Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; (Psalm 23:4)
During the warmer months, ancient shepherds in Palestine would move their flocks from the lower plains to higher grounds for more fertile feeding grounds. This would entail literally climbing mountains with your flock. In addition to the hazards posed by the climbing itself, the jagged hills were ideal hiding places for predators and poisonous creatures such as scorpions. It was considered one of the hazards of the shepherding world.
King David, who once was a shepherd, understood the hazards of the shepherding life as he wrote the 23rd psalm. As he writes about God as our true shepherd he recognizes that the role of the shepherd is to guide us through some very difficult, and frankly frightening places in life. He recognizes the inevitability of danger with his words "Even though....".
God as our shepherd should inspire courage in his flock (another word for anyone who follows Him). We remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but the conviction to act in the face of fear. With that being said, this verse has much to say to us regarding God as our shepherd and the development of courage.
1. Adversity that causes anxiety and fear are inevitable in life. Interestingly, God never promises to give you a adversity free life, but does promise strength through adversity. Even more exciting, is the fact that God redeems adversity. In other words, God is able to use our adversity in ways that bless us and others around us.
2. Adversity is the training ground for courage. When King David (the writer of this Psalm) was a yound man, he faced the huge warrior, Goliath. When asked how he could fight such a superior warrior, David simply recalled how God had helped him against other superior warriors. He states in1 Samuel 17:37: "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." While he was facing lions and bears, I am sure that it did not feel encouraging, but each of these opportunities built his courage to the point where he could face the 9ft tall Goliath.
3. The courage we gain in life is through a greater connection with God. The sheep did not need courage to face a wolf. They were not prepared or equipped to battle these predators. The sheep did not need courage to navigate the treacherous trails. Their brains lack capacity to develop complex strategies. The sheep simply needed courage to trust the shepherd. They needed to have the courage to know that if they were close to the shepherd, then they are safe. Shouldn't that be an encouragment to us. Your strength comes from your connection to God, not special techniques, annointings, or dispositions. Here is the wonderful thing about that. God promises to draw close to us as we desire to draw close to him (James 4:8).
4. The presence of God is the key to the power of God. The Psalmist does not fear because God will magically take away all that causes fear. No, the psalmist does not fear because God, almighty himself, is present and with him. It is in his presence that we experience power and even the deepest joy in his presence. In the great commission (Mt 28:18-20), God commanded his followers to go and share the good news throughout the world. He reminded them that He (Jesus) had all power and that He would be with them to the very end. It is the presence that gives power. As a follower of God, we are able to experience his presence continually and perpetually, even if we are not aware of it. His presence is within through His spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Are you wrestling with fear today? Are you going through something that literally seems to destroy or overwhelm you? Take time to remember that God is our shepherd, and although you will walk in the darkest of valleys, God is present and his presence is power and joy.
May God bless you today,
Pastor M Traylor