“Even 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
Near Jerusalem, there really is an actual Valley of the Shadow of Death. It leads from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and is a very narrow and dangerous pathway through the mountain range. The path is rough, and there is the danger that a sheep might fall at any moment to its death. It is a forbidding journey that one dreads to take. But the sheep is not afraid. Why? Because the shepherd is with it.
When we really pursue our healing, when we really want the Lord to restore our soul, it might well involve going to painful places. Could it be that you have a “personal Valley of the Shadow of Death”? Maybe there is a really painful event or moment in your past, and you just don’t want to ever go back there again. You would rather keep it stuffed down, with a tight lid on it, than ever remember it or have any such feelings again. But stuffing things down in your past is like keeping a lid on a pressure cooker – it takes more and more effort over time to keep a lid on it, and one day, it just boils over and the lid comes off. Or maybe you did something that is so shameful, or something shameful was done to you, and you would rather just keep it locked away in your personal closet. Or maybe you are coping with depression, and you don’t want to go deep and find the roots and causes behind it, afraid of what you might find. Or maybe you have experienced sexual abuse, or incest, or rape, or a miscarriage, or abortion — those are all especially painful and intensely personal. Or maybe there is a deep fear, even almost a paralysis in your soul, from some painful or traumatic events, and you don’t even want to think of “going back there”. Honestly, it makes you cringe. This may well involve pain and fear since the verse says “… I will fear no evil.”
So how could you ever go to your personal Valley of the Shadow of Death? By knowing that he is with you – Jesus said he would never leave us or forsake us, his very Presence will carry us through — we do not go to such places alone. The verse says “for you are with me”. The shepherd has His rod, used to fight off wild animals that would attack the sheep. So Christ will defend and protect us from all the powers of darkness and the deepest, most agonizing fears. His staff is there, to give direction – how else would we have confidence to “navigate” through all the complexity and typical confusion of our personal history? The result is: comfort and reassurance. It is almost like a small child sitting on a father’s lap, being held close, and sharing about a very painful experience. Likewise, we can go to our heavenly Father with the most painful things of the past, no matter what it is. Notice “I walk”, not “He makes me walk”. Jesus is a perfect gentleman in this regard, he will not take you there if you don’t want to go there, it is up to you. You choose – but he is waiting for you – and with open arms and a gentle Presence.
Finally – there is a promise in this verse – “I will walk through …”. In Christ’s presence, you will get through the most painful places in your past – and it will have been truly worth it! Yes indeed, it is part of letting Jesus restore your soul (Psalm 23:3a).
A few years ago, I had the immense privilege of teaching the fundamentals of healing prayer to some recent immigrants from Africa now living in Winnipeg. Some of these wonderful students witnessed genocide – there is little doubt that Psalm 23:4 applies to them along with His promises and the power of His very real Presence. Over the years, I and my ministry teams have seen Jesus bring deep healing and restoration to individuals that have experienced all the painful events listed above, and more. Truly, Jesus is faithful to those whom He loves!