Valleys Of The Shadow Of Death

One of our pastors, Doug, died this week. He had back pain last spring. Doctors found a tumor wrapped around his organs. They guessed it’d been a slow growth for seven or eight years. Maybe it was already too late but Doug and his wife, Bia, went to the States for treatment. As a church, we prayed. Some prayed fervently for a wild miracle. Doug and Bia walked in small miracles near the end of his life.

On Friday, the message included  Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

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.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.
ESV

At first, I thought the psalm was a response to Doug’s death, a pat reminder to us living believers that it all goes okay at the end. I think of Psalm 23 as great for the emergency room. It’s that bit about the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve read it in that light, dismissive of the passage’s succinct truth about God’s full care for his people. I’ve read it thinking that my valleys are not so shadowed as those walked by others. And so, I’ve read it feeling undeserving of the promises too.

Pastor Alan read Psalm 23 as truth for each of us. My valley of the shadow of death is not a too-short stay in a cancer ward or the loss of a partner. My valley is tired, discouraged, doubting, sad, wounded. My valley of the shadow of death is not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

I get out of bed anyway

for you are with me.

Psalm 23 is rich. It’d taken a worn hue after decades of hearing it, not for me, not really. Ask for new comprehension. Read it slowly.

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