Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined. Often it is the feeling or condition of being afraid.
Combine that with Darkness and there-in is a gripping and many times overwhelming sense of pending doom.. of certain calamity… and certainly the whole presence of oppression that just consumes and paralyzes us.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”Psalms 23:4 KJV
Many of us read this passage as a soothing promise, or a “I got’cher back” message from the Lord, but I am not wholly convinced we really grasp just how informative, encouraging, and actually rather instructing this declaration was actually intended.
To me, there are two things to consider in this passage, 1) the darkness, and 2) the author indicates that he is walking or moving along.
Now, there are two variations or ways of viewing that darkness; 1) it is the absence or deficiency of light (a tangible observation, sure), and 2) the lack of knowledge or enlightenment (a spiritual/emotional component of our lives.
So far, that all helps set the stage of the bigger picture the Lord is yearning for us to consider… the reason Jesus Himself said, “Fear not, for I am with you always”… the encouragement and quite empowering message the Lord is wanting us to bury in our hearts.
I started thinking about the ‘picture’ of walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ and it is so very easy to fixate on the fact that the author is pointing out that death is always near… always taunting us… always in our path, it seems. But, I realized one key thing about that shadow… that ominous darkness… that ‘light blocking’ space. And it hit me… there is a LIGHT behind that ‘death’, which is what is actually causing the shadow!
I mean… wherever there is a shadow, there IS a light behind it! And, in the case of life and death, we know that Jesus is the light.
Right… Jesus is the light behind that ‘shadow of death’ fear you are facing. We are encouraged and instructed to walk in the light, but there are times (as this passage reminds us) that the overshadowing reality of life and sin on this earth means that we are going to be ‘walking through the shadow of death’, too.
Beyond the Shadow
We just need to remind ourselves to look beyond the shadow… to look to the light… to the hope of Jesus’ nurturing hand watching over us. See, Luke 1:79 tells us that Jesus is come “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” See… “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” indicates there is a massive, and overwhelmingly bright light of hope behind any ‘darkness’ that haunts you. Behind any/all ‘darkness’ in your life there is that ‘ray of hope’! It is higher, greater, and certainly brighter than any ‘doom’ the Shadow of Death that may loom. His grace, mercy, and peace!
The things of this world can render us unconscious, spiritually. In many ways useless physically, too. They are tangible objects and our sin-based souls are so quick to react protectively of ourselves and those around us. So much so, that we never give it a second thought… giving in to the ‘things that are seen’ rather than hoping for the things to come. Jesus gives us that hope to face fear… to face the pending and inevitable doom… to even step out and challenge the things of this world and walk by faith toward His light.
“He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.”Psalms 107:14 KJV
There was a time when Peter faced his fear. He was in a boat out on the sea, and the waters were churning from a nearby storm. Out in the distance, he saw a figure coming across the surface of the water. In and of itself, that would be a fearful thing, let alone highly unusual. Peter thought he recognized the figure as Jesus, and Matthew 14:28-30 tells us, “And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”
Peter was well on his way to overcoming the obvious. He set aside his fear of the water and was actually out there walking on the top of it with Jesus…. well… while he had his eyes on Jesus, that is! See… when Peter ‘saw the boisterous wind, he was afraid, and began to sink‘. Again, another perfect reminder of that ‘shadow of death’ problem… there is no need to fear when you keep your eyes, your attention, your hope on the light BEHIND that shadow. Remember, please remember… that shadow would never exist where it not for the presence of that light! All would just be darkness, were it not for that light!
Eyes on the Light
Peter only needed to keep his eyes on the Lord. Once he was distracted… was taunted by the tangible fears of life… was reminded of his very mortality… he began to sink. He began to be overcome. To me, there are three things we can do… three ‘rules’ we can apply… three principles/goals to help us through these fears;
- Keeping our attention focused on His leading
- Recognize the distractions around you, but keep Rule #1
- You asked Jesus for proof, He did not taunt you into this
I know… “easier said, than done”, right? But again, as you are ‘walking through the very shadow of death’ of things in your life, the light is where you can focus your attention. His leading you… His guiding you… His protection of you, such that you will adamantly state “yea, though I walk through the very shadow of death, I shall fear no evil” with confidence, not just hope!
Empowered by His Presence
Our hope, faith and trust is empowered by His presence. See… if we were facing that ‘shadow of death’ scenario alone, it would be frightening… it would cause us to freeze in our tracks… to hunker down, skulk, and move in stealth-like ways. We might even RUN through that valley of death so-as to decrease our exposer. Proverbs 28:1 tells us, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Now… please understand… please recognize… please, please know that just because Jesus is present, just because Jesus exists, just because Jesus is watching… “His presence” means ‘in your heart’… in your life… in your mind… in your every being. Jesus made Himself present to Peter, but it was Peter crying out to Him… asking him to ‘save’ him… this was Peter’s application of his faith, of his trust, and of his hope in the Lord.
“In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.”Psalms 138:3 (KJV)
We now have a means for being bold about His presence in our lives. We now have an assurance about His presence in our lives… I am no longer a slave to fear… for I am a child of God! In Hebrews 4:16, we are told, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.“
But, go back a few verses in Hebrews, because that verse 16 starts with, “Let us therefore”… it is that “therefore” reference in Heb 4:12-15 wherein Jesus “…is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” And He was tempted JUST like we are and did not falter (v 15).
Going back to the opening verse of this writing, we can now see that this was not written as some “hang in there, baby” encouragement… it was not some statement from the life of someone who simply endures the struggles of life… it was not even a lofty statement of ‘claim your faith’ cheer from the choir-loft of God.
Rather, this is a bold, and quite emphatic statement…. even a warning to Satan himself… “even though I walk through your scary valley, I will NOT be afraid, for God Himself is right there behind you (glancing over Satan’s shadow) and is my protector, my hope, and certainly my very salvation.”