Walking Through the Valley
Scripture: Psalm 23
“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
What anguish is felt when a loved one passes away! I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that in moments of deep loss I wrestle with understanding the larger issues of life. The answers are not simple. There are answers, but they are often complex. At times we understand, but, because of the limits of our humanity, we often do not.
Yet, in these times of wondering, we realize that others have had questions as well, such as David expresses in Psalm 121:1: “From where is my help to come?” Think also of Thomas’ words to the Lord in John 14:5: “How can we know the way?”
Transition causes us to think. The uncertainty reminds us that we must face the fact of difficulties and death. Death is an everyday reality. I know that in my head, but I have a hard time facing that in my life and in the lives of those I love. I do not want to accept that reality. Probably you do not either.
Alongside the difficulties of life is the reality of faith’s strength. Knowing there are deeper questions than answers need not turn us away from faith. As certain as the difficulty that rises in troubled times is the confidence that is lifted in faith.
The songwriter E.E. Hewitt wrote,
“My Faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One
His wounds for me shall plead.”
Finding a resting place for faith brings some balance to life. Faith helps us remember there are significant issues in life. Faith also helps us walk through today’s reality. The psalmist invites us to walk with him. Notice that he wrote about “walk[ing] through the valley of the shadow of death.”
The familiarity, poetry, and beauty of the Twenty-third Psalm have a different tone when we are wrestling with death or deep difficulty. The shadow is dark and the valley is long and deep. I will not mislead you by denying that reality or by letting sentimentalities echo off the valley’s walls. The valley is real and the shadows are real. That does not mean, however, that you and I are without hope.
I. Life at times is like a deep valley.
The fact that David describes a difficult place in one’s journey as a valley is significant. He does not describe it as a violent sea, a stormy mountain, or a lifeless desert. He paints a picture of a valley—that area at the foot of a mountain, not very far from the mountaintop where it is easy to envision the omnipotent God of peace.
While traversing the valley, evil seemingly lurks around every bend in the road. The psalmist even attaches the term “death” to the imagery!
If you have spent any time traveling, you know that there are valleys that must be crossed. Although valleys are indeed real, they are not all there is to reality. If there are valleys, there are also mountains and stretched-out plains. In other words, not all of life involves navigating valleys; but when valleys are unavoidable, you can have the courage to walk carefully and confidently.
Let me also point out that the psalmist mentions the shadow in conjunction with the valley.
II. Life at times seems to be a dark shadow.
Death is a dark shadow. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow….”
The shadow of death may be our reality today. When we are not far removed from suffering a deep loss, it seems as though there is no other reality. Shadows may be all we can see at such a moment.
Yes, we all face shadows. Each person wrestles with shadows, especially when walking through the valleys of difficulty. The shadows may be dark and seem to stretch beyond the foreseeable future.
But there is another reality! A greater reality! The shadow suggests a question: What is one thing necessary for a shadow to exist? The answer to the question is light. The difficulty causes the shadow, but there can be no shadow without light. And the darker the shadow, the brighter the light. Even when we don’t see it, the light accompanies us through the valley. It is already a present reality.
That light does not undo what has happened or magically make everything different or better. Please don’t hear what I have just said as a simple answer or trite explanation. It is not. However, the reality of the light offers a way forward.
The light is our hope. I don’t know when or where or how it will happen for you, but I promise you this, there will be moments when you catch glimpses of the light and the day will come when the light pierces the shadow.
The light has been with us from the beginning. It’s trustworthy. It never fades. The shadow cannot overcome or extinguish it. Until that day comes when the light pierces the shadow—and it will— our challenge, our hope, and our way forward is to put one foot in front of the other.
That is easier said than done. Sometimes it takes all our strength just to take the next step. That’s why we must stay close, walk together, and continually remind ourselves and one another that a shadow cannot exist apart from light.
Remember this, the light that we now speak of is our Lord God! He is known to us as Jesus. He said of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” He is Light and offers to us the power of His resurrection. This Light brings us good news, binding up the brokenhearted and comforting those who mourn (Isa. 61:1-3). The Light is the One seated on the throne of God saying, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:2-7).
But along with the valley and the shadow, the psalmist David also mentions a path.
III. Remember, this is a temporary path.
One of the most significant words in Psalm 23 is one that we frequently read without giving it much thought. It is a little word of reassurance offering inspiration and hope. The word is “through.”
David spoke of a walk through the valley. It is not a walk into the valley. It is not a walk in the valley. It is not even a walk around the valley. Instead, the journey is through the valley.
This thought of walking through the valley has to be one of the most powerful in this Psalm. The journey is a walk. When we walk, the intention is to move from one location to another.
Life is a journey, a walk that each person is taking. The reality is that our journey always takes us through valleys. Remember though, the valley and the shadows are not permanent.
David did not go into detail about the time spent walking through specific valleys. In fact, the length of the walk becomes insignificant once the discovery is made that the valley-portion of the journey is temporary. His presence gives us the confidence we need to pass through the valley. Making a safe passage is possible because the Lord has promised that He will walk with those who trust Him.
This is the greatest encouragement of all! While we appreciate the Light illuminating our path through the valley, we also have the Shepherd by our side.
IV. On the path, there is a caring guide: the Shepherd.
Yes, the great foundation for hope in this Psalm is found in the fact that the Shepherd is walking with us. David wrote, “The Lord is my Shepherd….” We are not alone in these circumstances or in any other. The Shepherd has walked this way before us. He knows exactly what we need to safely make the passage. But, most importantly, He has promised to walk with us.
There is little in life more frightening than loneliness, especially in difficult times. Our walk does not need to be alone. Family and friends are extremely important in the darkness of shadows. However, the best of company for our journey is the caring Shepherd. He makes Himself available to us, comforting us with His rod and staff.
Take one step at a time. The Light is always shining behind the shadow, and the shadow will never overcome it. John wrote that Jesus is the Light of the world, and the darkness will never overcome the Light (John 1:5).
If you don’t know the power of God’s light and life, you may. Though you are walking through a dark time, you may, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have the warmth and beauty of the Lord’s light. His presence is available as we confess our need of Him and, by faith, rest in His forgiveness.
We will walk through the valley—but we need not do so alone. The Good Shepherd is by our side!
“The Lord is my Shepherd. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.”
He is a graduate of Bible Missionary Institute and God’s Bible School and College, where he earned a BA in Ministerial Education. He was ordained in 1969 and his ministry has included Heartland Conference President (16 years), pastoral experience (30 years), and service on several mission fields in short-term mission ministry.
He founded and served as president of Mission Focus, served on the board of Society of Indian Missions Canada, as well as on various other boards and committees.
Clair presently leads “Let’s Pray” prayer conferences and speaks in camp meetings, revivals, and weekend church services. He and his wife, Melba, have four children, fifteen grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.