Through Life’s Valleys
By Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
4 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. – Psalm 23:4 (KJV)
As parents Deb and I were pretty lucky. Two of our three began to sleep through the night fairly early (or at least they didn’t fuss loud enough to get our attention). The other however would wake up almost every night and demanded that one of us come in and pat him on the back until he fell back to sleep. This was always a guessing game…was he asleep enough we could slowly leave without his noticing or not? For some reason, he wanted to know we were there with him as he fell back to sleep… he needed our presence.
This of course is the great gift of God, God’s presence throughout our lives. It is easy for us to think God is present with us when things go well, but throw a little adversity our way and we immediately assume God has withdrawn God’s favor… that God is no longer present and walking with us. We all have a little bit of that “prosperity gospel” inside of us—the idea that God blesses us when we do well but withdraws favor when we don’t live up to a certain standard. But the testimony of Scripture is just the opposite, God is always present with us…even more so when we walk through “the valley of death”…our scariest, most difficult moments…God is with us. And there is very little correlation between our actions and when we experience these valleys and mountaintops in our lives. Right now, in our country, there seem to be a lot of valleys.
I’ve always thought of the Valley of Death in terms of a dry, barren place… a Middle, Eastern dessert! But I’m coming to think of that a bit differently now days. I’ve been through a few “valleys of death” in my life and they all look a little different. And lately, we have seen some pretty major valleys for lots of people.
Can you see a “valley of death” filled with flood water from a tidal surge and days on end of rain? How about one where fires have raged from the unending drought? Or maybe it is in a valley surrounded by volcanic mountains and the ground has been shaking so hard that buildings…even schools… collapse and trap little children? Or perhaps it is an urban valley where a lone gunman has taken a vantage point in one of our man-made cliffs to shower his fatal shots upon a gathered crowd? Or perhaps it is not one of these dramatic valleys, but the valley of depression that caused by economic, emotional or some other loss.
And despite appearances, in all of these “valleys”, Jesus walks alongside us.
How do we know and why is that important?
We know because the testimony of scripture reminds us of Jesus’ nature and his experience in all of these valleys. Before He walked with David through the Valley of Saul’s wrath, Jesus had already walked with Joseph when his brothers betrayed him, threw him in a well and later sold him into slavery. Jesus walked again with the tribe of Israel when they fled Pharaoh and began a 40-year trek through the wilderness on what was supposed to be a “three-hour tour”! And then He was with Elijah and the prophets during the days of the Judges in Israel, providing for their needs and helping them to overcome the challenges in miraculous ways. And so, David could write confidently of His presence in the hour of need.
But the testimony of Christ’s faithfulness through the valley does not stop there! Jesus even walked through some valleys alone to prepare the way for us. He walked through the valley between the Mount of Olives and the Sanhedrin’s kangaroo court bound and guarded, knowing what awaited Him. He walked half-dazed from the beating He had taken there and covered in spittle from Jerusalem through the Valley to the hill called Calvary. And then He walked from there, through the tomb and down into the depths of the deepest valley, the valley of hell itself and continued through, breaking down hell’s gates to reemerge in the tomb with new life on his breath and available for all.
All of this is important because His experience through the valleys transform these dark, scary times for us. He has been there and knows the way out. His presence reassures us that though the journey may be difficult, it is doable with Him walking beside us. His peace reminds us that our fears of the unknown are no longer valid. He knows what lies ahead and promises to see us through.
We have all walked through many valleys and will in the course of our time here walk through many more. But the promise of Christ is that He will be present with us in those times, patting us gently on the back until we can get the rest and confidence we need to continue the journey. May you know this peace whatever valley you face in your world today.
Prayer: For your faithful presence in the valleys and on the mountains, Oh God, we give you thanks. Lead us on. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran