The dark night closes in around us, like a foggy mist clinging to the soul. Night give ways to another night, and it seems daybreak misses its cue. We step forward but stumble, reach out but cannot find something steady to which we can cling.
In such moments all we want is a person, a presence, a guide. David, expressing the longing of his heart and ours, penned a promise for dark seasons. Often read at funerals or resigned to bookmarks, Psalm 23 gives hope to every journeying soul.
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).
Certainly the valley in view is an apt metaphor for our passage from life into eternity. But perhaps it’s more too. We face days marked by darkness, defeat, and despair. We walk through seasons defined by deep furrows and dangerous valleys.
Here we meet our Shepherd. We refuse the fears and keep moving forward because his presence presides over us and paces alongside us. We may not see him directly or feel him certainly, but he is there. Like a gentle Shepherd, his rod and staff—two pieces of common among ancient shepherds—discipline, direct, and defend us.
What if we saw discipline as a sign of God’s presence? He isn’t finished with us, and his discipline means that he has more for us to know, experience, and accomplish. What if we saw difficult directions as God’s providential care? Closed doors, no thank you’s, and even loss might just be his way of leading us onward. What if we saw his defense as good and gracious? When trials press in close and the burdens beat us down, we realize the treacherousness of this life but also the protective hand that prevents their overwhelming force.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:5-6).
How could David pen his poem with such opposites back-to-back? The shadowed valley gives ways to a splendid table—an experience only a divine Shepherd could orchestrate. God is present with us in the shadows, but he also prepares a spread for us at the end of an arduous journey.
As we stumble in the darkness, God is setting up goodness just ahead. He lays out the place settings, prepares the meal, invites the (often ironic) guests, secures the oil, and selects the wine. He arranges a feast after our famine. He plans honor after our humiliation. He pours out abundance after we offer him our last drops.
Ultimately the Great Shepherd goes to great lengths to shows us himself. He dispels the haze. He wipes away the tears. He unveils a goodness that chased us even in the darkness. And he draws us closer to himself.
If you find yourself in a dark and desperate season, hold on. There is hope around the bend, and there is help for today. Can you sense it?