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.
No one gets a pass
Every one of us walk through valleys. You certainly don’t need me or a verse in scripture to remind you of that fact. Verse 4 begins Yea, though… other translations say, even though… That phrase alone communicates the inevitability of it. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. You are either in the midst of a valley, just coming out of a valley, or about to enter one.
Somewhat practiced at “valley life” I’ve procrastinated this week. Who wants to dwell on life in a valley? But, avoidance, or escape are never helpful when it comes to reality. And perhaps the Lord will provide some insight to help me better weather my next valley. So here goes.
Two promises to sheep in the valley.
1. You’re never alone.
NEVER. I won’t spend time on this un-disputed fact. Not only is this truth promised in this weeks verse, but also, it is reinforced numerous times throughout scripture. Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10. And many more.
2. Your Shepherd becomes the most personal.
Did you notice that in the first three verses in Psalm 23 the pronoun to refer to our Shepherd was always third person, he or his. But now… when entering the deep, dark, uncertain valley, the grammar changes and My Lord meets Me personally. For YOU are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort Me.
Different Kinds of Valleys
I never gave much thought to the different kinds of valleys we face in this life. Why would it matter? But, I’ve learned that the practical steps helpful to endure most effectively differs among valley types. Did you know the scripture mentions three kinds of valleys. Studying this nuance has been fresh and fascinating.
1. Valley of Baka — We need Strength
Psalm 85:5,6 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
The valley of Baka wasn’t a literal valley. Scripture is using this phrase poetically. A Baka is more likely a fruit tree like a mulberry for example. This Baka tree drips a lot of sap, almost as if it is weeping.
When you’re passing through the valley of Baka there is a lot of weeping, grief, sadness and loss. This is the valley that I experienced after Ian’s car accident. What happens when you’re in this type of valley? Your strength is sapped. You’re exhausted, powerless and weak. In my experience, it becomes easy to isolate yourself as if that will protect what little energy you have.
Since my valley was long and dark and deep, in spite of my efforts, I couldn’t just muscle through. When I gave up, you know what I discovered? His strength. And that’s what is called for in the valley of Baka, to be weak and make the Lord your strength as it exhorts in Psalm 84:5.
Also, we’re to set our hearts on pilgrimage. In other words, realize the valley of Baka is a season, you’re passing through. You’re not going to stop there, drown there or die there. This valley is not forever and believing that breathes life into dying places.
Hold on to your people
How best do you endure the valley of Baka? In my experience, you hold onto your people. Instead of isolation, lean on the body of Christ as you keep on keeping on. They become His hands and feet, His strength, and together, you make it through.
2. Valley of Ellah — We need wisdom and humility.
1 Samuel 17 — Battle/ Facing Giants
This passage in 1 Samuel 17 is the story of David and Goliath and the valley of Ellah takes place on a battlefield. We all face giants. In the valley of Ellah we’re intimidated and insecure. We sense confrontation and hostility which creates stress and anxiety. In this valley, I believe our biggest need is wisdom and humility. After all, battles rarely explode, rather they more typically build up over time.
Our own people sometimes turn
Check out verse 1 Samuel 17:28. David’s older brother questions him, is angry and turns on him. Isn’t that what happens when we’re facing our giants? Sometimes our own people turn on us. Again, we need wisdom and humility to prevent defensiveness and to be sure we keep our sites on the real enemy.
The battle is the Lord’s
1 Samuel 17:47. Don’t miss this, sometimes, the battle is the Lord’s. In the valley of Ellah, while injustices mount and our blood pressure rises, our instincts compel us to fight. But from His wisdom, we discern that it is not always our fight to fight. Instead, what are we to do? Be still.
Exodus 14:14 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Not my circus, not my monkeys
I remember back to Dougs first pastorate at a small church in Philadelphia. After one Sunday morning service, I went into a bathroom stall. Then, two church ladies entered. Clearly not realizing I was in there, they began chatting some not nice things. The pastor’s voice was too high pitched, his joke wasn’t funny and they didn’t appreciate that he highlighted one particular mission ignoring the one they preferred. As my blood began to boil, I sat there fuming thinking about my venomous reply. I wanted to step out of that stall like some ninja pastor’s wife and tell them what for. But you know what, I didn’t. I came out, smiled, washed my hands and left. No words were exchanged. It was not my fight.
3. The Valley of Achor — We need to focus our prayer.
Joshua 7 is a difficult and dark chapter. We read about Israel’s unfaithfulness, Achan’s sin and God’s burning wrath. Joshua 7:24 mentions the valley of Achor, which means “trouble.”
Guilt, Shame, Despair
This valley is bleak because here we experience guilt, shame, trouble and despair. An oppressive cloud hangs over us and sometimes we don’t even know exactly how we landed in this valley. Of course, sin is the culprit. But it’s not only our sin. Everything is tangled and messy and ugly. We certainly can’t imagine how things could improve. And we beat ourselves up wondering what we did wrong. We’re held captive.
Naturally, in an attempt to escape this dreadful valley we wrestle, try to fix it, take matters into our own hands often making things worse. Sometimes we may just attempt to bury the situation and flee. None of our strategies work to free us from a heavy sense of despair.
Instead seek Him
Isaiah 65:10 … and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.
Hosea 2:15 …and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
I am not suggesting this is some cookie cutter formula nor is it easy. But from what I understand, while enduring the valley of Achor, we’re to take our eyes off our situation and seek Him. Our prayer focused on our good Shepherd, can become a resting place and can show us to a door of hope. In other words, while enduring the trouble and shame of our circumstances, the Lord wants to minister to us through it. He’s able to transform the valley to a resting place and point us to a door of hope.
My valley of Achor
When I experienced the valley of Achor I had an image to maintain. I was a minister’s wife for peats sake. If they only knew? While God forgave me, in an instant, I couldn’t forgive myself. Instead, I buried it, tried to ignore it and move on. I wasted months and even years weighed down by the shame of the valley of Achor.
Not wanting to waste anything, including my sin, when I allowed Him to, God redeemed it all. When I told my story, I experienced freedom. Not only did that heal me, it lightened the burden for others. And helping others became my door of hope.
Psalm 23:4 is jam packed and I barely scratched the surface. But finally consider this…
If there are shadows in your valley, that means there is also light. Look to the light!
Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you for your presence. Thank you that you stand by your promise and you are always with me. Thank you too that when my valley is deep and dark and scary, you, My Lord, are even more personal. Please encourage me to realize that even a long valley is not forever. And guide me good Shepherd to make any practical changes to better endure. Amen.
Questions to Ponder…
1. Think about a present day valley that you are in. Can you identify which valley it is? Can you shift your focus to more practically endure it?
2. Looking back at your history, can you identify an example of each kind of valley? Can you see where knowing His truth would have helped you through it.