Psalm 23 remains to be the most popular chapter in the Bible.  The psalmist’s way of declaring himself as one who is in need of a shepherd echoes universal pathos of dependence and at times helplessness.

We are like sheep in many ways.  We need to be taken to a safe place so we can drink freely.  We get scared by so many things and without a shepherd to guide us, we will just be following the next sheep or person ahead of us.

Sheeps are direction-less. And in many ways, so are we.

The most poignant of this Psalm is toward the end :  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Walking through the valley.  This could picture still having some semblance of strength to walk through it.  Maybe the remaining strength is no longer enough for you to run through it, thereby escaping all the associated fears of the moment.  But the psalmist declares “even when I walk…”

Many times in our lives – when we go through our difficulties – it can be likened to a a very slow walk.  You are moving to a certain extent, but the pace could really kill you from anxiety.  But I think the action described here is not merely poetic.  Because in the real sense, when difficulties arise, the pace could be so fast that many times it feels like a rug has been yanked from under your feet.

You walk.  This shows the daily walking, breathing, living along with the trial that surround you.  You go through the valley.  It could be dark – and the surrounding mountains are too high to be scaled upon by whatever measure of strength left in your body.  So you walk. One step at a time.

You see shadows and these shadows may actually point you to the light or may keep you from seeing the light.  The shadow is all around you as you walk through the valley.

What is the valley of death that you are walking on right now?

A failed marriage perhaps. A lost opportunity for love?  Health concerns that seem to keep on coming back?  A family dispute that will take you nowhere? A financial meltdown?  Death in the family and you wonder how you would ever cope without this precious life to love you?  Failed and lost dreams?  These and more are shadows as you walk through the valley.

Of death.

But the psalmist does not end there.  He bravely declares, “I will fear no evil… For you are with me…”

I will not fear.  This signifies decision that has been made from the most resolute part of the heart.

I will not fear, not because I can command the shadows to go away.

I will not fear, not because I have the strength to walk through the darkness.

I will not fear is a statement based on the confidence of who he is walking with.

And this is our secret.  We go through the shadows. We walk through the valley and many times, the shadows hide the precipitous cliffs and difficult traverse.

But we do not go through it alone.

We never go through it alone, and this is what the psalmist is highlighting for us.

For You our Lord, is with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So hang on dear friends.  The Lord knows exactly where you are, right under the shadows, painfully walking through the valley. He has been there. He knows how it feels like – and because He has gone through it – we are never alone as we traverse this valley filled with shadows of the unknown.

Friends may walk with you for awhile. Brothers and sisters may even grow weary of lifting you up. But HE who came down to be like us, will never leave you hanging. He will never leave you to drown in your fears.

As you walk – He is walking with you.

May you ever experience the loving, tender,compassionate and healing presence of the Lord as you go through the shadows of the valley of death.

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN

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Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever considered that when you are just about to really throw in the towel and give up, that is when something happens to lift you up?

I have read this somewhere, when I was a lot younger, that the night is at its darkest when dawn is about to break forth…

I remember waking up my boothmate (Booth 1010!) Aaron Bennis at 3 am, during my senior year, just to show him a phenomenon I had never seen before.  I woke up at 3 am (we were located in the Piney Woods of Texas!) and saw a very clear delineated line of darkness and light.  It was the one of the most spectaculars things I have ever seen. It was as if the heavens were a blank slate of black and white.  The edge of  the blackness  – was really at its darkest… or maybe it could have been inherent, or the juxtaposition of darkness and light highlighted the dramatic contrast of each.

It is similar to what we experience from time to time.

A parallel to this is when “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

When we have just given up.  When we have thrown in the towel. When we don’t want to fight anymore and just surrender everything to Him (shredded threads and all…) and suddenly, His mercy is made manifest in our lives.  The mercy and grace is made “perfect” because there is nothing left to distract us.  In our utmost dependence on Him, God’s strength becomes perfect for us.

Recall the experience of Mary crying at the sight of the opened tomb and with just the graveyard clothes left by Jesus.  Consider Mary Magdalene, just waiting for the angry stones thrown at her – just waiting for them to hit her shame-racked body.  Consider the disciples who rowed for about 8 hours through the night, tired, discouraged maybe wondering what was going to happen next – and only to be deathly afraid at the sight of Jesus walking on water.  Consider the widow and her son who prayed as they cooked their last meal and knew that there won’t be any meals afterwards and how they readied themselves to die of hunger…

When you look at the scriptural evidences… it seemed that the night is at its darkest, just when the light is about to break through.

I must admit that I do not want to sound pollyanna-ish about the whole thing. The last thing I would want is to minimize what you are going through. Some of you may have lost your homes due to the recession.  Thousands have lost their jobs and have wiped out their savings and other bank accounts.  I know of a father who lost his precious 2-year old son on Christmas day.  We hear of thousands of OFWs who are facing potential job loss because the world’s economy is running to the ground.

It is very dark right now.

But I submit to you – light is about to break forth.

Never lose hope even if your heart is tired of hoping.

Never stop praying even if every part of your body would like to deny the existence of the ONE who can make all things possible.

And in the words of a well-loved statesman… “Never, never, never quit…”

This is not a hope that is based on the theology of tomorrow – or the incantations of the superstitions.

This hope is firmly grounded on WHO Christ is.

Securely fastened in His unconditional love not just for some, not just for the righteous – but for all of us.

So stop fighting my friend.

Jim Elliot, one of the 5 missionaries killed in the jungles of South America as they tried to evangelize the Auca Indians wrote: ” I open my hands to give what I cannot keep, to gain what I may never lose…”

Open your hands to give all the pain and sorrow that you cannot keep.

Open wide your hands to receive mercy and grace that you in Christ will never lose…”

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

It is a choice. . .

June 10, 2008

I came across a great quote sometime ago and it really hit me hard personally – and unfortunately, I could not recall where I got it from.

“Disappointments are inevitable BUT discouragement is a choice.”

How about you? Have you realized that when we are discouraged, we have already made that choice to be as such?