The Darkest Valley

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Image by Simon Lucas.

A few years ago I found myself in a job that I hated. The bleakness of my situation drove me into despair and depression. At the time it felt almost as if I was in a tunnel, unable to see the light at either end. I felt like there were enemies all around me, plotting my downfall. I had no idea how to escape from that truly horrible situation. Of course, the reality of human life is that at some point most, if not all of us, will experience times like this. It might be that we find ourselves, like I did, stuck in a job that we don’t like, or in a bad relationship, or battling addictions or facing an uncertain economic future. Whatever the nature of our circumstances, the result is often similar – we feel as if life is dark, depressing, and uncomfortable.

It is times like this that the Psalmist points us to in this famous verse from the Psalm. David describes these times as a ‘valley’. When we’re in that valley the temptation might be to cower away in the corner, hoping that the end will come to us. Hiding can seem like the best solution.

That logic is flawed, however. What point is there in hiding in a dark valley? What we need to do instead is march on with confidence, battling through the troubles and difficulties, realising that sooner or later we will reach the light once more.

The Psalmist once again inspires us with hope and confidence. Even when we are in that deep, dark valley, God is still with us. He is walking alongside us, and what’s more, he is equipped to tackle any threats that come our way. No matter what circumstances jump out at us, no matter what enemies, God is equipped with a rod and a staff, and is well prepared to defend us. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing that can threaten us when we walk with God; he is, after all, the supreme power of the universe! We can draw comfort from God’s presence, and the understanding that he will protect us against any evil that might come our way.

David said in Psalm 23 that he fears no evil for God is with him. Jesus is not only with us, but he paid the ultimate price and died to protect us from evil, and to ensure that we have a bright future ahead of us in heaven when we die.

David trusted that God would protect him at the darkest times of his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God lead us through our dark times and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Listen to this Thought of the Day:

He guides me in paths of righteousness

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3(b)

Image source: broraz.com

Sat-navs are fantastic gadgets. Just pop in the post code of the location you wish to get to, and it’ll take you there. That’s the theory, anyway. A couple of years ago I found myself driving through Arizona. I was on a fairly busy interstate when my sat-nav told me to turn off, which I duly did. Very quickly I found myself lost in the midst of a vast desert, whereupon my sat-nav decided it no longer knew where I was or where I wanted to be. I was well and truly lost, and it took me some time to find my way back onto a major road.

There are times in our lives when we feel lost. We feel like we have pulled into a desert with no clear exit and simply don’t know where to go. Maybe we’re stuck in a job that we don’t like, but can’t see a way out, or we’re in an unhealthy relationship, or we simply want some guidance about where to go next. Where do we turn?

Well we might feel uncertain of the direction our lives should be heading in, but God our Father has a clear vision. He has a way marked out for all us, a path that will be pleasing, and that will best serve his and our needs. When we feel lost, we just need to trust that God knows what he is doing, trust that he will lead us, and pray that he will guide us.

If we let God guide us, that worry that inhabits us about whether we are doing the right thing will diminish, because we can rely on God’s encouragement. We can also draw comfort from the fact that the paths that he leads us down are “paths of righteousness,” paths that will help us to shape our lives to be more like Jesus. By following the paths that God has marked out for us, we will be blessed. And, when the time comes, that path will lead us to God’s eternal kingdom.

If you’re feeling lost, pray today that God will guide you along those paths of righteousness. If you think you know the way, pray anyway that God will reassure you, and continue to lead you along his paths. And pray that, one day, when the time comes, those paths will lead us to heaven.

David trusted that God would guide him through his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to lead us along the right paths of life and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Listen to this Thought of the Day:

He refreshes my soul

He refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:3(a)

Image by freewine @flickr and made available under this licence.

Have you ever felt so tired that you feel that you could sleep for a week? As a teacher, I often feel like that as the end of term approaches, particularly the long Christmas term. After weeks of working flat out, the end is tantalising close, but then, on top of all the usual preparation, teaching and marking, I suddenly find myself having to write several hundred reports, arranging Christmas parties, and sometimes even preparing for end-of-term trips.

It’s tiredness like that that is sometimes described as “soul-sapping.” Not only are you tired, but it actually feels like your very life force is ebbing away from you. It’s at times like this that basic things become neglected; perhaps you feel your home life suffering, and you find yourself isolating yourself from our friends. Maybe you even feel that spending time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study drops down your priorities list.

Today’s verse is a warning against this neglect. God can help us through these difficult and busy times. If we spend just a few minutes of our busy day in quiet reflection, reading our Bible and praying, then the promise in this verse is that God will refresh our soul. Not only will he physically help us by sustaining us through our busy-ness, but spending time with him also puts what we are doing into context.

Work suddenly is not the be all and end all in our lives, since as Christians we have an eternal perspective. We should not focus solely on work, because we also need to spend time with God, and we need to ensure that we are doing his work, living a life worthy of Christ’s salvation. We also understand the importance of maintaining a focus on Christ in all that we do, whether it is at work, at home, or with our friends. We can support our colleagues through their busyness too by maintaining our calm, and working as if for our Father in heaven. By doing so, we can be witnesses for God, even though we are busy.

The realisation that God can refresh our souls can help us to put our daily life into perspective. Spending just a little time every day with him can really change our lives, and change our perspective on the world.
The next time you are tempted to neglect your daily time with God, just remember the promise of this verse, that God can refresh your soul. Talk to him, and listen to him, even if just for a few minutes a day.

David trusted that God would bring him true refreshment, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to refresh our souls and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Listen to this Thought of the Day:

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalm 23:2

Source: abidinginthevine.net.

When I’m tired and stressed, I like to head up to Reigate Hill on the North Downs near where I live. The views across the Weald to the South Downs are awesome. It makes me feel just a little less stressed and a little more normal just to sit there and relax.

When I’m really busy at work and feeling very stressed, however, it seems there’s no time to do anything but work. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar position and know for yourself that when you get in this position home life suffers and you find yourself being irritable with those who love you, and not making time for your friends. You even find yourself cutting yourself off from God, and not making time for Bible study and prayer.

God knows what is best for us, though, and if we let him, he will take care of us. He wants to lead us, shepherd-like, beside quiet waters. He wants us to lie down in green pastures. If we accept him as our shepherd and follow him like sheep, this will be a painless experience. There are times, though, when we refuse his leadership, when we think that we know better than he does, and we wander away from him. When we do this we can expect a slightly more abrupt leadership, however. He can make us lie down in green pastures of peace. This can feel as if a carpet is being pulled out from underneath us. There are times, though, when God has to show us that actually, he does know best. We have to trust in him, and realise that, as our creator, he knows better than anyone what we need.

If we allow God to lead us, he will help us to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life. He will take us by the hand and lead us on that relaxing and restorative walk beside quiet waters to the green pastures that he has prepared for us.

Listen carefully to God today. Do you need to stop? Are you neglecting him, your family or your friends through working too hard? Stop and lie down in those green pastures now, otherwise you might find yourself being stopped, since God loves you and knows best!

David trusted that God would bring him peace in his life, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to lead us to peace and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Listen to this Thought of the Day:

The Lord is my Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Christ the God Shepherd

I’m slightly afraid to admit this on the radio, but I am a gadget fiend. Whenever a new product comes out, I find myself desperately wanting to buy one. I begin rationalising and convince myself that it’s not simply a case of wanting a new toy, but actually needing it. My life would be so much simpler if only I could have the latest gadget. I know I’m not alone in my feelings. This is, after all, how a capitalist marketplace works. We’re conditioned to want more, to desire better, and hang the expense.

Psalm 23 has proven to be a revelation in my life in recent years, so much so that I found myself writing a book about it. It’s a Psalm that we think we all know. Perhaps because it is so familiar to us, we don’t really think about its words.

‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ the Psalmist David begins. He himself had spent his early years tending his father’s flock, so he would have known exactly what it meant to be a shepherd. David knew that the most crucial role of a shepherd is to look after the material needs of his sheep. His sheep would be totally dependent on him for food and water. Without the shepherd, the sheep would surely die, since they would be unable to find food for themselves.

This is the image that David had of God: there was no doubt in his mind that God fulfils the same role for his people. He knew that God looked after him as he looked after his sheep. He trusted God to take care of all of his material needs. He believed this to the extent that he could say with confidence, “I lack nothing.” He knew that all he needed would be provided to him by God.

Sometimes our desire for more material goods can actually make our lives more uncomfortable. We work long hours, we try to gain promotions, we neglect our families, we can even abandon God.

Perhaps rather than falling into the trap of materialism we should strive to be more sheep-like, trusting in God to provide for our needs, and finding contentment in what he has already graciously given us, rather than constantly striving for more and more.

David trusted that God would provide all that he needed, and said with confidence, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I wonder if we can trust in God to provide our needs and say, “the Lord is OUR shepherd?”

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

Listen to this Thought of the Day: