Psalm 23 – God Is Bigger than Your Darkest Valley

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You, Lord, are my shepherd.
I will never be in need.
     You let me rest in fields
of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,
and you lead me
along the right paths.
 I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
and your shepherd’s rod
makes me feel safe.

 You treat me to a feast,
while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest,
and you fill my cup
until it overflows.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
each day of my life,
and I will live forever
in your house, Lord. (Contemporary English Version)

A few days ago, I woke up to a white blanket of snow.  Yes, it is mid-April and I looked out my patio window at 7” of freshly fallen snow.  There is such beauty in the glistening snow with the morning light that it’s hard to lament the intrusion of winter into Spring.

Psalm 23 is a familiar place in Holy Scripture, even for many who are not followers of God.  Far from just a funeral prayer, this psalm contains a singular and timeless message:

No matter what the circumstance, and whatever the need, God is enough – He is bigger than your darkest valley.

That’s what I was reminded of on the snow-covered day.  God is here.  God is with us.  Despite old man winter, God trumps the weather every time.  His infinite beauty has a way of breaking through to the most challenging and desperate of experiences.  We have everything we need with God.  What’s more, I am reminded with the late intrusion into Spring, that fresh green new life will soon sprout from the eventual melting into the soil, even if it looks nothing like it right now.

God provides no matter the need.  God protects no matter the dilemma.  God’s power overshadows the darkest of valleys.  God’s presence is everywhere.  With the God of the Bible we shall never be in want of anything.

Today would be a good day to punctuate your schedule with a prayerful reading of Psalm 23.  As you can well see, it only takes a minute to read, maybe a few to carefully and slowly read.  Use the alarm on your phone, FitBit, computer, or other device for some set times today.  When the alarm goes off, take the few minutes to allow Psalm 23 to decenter your thoughts from worry, anxiety, and the fatigue of the day and center them in the sovereignty and grace of God.  Maybe use a different version of the Bible each time you read.  Here is Psalm 23 again in the New Living Translation:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.

4 Promises from God to You

 

            When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it’s good to know you are not alone.  When you feel that no one really gets what you’re going through, its good to know that there is a powerful Protector and Provider who is present with you in the valleys of life.
            God has promised to be with his people.  I don’t think there is any better place to turn than Psalm 23 for some solid robust theology that can help you through every adversity, each trouble and time of need.
            Psalm 23, unfortunately, has been so closely associated with death and dying that it does not get the attention it deserves.  More than once, I’ve been told by grieving families to not use Psalm 23 in the funeral because it’s so tied in their minds to sadness.  We need a fresh reading of the psalm, in times that we aren’t in distress, to begin appreciating it and using it when we do face the unwanted and the unthinkable in our lives.
            One of my bedrock assumptions in ministry is that people need God.  They need to discover Him, get to know Him, grow in their understanding of Him, and learn to completely place their trust in Him.  I have that presupposition going into ministry because another foundational truth I believe is that God is good – there is never, and I mean never, a time when God is not always good, just, merciful, gracious, and kind.  God is pictured in the psalm as a Good Shepherd, the One who lovingly and pastorally leads us.  Psalm 23 is a great fortifier of faith, giving you and me the stout knowledge which we need to navigate the valleys, as well as the peaks of our lives.
            Take some time and carefully read the psalm several times, preferably in several different translations.  You will find characteristics of God which come shining through – attributes which we can internalize for our own connection and help, and externalize to others in their trials of life.  Here are four promises based in those attributes to bank-on through any circumstance:
1.      God is present with His people.
            God wants to be with you.  He really likes you.  He doesn’t begrudgingly put up with you.  God is not fickle.  He doesn’t promise to be somewhere with you, then not show up.  It does not matter whatsoever what valley you’re walking through – family discord, marriage problems, church strife, work issues, prison-time, or financial ruin – He is there.  God goes before you, with you, and after you, every place you go.
2.     God’s power is available to His people.
            God super-duper wants to empower you through your valley.  But we must understand this: God has never promised to overpower a situation and leave you unchanged.  Instead, God uses His good and benevolent power to buoy you through your trouble.  He’s more interested in developing your character and perseverance.  God wants your faith to be strong enough to serve you well throughout your life.  Faith can only grow if it is exercised and put under strain.
3.     God is in the protection-racket for His people.
            God, as the Good Shepherd, uses his shepherd’s rod to make us feel safe and secure in the middle of any hardship.  Whereas you and I tend to about the business of seeing God beat up our enemies and give ‘em a decent spanking they won’t forget, God turns the attention to us.  Judgment and wrath are God’s business, and He makes it clear it isn’t ours.  The wolves out there seeking to take advantage of us will be taken care of by God.  We can rest our heads on the pillow at night secure in the knowledge that God never sleeps and stands watch over us all the time.
4.    God surrounds His people with abundant provision.
            God more than meets our needs – He meets them lavishly.  Maybe we can survive on thin porridge and water, but God wants you to thrive, flourish, and be satisfied with a feast.  This is all done with people who don’t like us right there to watch.  God doesn’t just fill the cup, He causes it to overflow.

 

            Sometimes we dream of having a miracle.  Those are great.  I’d like to see more of them.  But the greatest need we have is of God Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – working to manifest His good presence among us with power, protection, and provision for each day.  This is what the church needs to hear, experience, and pass-on.

Genesis 16

            I’m blind as a bat without my glasses.  They’re the first thing I put on when waking in the morning, and the last thing I take off before retiring at night.  Without them I can’t distinguish anything well.  I can’t see others unless they are inches from my face.
            As bad as it would be if I didn’t have my glasses, it would be even worse if you were not seen by anyone.  I believe that one of the great tragedies of modern Western civilization is that we can live among so many other people, yet not be seen by so many of them.  The loneliness of not being seen is a terrible situation.
            The ancient woman, Hagar, certainly felt that way.  She felt an even worse circumstance: Hagar neither believed that anyone saw her and cared, nor that God saw her at all.  It was as if God lost his glasses somewhere.
            In a convoluted series of decisions, mostly outside of her control, Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s son.  Then, Sarah, Abraham’s “real” wife got pregnant with another son.  It got complicated.  Dysfunction was all around, leaving Hagar and her young son out in the wilderness all by themselves with no one to help.  Hagar simply expected the two of them to die.
            You can feel Hagar’s despair and desperation.  She saw no hope, and nobody saw her… but there was someone watching: God.  He saw everything that happened to her – all the craziness, and all the mistreatment – and he stepped-in and acted on behalf of Hagar and her son.
            As a result, Hagar began to call God, “The God Who Sees Me.” She never again had to wonder or doubt whether she was seen.
            You might feel today that God doesn’t see your pain, is aloof and distant from your hurt, and is blind to your deep wounds.  But he sees.  He sees it all, everything.  God may not be working on the same timetable as you and me, but nevertheless he sees you.  You never have to wonder about it.

 

God of Hagar, just as you saw her in the desert and the desperate position she was in, so I ask that would see me and act according to your great mercy; through Jesus Christ, my Savior, with the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 139:1-6

            How do you talk to yourself?  You know what I mean.  The kind of speech that goes on inside your head.  The things which you say inside your heart that no one knows but you.  I think you will agree with me that you are rather hard on yourself.  In the reclusive parts of your mind, you speak to yourself in ways that you would never say to others, nor tolerate others saying about someone else.  Only you know the depth of your own sorrows, hurts, fears, insecurities, and worries.  Except….
            God.  He knows it all.  He knows it all intimately.  And He is not repulsed.  You see, God knows that the answer to all the doubts about yourself is His protection.  You have the freedom to plumb the recesses of your heart and soul – to bring out all that is inside the cluttered closet of your mind and lay it out on the floor without fear of God calling you what you call yourself.
            Slowly read out loud these verses for today several times.  Allow the protecting God to wash over you with grace and understanding.
139 You have looked deep
into my heart, Lord,
and you know all about me.
You know when I am resting
or when I am working,
and from heaven
you discover my thoughts.
You notice everything I do
and everywhere I go.
Before I even speak a word,
you know what I will say,
and with your powerful arm
you protect me
from every side.
I can’t understand all of this!
Such wonderful knowledge
is far above me. (CEV)

 

Amen.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-19

I will praise you,
my God and King,
and always honor your name.
I will praise you each day
and always honor your name.
You are wonderful, Lord,
and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
than anyone can understand.
Each generation will announce
to the next
your wonderful
and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
and your mighty miracles
17 Our Lord, everything you do
is kind and thoughtful,
18     and you are near to everyone
whose prayers are sincere.
19 You satisfy the desires
of all your worshipers,
and you come to save them
when they ask for help 
(Contemporary English Version).
 
            Wherever I go and whomever I speak with as I move about my congregation and community, there is a great deal of anxiety, even fear, about what will happen in our nation.  Certainly, our political process of the past year along with its spirited dialogue has spawned much apprehension of the future.  And, yet, there is this angle of the psalmist to consider.  We are to think about and carefully consider some solid robust theology.
 
            God provides.  He protects.  The Lord’s presence is continually with his people.  God is good for his promises.  He deals with injustice.  Yes, our God deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of a puny human election of candidates is a very large deity who does his own election based in his good pleasure and purpose.
 
            In these next days, I encourage you to read this psalm again and again.  Internalize it, and let its message and theology seep into the pores of your soul so that by next week your confidence will not be in the ups or downs of your candidate and political platform, but in the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
 

 

            Mighty God, along with the psalmist I will always honor and praise your holy name.  You are far greater than I can even think or imagine.  Let my trust in you be a strong ballast in the days and years to come, both for me and for the next generations of those who believe in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

“You have looked deep
into my heart, Lord,
and you know all about me.
You know when I am resting
or when I am working,
and from heaven
you discover my thoughts.
You notice everything I do
and everywhere I go.
Before I even speak a word,
you know what I will say,
 and with your powerful arm
you protect me
from every side.
 I can’t understand all of this!
Such wonderful knowledge
is far above me.” (CEV)
 
            Please do not quickly pass over these inspired words from Holy Scripture.  Take some time to carefully digest each phrase slowly so that the message becomes internalized, believed, and lived in real time experience.
 
            One of the theories of human psychology is that people are driven by two primary needs:  to intimately know another person; and, to be intimately known by another.  God knows us even better than we know ourselves – and he still loves us!  There is nothing about us that God doesn’t know.  No human relationship can even come close to the level of knowing that God has for us and about us.
 
            Therefore, to know God is perhaps the greatest and highest pursuit we could ever enjoy.  God is so big and infinite that we will spend an eternity getting to know him and will never get to the end of knowing him completely.  That is the kind of God we serve.  Be encouraged today and always with the reality that you are known, and can know God.
 

 

            Immense God, you are the one who put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me.  Everything you do is marvelous!  Of this I have no doubt.  Look deep into my heart, Lord, and find out everything I am thinking.  Lead me in the ways of Jesus.  Amen.

Exodus 40:16-38

            “No matter where the people traveled, the LORD was with them.”  This last verse of Exodus perfectly summarizes not only the message of this biblical book but of the entire Bible.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and formed man and woman as the apex of his creative work.  Humans alone bear the stamp of God’s image and likeness.  People were created to be with God.  But humanity took their own path apart from God and fell into sin and disobedience.  From that point forward God has been on a massive mission to restore, reconcile, and reclaim his lost humanity so that they can be together again.
 
            God chose Abraham and set apart his descendants, the Hebrews, to be his people and be a kingdom of priests in order to reverse the curse.  God gave laws and commandments to communicate his presence with his people.  For the Jews, God was like a pillar of cloud, a sentinel watching over them.  In the fullness of time, when it was ripe for the promised Savior to come, God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus who is called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”
 
            Jesus lived a holy life, died a cruel death on our behalf to bring forgiveness of sins, rose from death, ascended to heaven, and now watches over us, interceding for us.  But that is not all; until he comes again God’s Holy Spirit has been sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.  The Spirit is with God’s people.
 
            No matter where the Christian goes, no matter what happens, no matter the place or the situation, God is with him/her.  Nothing can separate God from his people.  There are no guarantees in life that things will turn out well, or that all will go our way.  But we have the abiding promise that God is with us because he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make it happen.  And God’s presence is what makes all the difference.
 

 

            Ever-present God, there is nowhere in which you are not.  Thank you for your continuing presence.  Enable me to always live in awareness of this reality so that my life might confidently follow you anytime and anywhere; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.