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October Pastoral Letter
“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” (Psalm 23:4 NJKV).
This is one of our most beloved Psalms, filled with passion, pathos, and profundity and it exudes a deep sense of trust and confidence in God’s provision and protection.
Psalm 23 is the ‘go to’ source of solace for soldiers going into war and a repository of peace for hospital patients facing surgery. It is a fountain of wisdom and inspiration for ministers needing a word from God to support and encourage grieving families at funerals, and a word of hope and comfort to businessmen in the face of bankruptcy.
One Chaplain recounted the many occasions Bibles had to be replaced in the hospital Chapel because the page containing Psalm 23 was constantly being torn out by those desperately seeking God’s help and hand of intervention. These precious words are a source of light when the darkness threatens, and danger terrifies.
David did not choose these words by chance. They captured for him an entire array of emotions, challenges, difficulties, misfortunes, and setbacks.
He especially remembered those days as a young boy when he was alone in the Judean hills tending the sheep and been keenly aware of the threat to his life from brigands, bears, and wild lions. Can you imagine yourself as a young teenager standing before a towering giant who is threatening to grind you into ‘mincemeat’ and feed you to the birds? Or walk in his shoes as a successful warrior who was instrumental in setting your people free from an oppressive nation only to be criticized by your brothers and, after an initial euphoria, rejected and persecuted by your King and father-in-law who placed a bounty on your head because he was jealous of your success. Finally, go sit with him in the Cave of Adullam, desperate and alone, as he cries out to God in those turbulent and tempestuous moments which captures so poignantly what we call ‘the dark night of the soul.’
Here are some words of wisdom that you may find instructive as you pass through the valley of the shadow, endure the night of weeping, and wait patiently for the ‘morning’ for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
1. VALLEYS ARE INEVITABLE: Those seasons when you pass through the valleys are a part of life’s journey. You may have just come out of a valley, or you’re in one right now, or you’re probably headed towards one. Jesus was very realistic about it. In John 16, He says “In the world you will have trouble.” It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. You’re going to have difficulties, disappointments, and moments of discouragement in life. They are going to happen. They are a normal part of life. Don’t be surprised by it.
2. VALLEYS ARE UNPREDICTABLE: You can’t plan them, time them, or schedule them. Valleys are always unexpected. They usually come at the worst time — when you’re unprepared.
Have you ever had a flat tire at a good time? Jeremiah 4:20 says, “Disaster follows disaster… In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter falls in a moment.”
3. VALLEYS ARE IMPARTIAL: No one is immune or insulated from pressures and problems. When you are facing difficulties and dogged by insurmountable odds it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means you’re a human being. The Bible is very clear that good things happen to bad people and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Valleys are impartial.
4. VALLEYS ARE TEMPORARY: David says, “Even though I walk through the valley…” Valleys are not a permanent location. It’s something you go through – a circumstance, a situation that has a season to it. When you’re in a valley you often think it’s a dead end, but it’s not.
5. VALLEYS ARE PURPOSEFUL: The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “At the present you may be temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials.” He had the wisdom garnered from his experience to understand that trials are temporary and do not last forever. Remember, when you are going through trials and valleys that they are not accidents or freaks of nature. God can use them to strengthen our faith and transition us from one season to another and move us from glory to greater glory in our walk with him. Trails and valleys are purposeful.
When we go through the valleys of life the scary parts are the shadows. David did not say that he walked through the valley of death, he said, “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” One day, someday, a shadow is going to fall over your life. When that moment arrives, you need to remember three important things about shadows:
1. Shadows are always bigger than the reality. The fear we feel is sometimes greater than the actual problem. It’s the fear that is enormous.
2. Shadows cannot hurt you. A Shadow is a figure that is produced from the blockage of light. It is not the real thing; it is only a reflection of that reality. The shadow of a dog cannot bite you because it is not the real animal.
Have you ever been run over by a shadow? There is a difference between the shadow of a truck and the truck itself. Shadows are images without substance or power. They cannot hurt you. They can scare you, but they cannot harm you. They are just shadows.
3. There is no shadow without a light somewhere. When you’re going through a dark valley it is easy to imagine that the sun has stopped shining. But whenever there is a shadow it means there is a light somewhere. When you start being afraid of the shadow in the dark valleys of life turn your back on the shadow and look directly at the light and the shadow falls behind you. No matter how dark a shadow is, it is a reminder of the presence of light because it is when light is shielded, that a shadow appears.
When you’re afraid, don’t look at the shadow look to the light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
I find the words of Helen Howarth Lammel (1863-1961) written for struggling saints walking through the valley of the shadows both empathetic and instructive: O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Don’t look at the shadows. Don’t be intimidated by the darkness. Remember, it is in the darkness that Satan develops our negatives. When you’re walking through the valley, look at the light. Ps. 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”
The current pandemic has cast a long and menacing shadow across our world. Its potency, resilience, and power has intrigued and baffled scientists and governments. We may well compare this spectre to travelling through a tunnel without an end. Let us remember that pandemics may be potent, but they are not permanent. May we fix out eyes on the God of hope and ask for his wisdom to find a solution. As we pass through this valley of the shadow let us remember those immortal words of our spiritual father John Wesley as he concluded his pilgrimage here on earth which he uttered with such sublime confidence: “The best of all is, God is with us.”
Every blessing in Christ Jesus, Peter, Joseph, Troy.