Navigating Life’s Dark Valleys
March 9, 2017

Navigating Life’s Dark Valleys

Psalm 23:4


Last week we looked at how to handle the stress in our ongoing series entitled, “Spiritual First Aid.” In that message I alluded to the Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23, a couple of time, because within the Psalm God deals with many of life’s stressors.

In what might be considered as the most recognizable verses of Psalm 23, King David deals with the stress of the potential loss of life. And while we’ve looked at this verse and the valleys of life, I thought it might be good to look at this verse once again, given the various losses many of us have experienced lately. And I’m not talking about the loss of life along, but also the loss of finances, relationships, jobs, and even health.

In Psalm 23:4 King David said,

“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.” (Psalm 23:4 NKJV)

In Israel there’s actually a valley called “The Shadow of Death.” I’m told it’s a steep, dark, and narrow canyon that the sun only reaches when it’s directly overhead. David may very well have led his sheep up this valley.

The Bible often talks about valleys as tough times.

  • Joshua talks about a Valley of Calamity. (Joshua 7:26)
  • Psalm 84:6 uses the imagery of people passing through the Valley of Baca, or weeping, and
  • Hosea talks about the Valley of Achor, or the Valley of Trouble. (Hosea 2:15)

Other valleys mentioned in the Bible are where battles have been fought and victories won. The Valley of Elah is one such valley. This is where young David won a great victory for Israel over the Philistines by defeating the giant Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:19)

Now if you were on God’s side of this valley, this valley is one of victory. But if you were on Goliath’s side, then you went down in flames.

There is also the Valley of Shittim, which is part of the larger Jordan Valley. It was in this valley that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah resided and that God brought judgment against because of their sins. Once this valley was green and fertile, but now it’s nothing but desolation. In fact, the sea that is located in that valley is dead. That’s why it’s known as the “Dead Sea.”

It’s the same desolation we see whenever the Valley of Hinnon is mentioned. This valley lies outside of Jerusalem. It was in this valley that Israel greatly sinned by sacrificing their children to the god Molech. As a consequence the Lord calls it a place of slaughter and as a place of ashes and bodies. (Jeremiah 7:31; 31:40)

During the days of Jesus the Valley of Hinnon was the city’s garbage dump where fires continually burned, and was synonymous with hell, a place of decay and burning.

Today valleys are not well thought of. We talk of being in despair as being in a valley. When we’re not doing well we say we’re in a valley. But our valleys don’t have to be places of despair.

To rightly handle our times in these valleys we need to understand some aspects or facts about the valleys we encounter in life.

Valleys Are Inevitable

Valley experiences are going to happen, so we might as well count on them. Jesus said,

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b NKJV)

Underline the world “will.” It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” a valley is going to happen. We’re all going to experience difficulties, disappointments, and discouragements; suffering, sorrow, and sicknesses; frustration, failure, and fatigue. These are all a normal part of life, so they shouldn’t surprise us.

Valleys Are Unpredictable

We can never plan nor schedule valleys. Valleys are always unexpected and always tend to come at the worst time imaginable. Think about it, there’s never a good time to have a flat tire or for the car to break down. There’s never a good time to lose your job or health.

Have you ever noticed how quickly a good day can turn into a bad day?

The prophet Jeremiah said,

“Destruction upon destruction is cried, for the whole land is plundered. Suddenly my tents are plundered, and my curtains in a moment.” (Jeremiah 4:20 NKJV)

Jeremiah is basically saying that since valleys happen in an instant we need to be prepared to be unprepared.

Valleys Are Impartial

No one is immune to valleys. No one is insulated from pain and sorrow. No one gets a “Get out of the valley” free card. Everyone has problems, good and bad people. In other words, valleys are impartial. Jesus said,

“He (GOD) makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 4:45b NKJV)

When we go through these valleys our first reaction is always, “Why me?” Yet it really should be “Why not me?” No one is exempt from problems. Everyone goes through them.

Valleys Are Temporary

Valleys do have an end. They don’t last forever. They’re not a permanent location. David said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Key in on that word “through.” Valleys are what we go through, not permanently camp out in. Valleys are not dead ends, rather they’re tunnels with light on the other side, and for all the pessimists that are out there, the light at the end of the valley isn’t an oncoming train.

The Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1:6,

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” (1 Peter 1:6 NKJV)

Notice Peter admits that we’re going to go through various trials, but they aren’t going to last, therefore we can rejoice. When Jesus said that in this world we will have trials, He goes on to say to be cheerful, because He has overcome the world.

Even through life has its tough times, there’s always joy ahead for those who are in Christ. And the greatest joy of them all is that of heaven once this life is over, because in heaven there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears.

Valleys Are Purposeful

God has a reason for taking us through the valleys.

Peter goes on to say,

“These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure.” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)

There are all kinds of valleys we face: financial valleys, relational valleys, emotional valleys, physical valleys, and the general valleys that come with life. But what Peter tells us is that these valleys have a purpose, and that is to test our faith.

Mountaintops are great, but faith is built in the valleys. It is in the valleys where our faith is strengthened. It was through my valley of losing everything, including my family, that my faith actually increased becoming my number one gift.

So every problem has a purpose, even the tiny ones; they’re all about building our character making us more into the image of Jesus Christ.

So what does David encourage us to do when we walk through these dark valleys?

  1. Refuse to be Discouraged

“I will fear no evil”

David put his faith in God and walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

We need to refuse to be discouraged and walk through these valley. We can’t go around the valley. We can’t go under the valley, nor can we go over it. We can only go through it.

But how can we not be discouraged? It’s by focusing on God’s power rather than our problems. Two people in identical situations will generally react differently. The difference is what they’re focusing on.

When we focus on our circumstances then our circumstances will rule our lives. Instead we need to start focusing on Jesus Christ. Don’t focus on the situation, but rather focus upon the Savior. Don’t focus on the problems, but on God’s power over the problem.

  1. Remember God is Present

“For You are with me.”

God not only promises us His power in the valleys but His presence as well. When we know God as our Good Shepherd, then we’ll never walk alone through the valleys of life. He’ll be with us.

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord said,

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2 NKJV)

No matter what problems we might face, God says He’ll see us through. He’ll be with us every step of the way. When God is near there’s therefore nothing to fear.

There’s something else that I would like all of us to notice in Psalm 23, and that is the change of language that occurs. Verses two and three David uses the 3rd person when referencing God.

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.”

But in verse four and five when David gets to the valley of death, David changes his referece to God to the 2nd person.

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.”

When we’re in the valleys of life, that’s when we come face to face with God. In the valleys we don’t want to talk about God, we want to talk to God. This is where religion changes into a relationship. It’s when we’re in the valleys that God becomes real and says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)

  1. Rely on God’s Protection and Guidance

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”

The rod and staff were the two basic tools used by the shepherd to protect and guide the sheep. The rod was about two feet long with a large knot on the end. The shepherd would use this to keep the predators at bay and protect the sheep.

The staff was a long stick with a crook at the end. The shepherd would use the staff to guide and comfort the sheep. He would use the staff to draw sheep unto him or lift them up when they’ve fallen in a pit.

When we go through the valleys of life, the Lord doesn’t sit up in heaven saying, “I hope they get through.” God isn’t apathetic to our situation, but will guide and protect us.

So God’s power, presence, protection, and guidance is ours when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

There’s one last thing I’d like to focus on in our time together, and that is David calling this place the “valley of the shadow of death.” This reveals the reality that it isn’t the valleys that scare us; rather it’s the shadows. Now, there are several things to understand about shadows.

  • Shadows are always bigger than the reality. Fear is always greater than the problem.
  • Shadows can’t hurt us. Have you ever been run over by a shadow? There’s a difference between a shadow and a truck. Shadows are images without substance.
  • There is no shadow without there being a source of light. So when we begin to be afraid of the shadows in the dark valleys of life, we need to turn away from the shadow and look directly at the light.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NKJV)

When we look at the world we’ll be distressed. When we look within ourselves, we’ll be depressed. But when we look at Jesus we’ll be at rest. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV)

There’s a beautiful worship song that always seems to help when we find ourselves in these times of dark shadows.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus – Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth shall grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

When Hosea saw the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, he also saw a door and it was a door of hope. (Hosea 2:15)

That door of hope is nothing less than Jesus Christ.

In John 10:9 Jesus said,

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9 NKJV)

Jesus is not only the door, but He is also standing at the door of our hearts and knocking.

In his letter to the Laodicean Church Jesus said,

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

Jesus is at the door of our hearts knocking, will we hear Him calling? We can let Him in and the eternal hope He brings, or we can continue to stay defeated and in despair, never tasting His victory, and thus always fearing the valley of the shadow of death.

But when we open the door of our hearts to Him, God’s power, presence, protection and guidance will be ours when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and into the light of Jesus Christ that brings life.


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