Summary: True security is not found in the absence of dangers but rather in the presence of the Shepherd
This may be harder for some of us here this morning than others, but I’d like to ask all of you to think back to when you were a child. Remember what is was like when you went to bed and the lights were turned off and there you were lying in the dark? It probably didn’t take much to scare you – perhaps nothing more than the sound of the wind blowing something up against your window or an unfamiliar shadow or a summer thunderstorm. In most cases, there was really nothing to fear, but you were scared nonetheless.
And when that happened, where did you go with those fears? I think most of us sought comfort by calling out for our parents. And most of the time our fears would be soothed merely by their presence. Whether that meant ending up in bed with mom and dad or just knowing that they were present in the house, it was our confidence in our parents that proved to be the best antidote to our fears.
As we get older, we’re still not immune to fears. Some of those fears, like some of the ones we experienced as a child, are only imaginary. But many of them are quite real:
• If you’re a student in school and you’re struggling with your schoolwork or you’re being bullied, you have a legitimate reason to be afraid.
• If your car is making a funny noise and you know you don’t have enough money in your checking account to pay for the needed repairs, your fear is very reasonable.
• If you go to the doctor and he or she tells you that you have cancer, your fears are certainly justified.
• If you come into work one morning and your boss calls you aside and tells you that you’ve been fired or laid off, it’s only natural to have some fears.
And when those and other fears come into our lives, we can try to find our security in all kinds of different places. Some turn to drugs or alcohol or gambling or sex or some other kind of addictive behavior. Some try to find their security in another person, perhaps a parent or a spouse or a good friend. Some try to find their security in a weapon or a home security system or by moving out into the boonies somewhere.
Once again, let me be clear this morning that sometimes we do need to enlist the help of other people and sometimes we do need to take prudent actions to protect ourselves. But ultimately none of those things can guarantee the kind of security that we’re looking for to overcome our fears.
But as we come to the 4th verse in Psalm 23, we find God’s antidote to our fears and we discover that:
True security is not found in the absence of dangers
but rather in the presence of the Shepherd
That is David’s message to us in verse 4:
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.
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)
David certainly knew what it meant to walk through dark valleys in his life. It’s quite likely that this Psalm was written during one of them. But as David looked back on those valleys, he recognized that the reason he had been able to walk through those valleys without fear is because his Shepherd had always been present with him.
This morning, rather than spending a lot of time looking at the details of this verse first and then focusing on how to apply it to our lives, let’s jump right into the application and at the appropriate points along the way, we’ll dig into relevant portions of this verse in more detail.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE GOD’S PRESENCE IN MY VALLEYS:
1. Don’t be too eager to avoid valleys
If the truth be told, most of us would like to avoid valleys altogether. We would prefer that life was just a series of mountaintop experiences where we were taken from peak to peak by helicopter without ever having to go through the valleys. But that is just not how life works in reality.
In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller describes how in late spring the shepherds in Palestine would take their sheep from their winter pastures in the lower elevations to the high mountain meadows where they would feed during the summer. The shepherds always led their sheep to that high country through the valleys. Not only did that route provide a much gentler grade for the journey than trying to go over the hills, but that is also where the rivers and streams that provided water and food for the sheep on their journey flowed.