeling disoriented right now.

You might be reeling from the pandemic. I don’t know your particular situation, but I have experienced my fair share of valleys – sometimes they result from others, but they result from my own bad mistakes a lot of the times.

There is hope – the second part of the opening of the verse reads,

I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.

When we are in the valley, fear often takes over, especially if we cannot see any end in sight. When you are wondering where your next meal is coming from – it can be scary.

I don’t know how that feels, but I know the pressures and fears of stupid financial decisions. Thankfully that is all behind me, but that valley was horrible and scary and stressful.

God wants us to know that even in the darkest valleys, He never left us. He was always right there with us. Our struggles clouded our eyes from seeing God.

Our perspective was thrown off.

It was only when we emerge from the valley do we gain that much-needed perspective. The road to perspective, or the way back to the path, is through our Heavenly Father.

The road out involves an uphill climb, and what is needed is strength and fierceness, not fear. This is why when we put this whole verse together, it reads,

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Sometimes our perspective is thrown off when we enter a valley, and we stop after the first part of the verse. We are paralyzed with fear and anxiety, and we settle in our fears (or valleys).

The redemption comes right after the opening – we need to keep taking the steps.

In Kayla Stoecklein's book, Fear Gone Wild, she details a dark valley that she and her husband Drew walked through. He was a husband, father, and pastor who ultimately lost his life.

Kayla understands the valleys better than most, but she kept taking the steps forward and trusted her Shepherd's promises. She did not need to be afraid because God had her. He would protect and guide her.

In the book, she was open about her struggles of why God would allow these struggles to affect her husband. Her story is impactful, and I encourage every pastor, elder, deacon, and pastor’s wife to read her book.

She came out of her valley with God’s help, and He is using her and Drew’s story to bring awareness to mental health in church communities. No one would want her or their kids to have gone through this, but God has a plan, and His plans differ from our plans.

I don’t know what your valley is, but don’t stop walking. You may be tempted to stop and rest in the valley, but the rest you received in the first part of the chapter prepared you for your valley.

This is easier said than done, and I am talking to myself and much as I am to anyone listening to this episode.

How do we keep moving through the valley?

Application

Here are three things you can do to keep pressing forward through your valley:

  1. Read God’s Word – God’s Word provides comfort. Even if you are reading the same scripture repeatedly, God will speak to you through His Word.
  1. Journal – start a journal of your valley experience. Writing it out by hand in a notebook or typing it in an online journal like the DayOne app is a great way to process your thoughts on the subject or the day. It’s not a magic bullet, but it is great to have a conversation with God.
  1. Talk To Someone – there is no shame in talking with someone. It can be your best friend, a trusted pastor, or a counselor. Staying in the valley is not an option, and speaking the truth into your situation will help you get out of it sooner rather than later.

There are many other ways to keep moving through the valley, and these are just starters. It starts with getting up every day and asking God to help you through this valley.

If you are on the mountaintop looking down at your journey, celebrate it and thank God for bringing you out of the valley.

You are never alone. As we read today, God is by your side.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for walking beside me – your rod and Your staff comfort me and protect me. I ask you to guide me through my valley today and ask you to bring me out of this valley quickly. Thank you for your grace and your mercy. Amen!

Resources


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About

Hi, I'm Dave Anthold. I am a small group leader, short-term missionary, and visual storyteller. You can read my story here.

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