Psalm 23:4, “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.”
The other day I was talking with a friend and brother in the Lord. We were discussing the joy and elation that was felt when a person is first saved, and then how it seems to wear off and life seems to set in. I’ve always felt this was the “honeymoon” phase of our becoming reborn in the spirit. Though this idea didn’t formulate until many years later, I always likened it to the fact that we have just accepted our “betrothal” to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ and as becoming part of the living Church we are considered the “Bride!”
Many times though over the years, I, like so many other Christians have had what is best described as Mountain-top experiences; times of refreshing and yes at times exhilaration, an almost vacation sense of feeling from the rigors of life. But as any Christian knows, these times never last and the routines of life take over once again. These times always remind be of what the disciples Peter, James and John must have felt like when Jesus took them up the mountain and they witnessed Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Can you even begin to imagine the FEELING that must have coursed through them?! (Matthew 17:1-13).
After talking with my brother in Christ, I started thinking and praying about this concept, for as I stated, it is a common occurrence in the life of a disciple of Christ Jesus who is trying to live the life and follow the example of His Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Those times ARE times of refreshing where we feel sometimes the most closest to our Master and Lord. Those are times that I and many others wish could go on forever and they increase my/our longing for Heaven. I truly believe these are times given, not just to be refreshed, but a tangible “feel” or sense, as it were of what Heaven might be like, albeit a very miniscule sense. I believe these are also times that prepare us for the rigors that are still ahead of us, down in the valleys where life really takes place.
You see, as a general rule, real life DOES take place down between the shadows of the mountains. That for the most part is where we live our everyday lives and that is where the most “dangers” as-it-were lie. When the psalmist, David, spoke of walking these valleys, he was most assuredly remembering his life as a shepherd. It is in the valleys, sometimes close to the villages, but usually always where the best pastures lay. A shepherd’s life was being one with the flock. A shepherd usually had a special call or a special horn or whistle with which the sheep would recognize and then gather around him. This is why the Scripture states that Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” – John 10:27.
So it is with life today and this passage in Psalms is a great analogy for it. In REAL life, our spiritual life, we follow the example of Christ through the leading of the Holy Spirit. We HAVE to live life in this world still, though we are not OF it, we ARE in it, and as sheep, as part of the flock of Jesus, the Great Shepherd, we need to feed on the Water of Life and the Bread of Life which comprises OUR green pastures that He leads us to through the Holy Spirit. The way we grow strong, is by feeding on the right food, and following the shepherd and the exercise that living life affords, with its struggles and trials. We gain strength from those things; applying the “nourishment” to the tasks at hand! It also tends to do one other thing: the sheep who stay closest to the shepherd help the other sheep when they see the shepherd begin to move and such. Those “hardy” sheep actually help the younger, less mature sheep to know what to do!
The sheep learn through time and following the shepherd to trust him implicitly. The sheep don’t concern themselves with the fact that they aren’t at the top of the mountain, or at the lowest part of the valley; all they know is the best grazing and the best water is found where the shepherd leads them!
David wrote that “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” But in this analogy, what does that mean to you and me? First, you have to know what those tools actually do and what they signify. They aren’t just one tool but actually two separate ones. The rod, was usually a heavy, weighted club that could be used to defend in case of danger. The shepherd would always have it handy in case of predatory animals that liked to prey on the sheep. The shepherd’s rod was a sign or symbol of protection and authority. If the sheep were ever in danger, they soon learned they were in safe hands with the shepherd nearby. The staff on the other hand was used to steady the shepherd on his walks, especially along narrow paths, along riverbeds and such, but also his staff usually had a crook, commonly known as a shepherd’s crook at one end of it. The shepherd could use that “hook” to help a lamb or sheep that had strayed into the brambles or maybe even fell into the water while crossing or drinking. It was also used to keep the sheep in line, when traversing narrow passages or bypassing in ancient times a neighbor’s crop field, for the sheep were not allowed to stray into another’s crops. The staff helped keep the sheep in line as it were. It still signifies discipline.
So it is in our lives today. We serve a Lord that is quick to defend and protect us; “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” – 1 John 2:1-2. Jesus, the Great Shepherd is our Intercessor, or Advocate between the Father and ourselves! Our enemies, whether it be actual sin, the devil or even the world are always ready to make an accusation against us!!! We know that when we feel threatened, when we feel the danger of temptation, all we have to do, like a frightened sheep is to call out to Him and He is there!
His staff, the Living Word of God with the power of the Holy Spirit helps keep us in line. It corrects us, it disciplines us, shows us the right way, the right path to take or the path we need to stay on. It helps us when we DO get into the thorns or too near the edge to keep our feet steady upon the path that has been prepared for us!
It is no wonder that David could with confidence declare that he would “fear no evil.” We have nothing to fear and remember, the shadows are only that, they are NOT the real thing. They are the wisp of what we fear, yet we have no need to fear them because the Great Shepherd, is “near us!” The closer we stay to Him, the more intimate we are with Him personally, the more we rely upon His rod and His staff, the more peace and comfort we have while we continue to live the lives set before us!!
The mountain tops are great and they give you a great view to look around and enjoy creation, but consider this; on the mountain tops you get your eyes on creation and while you look and give our Heavenly Father the Glory, all the while your eyes are NOT on the Creator! In the valleys, we rely on His presence, His protection, His guidance and our eyes and ears stay focused on Him so that when He moves, we move with Him and when He speaks, we follow. It is in the valleys that we are always the closest to our Lord and Master!! That in itself, should give us each individually such great joy as to be indescribable!!
I don’t like the stumbles, the falls, the brambles and thorns that life throws our way, any more than the next person, but because I have been trying to follow the shepherd for all these years, I have become familiar with that terrain that He leads me through and I have been able to avoid them more and more than in my younger years, and now, my example can help the other sheep to keep in sight of the Great Shepherd when He moves or speaks! So the life journey should be for all of us. When I am closest to my Master, “I will fear no evil; For You are with me!”
Are you an example, following the Shepherd closely? Do you want to be? Take comfort in what life with Him holds in store for you and realize you have no need to fear the shadows when you are under His protection AND guidance!
*Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.