Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life in the Valley Part 5

Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

If there is one thing that has consistently impressed me about David, it is his unparalleled poetic flair. Psalm 23, is one of those psalms that reaches the heights of poetry, the heights of encouragement, the heights of comfort, and the heights of faith and hope in God. If David would have written no other psalm, if David would have penned no other thoughts, this psalm alone would have been enough to count him among the most gifted writers the world has ever known.

We have journeyed through three valleys thus far, we have even seen the beauty of the mountaintop, but today we will, by the grace of God, and the unction of the Holy Spirit, discuss the final valley, the last valley, that valley that all of us must walk sooner or later.

What I want to reiterate, because it is necessary and relevant, is that all of us, without exception, will end up in the valley sooner or later, at one point in our walk. Whether the valley of hopelessness, the valley of warfare, the valley of fear, the valley of doubt, we all descend into these valleys. Not everyone’s valley is the same, but we all descend into the valley. Whether it’s the valley of mourning due to losing a loved one, the valley of hardship due to the trials we are facing, the valley of weariness due to the constant onslaught of the enemy, we all end up in the valley. There are no super Christians, no one is exempt from the valley, and so if someone says they’ve never had to descend off the mountaintop, they’ve never had to journey through the valley, they’ve been in the valley all along and just don’t know it. If one such as the Apostle Paul had his season in the valley, if one such as John the Baptizer had his season in the valley, do we truly believe that we are more mature, faithful, spiritual, or otherwise more obedient than they? I think not.

Yes, the valley is a certainty in the life of a believer, whatever your valley might be.

The important thing however, once we end up in the valley, is to have the desire, determination, will and motivation to return to the mountaintop. We cannot grow comfortable in the valley, we cannot deceive ourselves into believing that we will never again be on the mountaintop, because on the mountaintop is where we see the power, the deliverance, the grace and the beauty of our God.

If you find yourself in the valley, do not be content there, but desire and purpose in your heart that you will arise, and begin your journey back to the mountaintop.

Although valleys differ from one individual to another, there is one valley that all men without exception must journey through. It is the only valley that every one of us shares, it is a communal, a collective valley, and no man is exempt from it.

Psalm 23:4, “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.”

There are countless things that this verse and this psalm in its entirety can teach us, but the first, and without equivocation the most important truth that we glean from this psalm is how to view our shepherd. If we understand this psalm, we understand how to view God, and how to see Jesus.

Out of the hundred and seventeen words in this psalm, one hundred and fifteen of them are used to describe the first two. The psalm begins with the Lord, yes, the Lord is my shepherd. The entirety of this psalm centers around the Lord exemplifying Him, describing His love, His attributes, His grace, His mercy, and His power.

The Lord is my shepherd, and I am His sheep.

There are so many misconceptions about God, and so many people view Him in so many ways that do not line up with the Bible. He is not a genie in a bottle, waiting there, patiently so, for us to make requests and demands upon Him; He is not a grandfatherly type, with a white flowing beard, with candy in his pocket and a gentle smile, sleeping in an easy chair, who gives good advice but does not make demands, who encourages, but never rebukes or commands.

God is not an absentee father either, or a father that comes home only on weekends, uninvolved with the discipline of his children the rest of the time. We act like it though; we act like it more often than we would like to admit to ourselves. Well, Monday through Friday, dad’s away, so we can do what we want, there’s nobody there to discipline us. On Sunday however, He comes home, so we need to act proper, and wear our Sunday best, be on our best behavior because dad’s home.

No our God is not a genie, He is not a grandfatherly type, and He is not an absentee father. Our God is a mighty God, our God is a consuming fire, our God is the great I am, our God is a loving Father, and our God is the omnipotent creator of all that is.

David was a man who knew God, he was a man who spent much time in the presence of God, and the best description that he was able to find, the one noun that would encapsulate the Lord in His heart, was that of shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my caretaker, my guard, my guide, my leader, my protector, my teacher, and my watcher. These are all synonyms of shepherd, and if the Lord is your shepherd, then He is all these things and more to you and for you.

The second thing the twenty third Psalm teaches us, is how to view ourselves, how to see ourselves when we are shepherded by the Lord. We discover this great truth, in the second part of the first verse. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Because He is my shepherd, because He is my provider, because He is my God, I shall not want, I shall not lack.

So in light of this verse, in light of this promise, and this affirmation that we shall not want, that we shall not lack, how should we view our lives?

First of all, I must view my life, and live my life without fear. If the Lord is my shepherd, if He promises that I will not lack, then why should I fear? Do not worry for tomorrow, the good shepherd is already there preparing a way, and providing for your needs.

When fear abounds, when worry overcomes us, there can be no joy of the Lord in our hearts.

Rest in the Lord, enter His rest, know that He is able to provide, know that He is able to carry you. Does this mean that there won’t be trials? No, it doesn’t mean that, what it means is that the Lord will see us through our trials; He will see us through our valleys, because He is good and merciful.

We can choose to see the crust of bread, or the One who miraculously fed five thousand with bread. We can choose to look into the future, and worry about it, or look to our God who already knows tomorrow, and the day after, whose promises to His children remain the same.

If the Lord is our shepherd, and we will not want, we either both believe Him and stand on His word, or we call God a liar to His face. That is what it boils down to. I cannot sugar coat it, I cannot make it seem less climactic than it is, we either believe God, and run to Him, trusting Him as our shepherd, as our provider, as our joy, as our peace, and our refuge, or we call Him a liar to His face.

The third thing that the twenty third Psalm teaches us is to walk in humility. It’s not because we deserve it, it’s not because we’re better than anyone, it’s not because we have special privileges, it’s for His name’s sake that He stands with us, that goodness and mercy follow us, that He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. For His name’s sake, He does these things. He is the shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture.

When we appropriate this humbling insight, we will never again be able to say we did anything in and of ourselves. It was not you who succeeded in your ventures, it was the shepherd that led you to green pastures, it was not you who succeeded in making your marriage work, it was the shepherd who led you in the paths of righteousness. All we are, all we have, all we’ve accomplished can be directly attributed, and credited to God, the good shepherd who watches over His sheep. All we have to do in order to succeed in every area of our lives, is obey the shepherd, in humility and supplication, following after Him, and seeking true intimacy with Him.

I’ve often contemplated why we would be compared with sheep, why David, a man of such linguistic talent could not find a better descriptive. If you took a poll of what animal people compared themselves too, I am somewhat certain that a sheep would be at the end of the list. Chances are good that a wolf, an eagle, a bear, a lion, even a cheetah would all precede the sheep in people’s estimation of themselves, because quite frankly people see themselves in more a flattering light than they ought. Yet here is David comparing himself to a sheep.

So what’s so special about a sheep? It’s not as fast as a gazelle, it doesn’t bite like a dog or a wolf, it is not cunning like the serpent, nor is it ferocious like a lion. Seriously, are there any attributes that a sheep has that make it worth comparing ourselves to?

Realize it wasn’t only David who compared himself to a sheep, but even Jesus said that we are His sheep and He is our shepherd. So, what quality does a sheep have, that no other animal does? It is by all rights defenseless, it is a meek animal, it gets lost quite easily, it is naïve, yet here we are, being compared to sheep.

The reason we are compared to sheep, not only by David but also by Jesus, is because a sheep is wholly dependent upon its shepherd. A sheep is dependent upon its shepherd for nourishment, it is dependent upon its shepherd for protection, it is dependent upon its shepherd for shelter, and its dependency extends to every area of its life.

It is in this dependency, it is in this absolute trust in the strength, wisdom, provision and protection of our Shepherd that we find rest, that we find joy, and that we find peace. A sheep cannot take credit for fighting off a wolf, for it is impotent to do so. It knows that its shepherd protected it. A sheep cannot take credit for its shelter. It knows that its shepherd prepared the pen. A sheep cannot take credit for its food. It knows that its shepherd led it to green pastures.

What a glorious thing it is, to know that our shepherd would leave the ninety nine to go and search out the one, what a glorious thing it is to know that our shepherd will fight off the wolves and keep us from becoming prey.

Now although this magnificent Psalm teaches us how to view our shepherd, and how to view ourselves, it also teaches us how to view or perceive our valleys.

Psalm 23:4, “Yeah, 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.”

And so, we have come to this final valley, this valley of the shadow of death that is as fearful for some as it is unavoidable for all. Yes, many fear this valley, because they have not learned a right way in which to perceive it, they have not learned how to view it through spiritual eyes, rather than the physical eyes of a temporary being.

Men fear what they do not understand, at least this is the age old adage, and although we understand more today about this valley than ever before in the history of mankind, it is still one of these unknowns, one of these mysteries, at least for those who do not know God as the good shepherd.

We do not fear the valley of the shadow of death, not because in and of ourselves we are strong, but because He is with us. We each have an appointed time, wherein we will leave this earth, and although we are encouraged to walk every day, become vegetarians, let pigs die of natural causes and stop eating meat altogether, the truth of the matter is that eventually we will all return to the earth from which we came.

Now before you start writing, let me just say, there is nothing wrong with exercise. I do it from time to time; it relaxes me and is a great stress reliever. There is nothing wrong with vegetarianism, although I am a carnivore. There is however something wrong in the idea that our fate is in our hands, and if we do all these things we will somehow bypass the will of God, circumvent God’s plan, and live long after our appointed time has passed.

I do believe God’s sovereignty extends to our length of life, because of what I’ve experienced personally. I’ve been in a few car accidents that were so horrible, there was no logical way someone should have survived through them, yet every time I walked away without a scratch. While living in California some years ago, I was sideswiped by another car, and hit a pole hard enough that it cracked the engine block, no seatbelt, no warning, yet I walked away without a bruise. Another accident that comes to mind is one I had in Romania, wherein on a foggy night I hit a bridge head on going about sixty miles per hour. The car looked so mangled, that shortly after I got out of the car, people who had stopped to try and help were pulling on the doors trying to get the ‘victims’ out. Again, not even a scratch.

Then you hear these unbelievable stories, wherein someone drops a bottle cap from the fifth floor and ends up killing someone on their way home from the store.

So what’s my point? My point is a simple one. Those who trust in the Lord, do not fear this last valley, those who trust in the Lord do not fear their last day, because they know the Lord is with them. God is our comfort in times of trial, God is our Father in times of loneliness, and God is there ready to receive us into His heavenly Kingdom when we finally breathe our last upon this earth.

God may send angels to watch over you, He may send other brothers to encourage you, He may send preachers to teach you, but when it comes to that last valley, there are no more surrogates, there are no more intermediaries, it is God Himself, personally, who receives you. He who watched over you, and carried you while on earth, will be the One to receive you into His eternal home.

What a glorious truth this is, what an encouraging truth this is, God will be the one to walk with me through my journey through the last valley.

I want to end today’s post with the last verse of Psalm 23, a verse that has spoken joy, peace and hope into my heart more times than I can recall. It is one of the first verses I memorized when learning how to speak the English language, and I quote it often in my prayer time.

Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

This is the goal, this is the aim, this is the objective; that we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Yes, there will be valleys, yes there will be warfare, yes there will be hardship, yes we will have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but even in our darkest hour, we have the promise of God that His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.

With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. Thank you, brother and thank You, Lord.

rleigh said...

Thank-you for this post -- it is beautiful and it is the Lord's timing and wisdom for each of us. God bless you and your family as you pursue Him and minister to the Body.
In Him,