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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Passing Through

The crack in the center of this mountain
is the narrow valley.  
The flat green grass is the "table land" .
“Yes, 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 AKJV
Today the garden of my heart is especially beautiful. The hot pink Crape Myrtles are breathtaking. The orange Tiger Lilies are stunning, and the yellow Black-eyed Susan’s sway in the breeze.  I can’t imagine this world without color. If I could, I would surround myself everyday with beautiful flowers, majestic mountains, and gorgeous sunsets. Indeed, God has made everything beautiful!
I believe that the beauty that is found in creation is there for our inspiration and also to surround us with such magnificence that deep within our soul we are eye witnesses to the very existence of God. The Psalmist David also enjoyed the beauty of creation, yet now he dares to make mention of the “shadow of death.” What is “the valley of the shadow of death?”
It is my understanding that a good shepherd leads his sheep through the mountains in order to get to the flat “table land” on the other side of the mountain. This can be a dangerous journey. Sheep can fall off the rocks that carve out a valley between the mountains. This is also a place where wild animals may attack the sheep. This valley is a dark cold place that is void of sunshine. It is called “the shadow of death” not because you die there but because the possibility of death is near. Even though the sheep can be unruly, the shepherd has gone this way many times before and is confident as he leads his sheep. He knows that once he is through this hard journey the flat “table land” of refreshment awaits all of his sheep.
When my husband and I were on the island of Hawaii, we stood on a high cliff and down below us was the beautiful lush green flat “table land” and in the distance stood a huge mountain. At first glance I didn’t see much, but as I looked closer I could actually see the crevice of the valley that was dividing the mountain. I exclaimed with great joy! That’s it, there it is, the “valley of the shadow of death!” I was so excited to get an actual visual of what the Psalmist was talking about. In that moment, Psalm 23 came alive to me in a new and precious way. I shall never forget that moment.
As I think about the “valley of the shadow of death” it occurs to me that death is not the problem but it is “the shadow of death” that is the culprit. This life is the “valley of the shadow of death” and we are passing through this life on our way to heaven. Because we live in a world that is rooted in sin we are susceptible to all kinds of dangers and attacks. Evil rears its head in the form of darkness, depression and despair. We experience the pain of disappointments, and the coldness of loneliness. It is the wild attacks from Satan and all of the unexpected agonizing occurrences of life that send you and me plunging into the depths of loss and despair. No, it is not death that we as Christians fear, it is “the shadow of death” that grips our heart and sets our knees to knocking. Yet, our Shepherd says, “do not fear for I am with you”.
I am so thankful that the psalmist writes; that we “pass through” we don’t remain in difficulty forever. The “table land” that will be used for our grazing is just on the other side of our difficulty. It is the Shepherd that REMAINS with me every step of the way. I may not see him, hear him, or feel him but the fact is that my Shepherd remains with me as we travel this life together. The many hardships of life are not found in death; but rather they are found in “the shadow of death.” Death itself, if we belong to Jesus will be glorious!
The shepherd’s rod and staff are the tools of his trade and they are symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The rod corrects the sheep and the staff leads and rescues the sheep. Both tools provide comfort to the sheep. My spirit is comforted to know that my Shepherd also has provided me with comfort and direction through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. My job is to RELINQUISH all of my pain and sorrow to my Shepherd.
Oh, the lessons that I learned in the garden today have been amazing! It is almost time to leave the garden. I find myself leaning one last time on the back fence where a Mandevilla vine is adorning the fence with a blanket of pink blooms. In the distance I see the mountain and if I look really close I see the valley carved out in the middle of the rock. I can almost see my Shepherd emerging and I am following close behind. The sight of the flat “table land” makes my heart leap for joy. Once again the “shadow in the valley of death” is behind us. My Shepherd and I have come through the dangers of life together and the “table land” of heaven is in clear sight!
  1. Do you relate to this life being “the shadow of death?”
  2. What do you fear?
  3. How do you feel about the knowledge that Jesus remains with you every step of the way through “the valley of the shadow of death” in this life?
  4. Are you able to relinquish that fear to Jesus, the Good Shepherd?
Dear Father,
Thank you that you will go with me through every difficulty I will ever encounter. You have promised me that you would never leave me or forsake me. I find great comfort in that knowledge. Help me Lord to trust you with every circumstance in my life. I want this day to relinquish to you ________________. Lead me and guide me through this difficult time. I take joy in knowing that no matter how hard life may be it is only temporary. I look forward to the “table land” of heaven and I do not fear death itself. Father, in this life as I am passing through the valley, please take hold of my hand and never let it go! Father I know that there is no one else that I can trust to get me safely home.
In Your Name I Pray. Amen

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