Life is ups and downs, mountain peaks and valleys. Exhilarating mountain peak experiences are easy to handle. But the valleys are tough. And to be honest, we all face more “valleys” than “peaks” in our lives. It may be times of financial difficulty, discouragement, or hurt. Or maybe your studies or work are pulling you under? Or is it strained relationships? How do we deal with the valleys? Let us learn from David’s famous Psalm 23. Specifically, verse 4:
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.
From this verse, we can gather three key lessons.
1. Decide that you will not be discouraged.
What we tell ourselves during difficult times can greatly impact how we negotiate the valley. During discouraging times, we often wallow in self-pity and complain. We need a change in attitude. David declared that he would “fear no evil”.
We can decide to let all the discouragements overwhelm us, or in faith declare that we will not be discouraged. An old vase is considered to be one man’s trash and another man’s treasure. It is a matter of viewpoint. Similarly, we can reframe our attitude towards tough times. It can be an opportunity for change and growth – but only if we let it.
2. God is with you.
We can’t solve many problems. Many things are out of our control. But we need to remember that the sovereign God is with us. In verses 1-3, David refers to God in the third person pronoun “he”, but in verse 4 onwards, suddenly refers to God directly with “you”. He switched from talking to praying. What does this tell us? We can say many things about God, but it’s different from talking to God. Instead of telling our problems to friends or family, let us tell bring them to God in prayer first.
Have you noticed that our prayers are the most intense, most intimate in the darkest times of our lives? That’s because we trust that God is with us. When we are discouraged, let us ask God to help us. May we never forget that God’s love for us is everlasting.
3. Believe that God will intervene.
David says God’s rod and staff comfort him. But still he fears the valley of the shadow of death. Interestingly, why did David use the word “shadow” to describe the valley? One of our greatest fears are shadows. When we were young, shadows at night scared us as they danced on the wall. Maybe they scare you still as you walk down a dark street. But the truth is this: 1) Shadows are bigger than the actual object. 2) Shadows are not real.
David was implying that we need not fear the valley of the shadow of death because it is only a shadow. Hard times seem harder than it really is and since it is not real, it can’t hurt you. There is another lesson contained in the word “shadow”. Wherever there are shadows, it also means there is light. God is our light that draws us forward out of the valley.
All we have to do is walk. Not sitting with arms folded, but walking. This means progress and we will eventually leave the valley to the table God has prepared for us (v5). This valley is temporary. Just keep moving.
During the valleys of our lives, may we remember these three truths.
[Adapted from a sermon by an Anglican Priest at St. Peter’s Hall, TTC]