We have been looking at Psalm 23 , which was intended to be an exegetical study to bless others. It has become a living scripture in our lives which was a bit uncomfortable this past week. Wednesday night on the way to church our van window refused to go up (broken generator). We wrapped it with Saran wrap which partially shielded the 15 degree weather. On the way home a big owl flew into the top of the van. Crunch. It was dark and cold and I don’t hunt but I think the wild game is supposed to be the target and not the family within the vehicle. Remember those flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz? It felt kind of like that. Then, as I pulled off the highway and drove through city roads  a big caramel colored buck jumped over the front of the van. It was so close you could see  muscles and the fur on his back. He barely missed the windshield.  We were snuggled in blankets listening to KLove and just kept moving forward. It was strange. We had determined not to miss church that night. It was well worth the drive, even though the ride home was a bit scary.

Fear comes in many shapes and sizes. My oldest son said one of his friends is afraid of split ends. My youngest is no longer afraid of monsters but hates the camel crickets that jump around the garage when the cold draws them in. My hubby is afraid to play millennial monopoly though I keep asking him to. I’m not a fan when it comes to snakes or popping out biscuits from those vacuum pressured cans. Yesterday I cooked up a mess of fried chicken and my fears of hot oil were realized when some splashed on my fingers leaving painful burns. Hearing one of the boys say it was like having a reality cooking show in the kitchen made it worth the while. Smile. He likes fried chicken too. My mama was right to teach me to have a healthy fear of certain things. Some fears are rational and some are irrational. I love crowds but have friends who are terrified to go out on Black Friday. I tell them I am more afraid of retail price but that does not help them. We all have our unique phobias.

So, knowing we could panic in danger, why would a loving Shepherd lead someone into a valley? This part of the Psalm is odd. The shepherd did not have GPS, but he had experience. It seems this was intentional. It does not say the valley of death but the shadow of it. Researching landscape in the Bible, there are many hills, mountains and terrain mentioned. Valley in this particular Psalm scholars think refers to a steep gorge (cut by water). It would take skill to navigate little hooves to travel on. I’m from the Dakotas so open meadows seem like a better place to take sheep to frolic – until the sun is at high noon and super hot. David’s context was not cool. This type of valley is a place where waterways come together – not a torrent but a crossing. That combined, still, water would be fresh, clear and easy to drink. Not a sip, but a saturation.

Could it be that the Shepherd lead them there to satisfy their biggest, greatest thirst? Was the bigger danger, not being saturated? Undistracted, silent, focused – quenching and satisfying. Could it be that he was not looking at the height of the rock but the treasure of the water? Taking them low would saturate them enough to let them walk for a long time. Would they gently bathe in it as the waters swirled around, unafraid of being whisked away in that low place? The lower you go the harder it is to fall and you can drink, drink and drink some more. I’ve always looked at the scary things around that valley, the rugged rocks, the high places, the darkness of the journey, but that is not where the shepherd is gazing. What is in that valley that drew a shepherd to bring his sheep there? It had to be something life-sustaining and worth it in the long run.

Is what is on the other side of that valley worth the walk, the journey, the saturation? Is our desire for what’s on the other side deep enough to cause us to want to prepare for it? Wait for it? Be filled for it?

A shadow is something that blocks out the light, it obliterates the view of other things. I’ve always thought the shepherd was leading them thru danger but he was also leading them away from the scorching burning sun. Temporarily the dark cliffs would give shadow, block to the wooly, heated sheep. A shade in the day time is helpful if you are hot, dehydrated and weary. No air conditioning, no professional stalls, just jagged rocks blocking the sun and shading your drinking spot. Your companion, a trusted navigator, guide and friend. waiting to bring you to the other side.

Last week we talked about paths of righteousness. Is the thought furthered by telling us the paths the shepherd leads us on are for our good? No matter how scary they are to us or others? To satisfy and nurture and satiate us? There is something in that valley that will make the mountain tops easier to balance, endure, climb? As a metaphor and literally– Jesus is the path, the path to and the guide on the path. The shepherds leads us to the path through the valley – for our benefit and not our harm. He would not take us down this path if he thought it would harm or permanently damage us. It is not a final or permanent place, this valley is a resting place, a place to not stop but to walk through. It is only deadly if we stay in it. When night comes, no man can work, no sheep can see…  we must trust the shepherd to go in the valley and we must trust the shepherd when the sun is setting to come out.

I will fear no evil. That does not mean there won’t be any. David had found that to be true in the face of a lion and bear. His trust was not in his own deliverance but the delivering One. It’s been said that he looked not at Goliaths chest but above Goliaths head where the King of the Universe ruled and reigned. David’s destiny was decided when he picked up those smooth stones and put his trust in the God who formed them. It was not his strength but the Lord’s that he was counting on.

1 Peter 3 uses Sarah as an example of this type of trust , “like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” The opposite of fear is faith. While fear can come on us at any time and there are millions of things that can potentially make anyone afraid, faith is something we can take part in and can increase or decrease its impact. Hebrews 4 tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. To me, it seems that our level of hearing and reading the word can directly impact our ability to counter or resist fear. Getting in the word for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at the very least keeps our perspectives on God instead of our culture. It washes us of negativity, cynicism and unbelief. When we focus on faith instead of fear, we turn up our trust in God.

When we focus on faith, we turn up our trust in God. That reduces our fear.

I can’t fight fear on my own strength because my strength levels wax and wane. When there is a big spider in the house I don’t freak out. I’m not afraid of them because I have 3 guys who live with me who have a bigger shoe size than I do. Bam, what? Spiders are not my problem, the bigger shoe will win every time. Because I travel with 6 feet of shoes with broad spider crushing capability, I do not worry. I relax because there are bigger shoes to do my crushing. A joke on the internet says, “Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “There is nothing to fear but fear itself … and Chuck Norris.” We can wrestle fearing fear or turn it over to one who can FIX the fear. I fear no evil because God is bigger than anything I will face – EVER.

There was a story of a woman who went to a psychologist with a fear of monsters under her bed. The professional stated he would charge $100 to help her over several months period of time. She canceled her appointments later that day telling him that when she told her husband the cost of this “solution”, he took a saw to the bed, dropping it to the floor. “There, he said, “now there is no room for monsters to crawl under it anymore.” Problem solved. Sometimes we need to replace anxiety with Awesome – when God comes near, the God of the universe, all lesser gods must bow. Faith says He IS WITH US, therefore we won’t be shaken. (Disclaimer: some phobias do need professional assistance. This was an illustration  only and not to discourage getting help where needed.)

Josh Baldwin sings, “My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.” We trust that God’s presence guides us to good places, we trust the guide to the path is also on the path and Lord of the path. His presence makes the difference. Michael Smith sings, “It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You – this is how I fight my battles.” What psychologists and preachers and parents may have tried to tell us for years is being boldly proclaimed by worship leaders today. Maybe we forget that David was first a Psalmist – an in his day, popular, Israelite you tube, instrument playing, hippie that gained traction and then became King. Zach Williams, a modern day psalmist summarized I will fear no evil for his modern day audience- “Fear is a liar”. What we will trust, what we will follow, what we will worship is the One who stands with us and THAT is the WHO that causes us to fear no evil. Thou art WITH me.

When we walk with the Shepherd we have a choice to make – do we follow and listen to Him or the fears that circle around us? Both can’t exist together. Who will we fear? What will we feed, faith or fear? I love Francesca Battistelli’s song, “The Break-up song” which is her rejection of her life partner fear to strongly declare, ” I am free and fear, you will never be welcome here.” She has a new love and there is no longer any room for fear.  I wonder if this song, this psalm was what David declared to his little sheep and himself when he was walking along in his own journey? Long before Youtube or radio, David was singing about his fears and the One that made him feel loved, held, secure?

This thanksgiving, ramp up the tunes. Turn up the radio, take out the instruments. It may be that your worship, your songs may be part of the Shepherd leading you to His presence, the watered place to saturate your soul for the next places to climb. Look not at the steep cliffs above but drink in the water below – beside the gentle Shepherd. Time with Him will reduce your (our) fear level and help you trust in the path, the pathway and the path guide. It will give you shade in the heat, life on the journey and companionship for the scary places.

It may look like we’re surrounded Lord (by owls, deer, snake, death, enemies) but we’re surrounded by YOU!  

Giving thanks and praise in the valley,  RenaeRoche2018


                                                                     HAPPY THANKSGIVING !!!