A HEART AFRAID OF BREAKING PSALM 23:1-6: “Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.” (v4)

A quotation I have used many times in my writings over the years is that of Oswald Chambers, who said, ‘Life is more tragic than orderly.’ When we look at life with a realistic gaze we see grim and depressing things happening around us. There are, of course, many good things that happen to people, too, but we cannot turn our eyes from the bad things that occur and deny reality. We don’t, however, have to become preoccupied with the sad things by constantly thinking about them, but it’s important to accept that they happen and we are required by wisdom to draw all the lessons we ought to from them in other to guide our future activities so that we don’t repeat past mistakes. David in Psalm 23 portrays a fully-rounded person who through wisdom knows that the Shepherd will guide him or her through the highs and lows of life. As a fully-rounded person, do you know that your Shepherd will guide you through life’s highs and low? One good principle of emotional, mental and spiritual health is this: integrity requires that whatever is true must be faced. And here’s another; a balanced view of life is essential if we are to live effectively. If we believe that in order for us to experience a life that is good we must avoid negative feelings, eventually we will not be able to feel positive emotions either to their fullest extent –joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and so on. We will become emotionally anaesthetised: we will learn to limit ourselves to a small range of emotions with few high spots in exchange for the guarantee that there will not be many low spots either. No doubt you know people who fall into this category. They have mastered the art of detachment and live on a monotonous flat plane. Little affects them emotionally. Such people live lives of tedium and boredom. In the words of an old song: It’s the heart that’s afraid of breaking That never learns to dance We don’t achieve anything by living a detached life rather we try to learn how to carry along amid all circumstances! This is why we must submit to the Holy Spirit as our Shepherd because He is the only entity that can help us be able to carry along amid all circumstances.

  Confidence in Times of Crisis - Psalm 23; Fix your eyes on Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd:

This Chapter contains, Confidence in God's grace and care: "The Lord is my shepherd." In these words, the believer is taught to express his satisfaction in the care of the great Pastor of the universe, the Redeemer and Preserver of men. With joy he reflects that he has a Shepherd, and that Shepherd is Jehovah. A flock of sheep, gentle and harmless, feeding in verdant pastures, under the care of a skilful, watchful, and tender shepherd, forms an emblem of believers brought back to the Shepherd of their souls. The greatest abundance is but a dry pasture to a wicked man, who relishes in it only what pleases the senses; but to a godly man, who by faith tastes the goodness of God in all his enjoyments, though he has but little of the world, it is a green pasture. We have been taught of sheep that requires a good shepherd our souls are the sheep in us because our soul wonder about in thought chains and it is these thought chains, many very good, some very bad are the things that when we act on them, especially the bad thoughts are capable of ruining us. The Shepherd of life by His Word teaches us how to guide and sieve these chains of thoughts by the beatitudes and the Gospel as a whole. Often we talk about seeking for greener pasture, show me the man or woman who have ever sought for the pasture of the Scripture, Gospel or the ordinances? We need to know that the only place to seek for the greener pasture for the soul is in the Gospel, the Scripture, the ordinances, the Holy Spirit because it is only in the Scripture, the Gospel, the ordinances and the Holy Spirit that we can get what rightfully feeds the soul of man. The Lord gives quiet and contentment in the mind, whatever the lot is. Are we blessed with the green pastures of the ordinances, let us not think it enough to pass through them, but let us abide in them. The consolations of the Holy Spirit are the still waters by which the saints are led; the streams which flow from the Fountain of living waters. Those only are led by the still waters of comfort, who walk in the paths of righteousness. The way of duty is the truly pleasant way. The work of righteousness in peace. In these paths we cannot walk, unless God lead us into them, and lead us on in them. Discontent and distrust proceed from unbelief; an unsteady walk is the consequence: let us then simply trust our Shepherd's grace and care, and hearken to His voice. The valley of the shadow of death may denote the most severe and terrible affliction, or dark dispensation of providence, that the psalmist ever could come under. Between the part of the flock on earth and that which is gone to heaven, death lies like a dark valley that must be passed in going from one to the other. But even in this there are words which lessen the terror. It is but the shadow of death: the shadow of a serpent will not sting, nor the shadow of a sword kill. It is a valley, deep indeed, and dark, and miry; but valleys are often fruitful, and so is death itself fruitful of comforts to God's people. It is a walk through it: they shall not be lost in this valley, but get safe to the mountain on the other side. Death is a king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ. When they the sheep of Christ come to die, God will rebuke the enemy; He will guide them with His rod, and sustain them with His staff. There is enough in the gospel to comfort the saints when dying, and underneath them are the everlasting arms. The Lord's people feast at His table, upon the provisions of His love. Satan and wicked men are not able to destroy their comforts, while they are anointed with the Holy Spirit, and drink of the cup of salvation which is ever full. Past experience teaches believers to trust that the goodness and mercy of God will follow them all the days of their lives, and it is their desire and determination, to seek their happiness in the service of God here, and they hope to enjoy His love for ever in heaven. While here, the Lord can make any situation pleasant, by the anointing of His Spirit and the joys of His salvation. But those that would be satisfied with the blessings of His house, must keep close to the duties of it. Do you see why I keep saying that our generational ark like that of Noah is the Holy Spirit and we must try hard to enter into it by preparing our life for its indwelling because the Holy Spirit is the ark by which the Lord God will carry believers to safety when each individual and the universe at large will be undergoing judgement. Lucifer and his agencies are fully aware that the Holy Spirit is the ark with which people will be carried to safety like Noah’s ark; this is why his target for attacks has been the human soul since that is where the Holy Spirit resides in a human. Let us all be very careful and watchful in guarding the purity of our soul or personal spirit since that is where God Spirit, the Holy Spirit will hook on-on grounds of spirit to spirit. Now let us read Psalm 23:1-6: 1 The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. 2 He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. 3 He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake. 4 Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with [a]oil; my [brimming] cup runs over. 6 Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.

  Introduction:

There are places in Scripture that are powerful, so deep, that to recite them is to experience them. Psalm 23 is one of those places. As one scholar said, "The psalm itself is green pasture; the psalm itself is still water; the psalm itself restores my soul." Hear it again in the joyous voice of a child, with a little help from dad. Psalm 23 is very personal. There are no references to "we" or "us" or "they," but only "my" and "me" and "I" and "You." This is David's testimony, his personal experience with God. I and other pastors have come to this passage in almost every funeral preached. It is precious to us, a balm to our wounded souls. And what makes this a constant friend is that it covers all of life. With simple beauty, it speaks of green pastures and still waters as well as dark valleys and enemies and adversities. All of life realities are captured here! But what comforts us and helps us is the psalm's confidence. David really believes this about God. We realize as we linger over these words that what David writes is not poetic exaggeration or theoretical theology. He has experienced God in these ways, heard His voice, followed His lead, felt His grace and care. Beneath the beauty of David’s words there are solid convictions, formed in the crucible of crisis. I reason I know these things to be so about a man who wrote 1000 years before Christ is because he has left us clues right here in this psalm. Notice that in the first three verses, David refers to God in the third person: "1 The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. 2 He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. 3 He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake. Then, in v. 4-5, David shifts, referring to Him in second person: "4 Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with [a]oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.”And then, he closes by returning to the third person: "6 Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.” Why does David switch from talking about God with 'He' to talking to God with 'You,' and why does it happen in v. 4? Why didn't he just go on to say, ' Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.” or Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for He is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me'?" May I suggest that the change "He" to the more intimate "You" happens in v. 4 precisely because it's there he speaks of the valley he has walked. He has felt the shadows closing in. Verse 4 describes the crisis points in his life. And in those times, something deep happened between him and God. King David tried penning down these facts for us because he knew the same will happen to us! You've noticed it too, haven't you? We're more prone to talk about God when we are in the green pastures, when things are going on fine and more prone to talk to God when we're in the dangerous ravine. In the light, we are prone to wander off in pursuit of greener grass. But in the dark, we hug His knee. When we think we can make it with our own wisdom, we just go ahead without telling Him but once we jam a brick wall, we remember Him, turn and start calling Him. David changes from comments about God (talk about) to communion with God (talk to) because during his valley time (period of trouble), he stayed ever so close to the Shepherd, never taking his eyes off Him. He had experienced God in a way there (in the valley) that had ushered him toward intimacy with the Almighty Shepherd. God permits the valley time, our trouble moments so that we be very close to Him seeking His guidance but this day, the reverse is the case that our trouble time tends to drive us far away from God instead of bringing us very close to Him! As we continue our study of psalms for when life hurts, I invite you to a familiar oasis where we will see that God is closer than you think in times of crisis. My prayer today is that God so imprint His truth in your heart that you will find your confidence in Him rise above the storm clouds in your life, even as David did. Take a few moments with me today to see David's confidence in times of crisis as follows: I. God allows time in the valley: In the first four verses of Ps. 23, David takes the gentle picture of a shepherd with his sheep to describe the relationship God has with us and we with Him. Everything makes sense in our understanding of a shepherd leading his flock to green grass and calm waters. Then we get to v. 4, and it doesn't fit. The valley of the shadow of death conjures thoughts of a dangerous situation where a sheep's life is in jeopardy unless the shepherd is alert and attentive. In the valley of shadow of death that sense of green pasture and calm waters is lost and replaced with thought of fear, danger and jeopardy unless God by His merciful graciousness intervenes! But why would a sheep be going through such a place? Not because he strayed off in sin; that is not the point here, because the shepherd is pictured as going with the sheep not snatching him back to the pasture he left behind. No, the reason the sheep is going through the valley is because the shepherd lead him there. Can you see how the word of God fit; remember when He sent His disciples to go ahead of Him through the sea where they were in trouble with the waves that wanted to destroy them; He sent them there! So here in David’s psalm we hear-’even though I walk in valley of shadow of death the Lord is with me’ The connection between vs. 3 and 4 confirm this: The path through the valley is also one of the paths of righteousness in which God leads. "3 He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake. 4 Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.” But why would a good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep lead a lamb into a valley filled with danger and death threats? There's only one possible answer: "To get to some better place!" Philip Keller is an Australian shepherd whose wonderful little book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 includes this observation about these barren valleys: "The shepherd knows from past experience that predators like coyotes (dog-like animal found in N. America), bears, wolves, or cougars (wild cat found in Canada) can take cover in these broken cliffs and from their vantage point prey on his flock. He knows these valleys can be subject to sudden storms and flash floods that send walls of water rampaging down the slopes. There could be rockslides, mud, or . . . a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep. But in spite of such hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop." This is why in spite of the fact that the Lord knew His disciples will face danger in the sea, He sent them out there but while they were there He had His eyes on them which is why He knew many hours ahead before their time of trouble and was just in time to save them. When you're walking through some unfamiliar valley and the shadows linger . . . When you have cancer and have to decide whether it will be chemotherapy or some other way . . . When you're trying to decide as a matter of Godly stewardship whether to take your money out of the market or let it ride... When your finances are tight and low, and you are taking on yet another job to make ends meet, remember this: Your Shepherd has appointed even this hard time as one of His paths of righteousness. He is leading you through this valley for reasons that probably won't be apparent yet. But rest assured, He is taking you to the high country, where the sun is warm and the grass is lush. Every valley is pathway to something better. As Psalm 84:11 says, "For the Lord God is a Sun and Shield; the Lord bestows [present] grace and favor and [future] glory (honor, splendor, and heavenly bliss)! No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Or as Paul put it in Rom. 8:28, "We are assured and know that [[a]God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” The valley isn't good, but the Shepherd is. He knows the way and is very alert to protect and save. Remember that because the Lord God longs to showcase His ability to save, part of the path through which He leads includes the valley of shadow of death and there He showcases His Mightiness and all Powerfulness.

  II. The Shepherd has you covered:

David tells us how to be fearless in adversity. But can we be fearless? Yes we can but it is all about learning and developing, we learn from all the things God takes us through in life and thus faith is built! He tells us that even in the valley of the shadow of death, he didn't dread or fear the distress he would face or cringe or feel disgusted in the face of crisis. How do you fight fear when you don't know what's going to happen next and your imagination is working overtime? How did David do it? David tells us his confidence came from three sources: A. He stayed in God's presence: In v. 4, David says, "Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.” First, he speaks of God's nearness, His presence. Do your sin and sinful nature allow you to have the confidence of God’s presence round about you? When you step into your valley, that is your place of trouble and it's so dark you can't even see the path ahead, and you know there is the possibility that there are predators and enemies laying in wait for you, your Shepherd has something He wants you to hear: I will be with you. Naturally this is the point where many people think of making use of their own sense or wisdom. Don't turn to drugs or resort to drink or find some other substitute that you think will help you get through this valley. All you need is your Shepherd. This is why the indwelling is very important to a true child of God and you get the indwelling by being righteous and holy! Hebrews 13:5-6 says it like this: " Let your [a]character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] [b]Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor [c]give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [d][I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor [e]let [you] down ([f]relax My hold on you)! [[g] Assuredly not!] 6 So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]. What can man do to me?” Writer Kenneth Wilson tells of growing up in Pittsburgh. "That house in which we lived on the side of one of Pittsburgh's hills was three stories high in the front and four in the back. The bottom layer was the cellar and the top was what we called the third floor, really a finished attic, the ceiling of which was cut into shadowed geometric shapes by dormer windows. Up there were two bedrooms, a hallway, and a mysterious storage room for trunks that always smelled of mothballs and history. Our family slept there, because the second floor was usually rented out for a tenant to help pay the rent. What was unnerving for Kenneth was that, as the youngest, he had to go to bed first, braving that floor of dark bedrooms. "That bed in that room on the third floor seemed to be at the end of the earth, remote from human habitation, close to unexplained noises and dark secrets. At my urging, my father would try to stop the windows from rattling, wedging wooden matchsticks into the cracks. But they always rattled in spite of his efforts. Sometimes he would read me a story, but inevitably the time would come when he would turn out the light and shut the door, and I would hear his steps on the stairs, growing fainter and fainter. Then all would be quiet, except for the rattling windows and my cowering imagination. Once, I remember, my father said, "Would you rather I leave the light on and go downstairs, or turn the light out and stay with you for awhile?" . . . [I chose] presence with darkness, over absence with light. Isn't that not what we really want most in our valleys—the assurance that Someone is there Present? Kenneth L. Wilson, Have Faith without Fear (Harper & Row, 1970), p. 54; from Timothy K Jones, Prayer's Apprentice (Word, forthcoming). There is no valley, no matter how dark, that you will go through alone. He will not leave you, His Presence is ever with you if you believe and have the faith in Him. B. He saw God's power: A shepherd's rod was a two-foot club made of oak, with a rounded head that was whittled from the knot of the tree and had sharp bits of metal pounded into it. This club was used to defend the flock against attacks. It pictures the shepherd's power, wielded against overpowering enemies. David said he had no fear in adversity because of the comfort of God's power, protecting him from that which would ruin him. And you need not fear. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world as seen in 1 John 4:4 “Little children, you are of God [you belong to Him] and have [already] defeated and overcome them [the agents of the antichrist], because He Who lives in you is greater (mightier) than he who is in the world”. C. He experienced God's leading: Your staff . . . comforts me, he said. He was referring to the Shepherd's crook, with its hook on one end. A good shepherd would use it to guide the sheep, lest they stray away. Just a gentle tap of the staff on a lamb's side would move them back in the fold. And the crook could gather up a sheep from a place where it might have fallen. David felt comforted that his Shepherd was guarding his steps, making sure that he makes it through the darkness safely. David was supremely confident, not only about his present circumstances, but of grace in the future that would see him all the way home. He believed that valley times were appointed for his good. He learned things about God that could be learned no other way in the deep ravines of life. He stayed close to his Shepherd, trusted in God's protection and guidance all the way. All because he could say, "The Lord is my shepherd."

  Conclusion:

Oh my friend and brethren, when you find yourself weak, in the dark, uncertain in life of the future. When all the colour has drained out of life, and your soul is downcast, look up. Fix your eyes on Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Stick close to Him. Trust that He knows the way through this dark valley and will see you safely through. Believe that He has good reasons for taking this route, even though it is hard, dangerous and unfamiliar. Trust that your Shepherd knows it all and that He is conscious of the dangers that lurks and is alert of any eventualities, He is able! And hold on to the truth that there is something better waiting on the other side of this valley. In Psalm 23 we learned that God will be our shepherd in the midst of crises. He will accompany us through the valley of the shadow of death. God will protect us when life’s uncertainties and difficulties surround us. Jesus desires that you experience what He can do as your Good Shepherd as seen in see John 10:1–18 which says “1 I ASSURE you, most solemnly I tell you, he who does not enter by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way (elsewhere, from some other quarter) is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The watchman opens the door for this man, and the sheep listen to his voice and heed it; and he calls his own sheep by name and brings (leads) them out. 4 When he has brought his own sheep outside, he walks on before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will never [on any account] follow a stranger, but will run away from him because they do not know the voice of strangers or recognize their call. 6 Jesus used this parable (illustration) with them, but they did not understand what He was talking about. 7 So Jesus said again, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that I Myself am the Door for the sheep. 8 All others who came [as such] before Me are thieves and robbers, but the [true] sheep did not listen to and obey them. 9 I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. 10 The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). 11 I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep. [Ps. 23.] 12 But the hired servant (he who merely serves for wages) who is neither the shepherd nor the owner of the sheep, when he sees the wolf coming, deserts the flock and runs away. And the wolf chases and snatches them and scatters [the flock]. 13 Now the hireling flees because he merely serves for wages and is not himself concerned about the sheep [cares nothing for them]. 14 I am the Good Shepherd; and I know and recognize My own, and My own know and recognize Me– 15 Even as [truly as] the Father knows Me and I also know the Father–and I am giving My [very own] life and laying it down on behalf of the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep [beside these] that are not of this fold. I must bring and impel those also; and they will listen to My voice and heed My call, and so there will be [they will become] one flock under one Shepherd. [Ezek. 34:23.] 17 For this [reason] the Father loves Me, because I lay down My [own] life–to take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from Me. On the contrary, I lay it down voluntarily. [I put it from Myself.] I am authorized and have power to lay it down (to resign it) and I am authorized and have power to take it back again. These are the instructions (orders) which I have received [as My charge] from My Father.” He wants to lead you, guide you, and protect you. He will give you direction, accompany you through life’s transitions, and comfort you during life’s hard knocks. As sheep know their shepherd’s voice and he knows their every need, so Jesus wants to be recognized by us as the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how we feel and what we’re going through. He is instantly available to lift us if we’ve fallen. He remains close, even during those times when the darkness consumes our soul. He is a faithful provider who promises to meet our needs and even commands us to trust Him for our daily bread. For a sheep, nothing conveys greater comfort than to hear the Good Shepherd say, “I am with you alway.”
Father Lord, I pray that You help me to be willing to face anything that comes –good, bad or indifferent knowing that You have reasons for allowing it. Teach me not to be afraid of experiencing the full range of danger or emotions. Always be in my heart Lord Jesus so that I need fear nothing. In Your name Lord Jesus I pray. Amen!