In this chapter, the author, W. Phillip Keller, starts by pointing out a shift in the way Psalm 23 is written. The first three verses are written from the perspective of a sheep boasting to a less-fortunate herd of sheep about how great his shepherd is. In verse four, the sheep stops talking to his buddies, addresses the Good Shepherd and we get to eavesdrop on their intimate conversation. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for YOU (my Good Shepherd) are with me."
The author explains that a good shepherd moves his flock in the summer months. He leads them through the valleys to hidden mountain meadows filled with lush, nutrient-rich feed. The journey to reach the meadows is not for the faint-hearted and is loaded with potential danger. But in spite of the tough climbs and hidden dangers, the sheep trust their shepherd to lead them safely to higher ground. The trip through the valley both deepens their trust in the faithful shepherd and brings them to a great reward.
Walking with Christ is a beautiful parallel to mountaintop traveling sheep. Who, when they've tasted the beauty and goodness of knowing Christ, doesn't want to spend the rest of their life grazing in the mountaintop meadow? But Christ is clear that following Him is not the easiest or safest route and to be His sheep we must be willing to follow His lead through the valleys, even if it means taking on pain, risk, inconvenience and danger.
Why the valley? The author tells us it's the gentlest grade to the top. The journey may seem rough, but a good shepherd will never take his flock where he has not already been before. He leads his flock THROUGH the valley. He doesn't leave them there to die. As followers of Jesus, we can take great comfort in the fact that "the disappointments, the frustrations, the discouragements, the dilemmas, the dark difficult days, though they be shadowed valleys, need not be disasters. They can be the road to higher ground in our walk with God." The author reminds us to thank God for the difficulties in our lives. He says, "When I thank Him for the difficult things, I discover that He is there with me in my distress. At that point, my panic, my fear, my misgivings give way to calm and quiet confidence in His care." God, help me to be thankful when life gets difficult.
The valley is also the well-watered route. I drink at least a gallon of water a day, if not more, and water brings me refreshment. In the valleys of our lives, we find refreshment from God Himself. "It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty." The author also points out that "only those who have walked through a valley with God can console others who are in a similar situation." I have seen this to be true so often in my own life. God has used every heavy burden and deep pain as an outlet to reach out and comfort others who are walking through similar valleys. And every time God uses me to encourage someone, I confidently quote Romans 8:28, "And I know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." I look at my valleys and marvel that God could turn such ugliness into healing salve.
The final reason God chooses to walk us through the valley is it's the route to where the richest food is to be found. Our Good Shepherd knows "where we can find strength and sustenance and gentle grazing, despite every threat of disaster about us." In my life, I have seen the Lord lift me from a pit and give me just what I need for each moment, each hour, each day. As long as I keep my eyes on Him, He faithfully leads me. And before I can comprehend just how or why, I realize that I'm in the mountaintop meadow and that strength from God got me there.
The author sums it up so poignantly. I'll let him minister to your heart as he did mine. "It is a most reassuring and reinforcing experience to the child of God to discover that there is, even in the dark valley, a source of strength and courage to be found in God. It is when he can look back over life and see how the Shepherd's hand has guided and sustained him in the darkest hours that renewed faith is engendered. I know of nothing which so stimulates my faith in my Heavenly Father as to look back and reflect on His faithfulness to me in every crisis and every chilling circumstance of life....All of this multiplies my confidence in Christ... Because He has led me through without fear before, he can do it again, and again, and again. In this knowledge fear fades and tranquility of heart and mind takes its place."
Even though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil. Amen and thank you Jesus.