GOD’S PRESCRIPTION FOR STRESS
“GOD’S PRESCRIPTION FOR WHEN I GO THROUGH DARK VALLEYS”
“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.”
The valley of the shadow of death can refer to more valleys than just physical death. This phrase in the Hebrew language actually means, “The Valley of Deep Darkness”. So a literal translation would be- “even though I walk through the darkest valley.”
In Israel there is a real, physical place known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is a steep, deep and narrow canyon. The sun only hits the bottom of it when it’s directly overhead at high noon. The rest of the time the bottom of the canyon is dark. It was a treacherous path to walk. Physical death was a real possibility. By referring to it in the 23rd Psalm, it’s almost certain that David led his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death when he was a shepherd boy.
We can and do encounter some very real dark valleys in our lives. In the Bible, the word “valley” refers to all kinds of rough times in life. Joshua talked about the Valley of Calamity. Psalm 84- the Valley of Weeping. Hosea-the Valley of Trouble.
All of us, at one time or another, have had to walk through some very real dark valleys. You may be walking through one right now. Your dark valley might be- divorce…..despair…..depression….chronic physical illness….financial struggles…. the death of a loved one- death does cast its shadow over life.
Just as David guided his sheep through the dark valley known as the Valley of the Shadow of death, so we need the Lord our Shepherd to guide us through the dark valleys we encounter in our lives. He will. He’s promised that He will.
This morning we are going to look at how the Lord our Shepherd can help ushandle the stress of going through the dark valleys of life.
We will begin by looking at……
There are 4 facts about dark valleys that we need to remember whenever we are faced with one. The first reality is this…..
We would all love to spend every day on the mountain top of life. But life isn’t that way. We eventually come to the valleys of life. After every mountain top, there is a valley.
Life is not always going to be lying in green pastures and sitting beside quiet waters. David spoke of those times earlier in the 23rd Psalm. But then he also spoke about having to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
We will have to endure difficulty, disappointment and discouragement in our lives. There will be times of suffering, sorrow and sickness. There will be periods of frustration, failure and fatigue.
Jesus was very realistic about this. He warned us- “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus did not say that we might have trouble. He did not say, chances are you probably will have trouble. He said you WILL. Mark it down. It’s going to happen. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
The 2nd fact about dark valleys that I want to remind you of is this:
Dark valleys of life are almost always unexpected. You can’t plan them, time them or schedule them when they are convenient to you. They are usually very inconvenient. They usually come at the worse time, when you don’t have the time, the money or the emotional energy to deal with them.
For example: Have you ever had a flat tire at a good time? It’s usually when you go out to go to work in the morning or you’re traveling to an important event.
I remember seeing a commercial for headache medicine. The headache kept checking with the person to see when would be a good time for her to have a headache. The lady kept putting off the headache.
It would be great if you could do that. But you can’t plan life like that. You can’t schedule difficult days. Dark Valleys usually come suddenly. Have you ever noticed how easily a good day can become a bad day? A phone call or a letter ruins your day. A routine check-up with your doctor leads to a bad diagnosis. A freak accident happens. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
“Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment.” –Jeremiah 4:20
“IN AN INSTANT” Jeremiah wrote. One moment everything is fine. The next minute your life has been turned upside down.
Dark valleys are almost always unpredictable. Here is another reality about dark valleys:
No one is immune to them. No one gets to skate through life problem-free. Everybody has problems, difficulties and dark valleys. Everyone- good people and bad people.
Dark valleys don’t mean that you are a bad person. Dark valleys in your life simply mean that you are a person. They do not mean that God is punishing you for some bad thing that you did. Dark valleys come to everyone.
The Bible is very clear on this. Sometimes good things happen to bad people. And sometimes bad things happen to good people. Jesus said, speaking of God:
“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Matthew 5:45
Valleys are impartial. They don’t care how good or how bad you’ve been.
Do you think you should be exempt from all the problems that everybody else has to go through in life? Do you seriously think that you should be the only person that never has a tragedy or a loss?
Trouble comes to good people. Christians go through dark valleys. God doesn’t shelter us from these. One reason why I think this is so, is this. If God were to guarantee that Christians would never have to walk through a dark valley, then people would come to Christ for the wrong reason. God wants us to love Him, no matter what, in good times and in bad times.
The dark valleys of life are impartial. They happen to all of us. Here is the 4thfact about dark valleys. This is the good one!
David said that he walked THROUGH the Valley of the Shadow of death. It wasn’t a permanent location.
The dark valley that you are in right now may seem like it will never end. But it is not something that you most likely will stay in for the rest of your life. It’s something that you go through. It is a season of life. It has a beginning and an end to it.
The dark valleys of life are like tunnels. We go through the tunnel and eventually you’re out of it and back in the light again, even if it is the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.
But some dark valleys seem to be permanent, don’t they? Take health issues for example. Some of you are struggling with health concerns that you may very well have to deal with for the rest of your life. And you’re sitting there thinking, what’s so temporary about that?
In the light of eternity, those valleys are temporary too. In heaven you won’t have any health problems. You’re going to get a brand new body. You’ll get one that is disease-free. The apostle Peter wrote of this hope:
“There is a wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here.” – 1 Peter 1:6
Peter admits that life is tough. But he reminds us that it’s only for a while. There is a joy just up ahead of us. He’s talking about heaven. There are no dark valleys in eternity for the Christian. The apostle Paul wrote similar encouragement:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17
Paul spoke of our “LIGHT AND MOMENTARY TROUBLES.” Compared to eternity, our troubles here on earth are short-lived. Heaven will be worth all thestruggle that we have to go through down here on earth.
Those are 4 facts about dark valleys. And remember, the best reality about your dark valley is that it is temporary. Let’s look now at….
No one likes going through dark valleys. And sometimes we don’t handle the dark valleys very well. And the results are bad. We get frustrated. We become despondent. We get angry at God. We become bitter and resentful.
But the dark valleys don’t have to bring dark results into your lives. You don’t have to become bitter. You can become a better person for having gone through them. You can if you will trust God and allow Him to work in your life as you walk through your dark valley.
I want to tell you about 2 good things that God can do in your life as you go through a dark valley. As I do, please remember this. God NEVER brings a dark valley on you. God is a good God and He does not cause evil.
But, God can recycle the bad in our lives and turn it into good. Here is a couple of ways that He does that.
Someone said- “Mountain tops are for views and inspiration. But fruit is grown in the valleys.
Likewise, our faith can be strengthen down in the valleys of life. Peter wrote:
“In this you greatly rejoice (speaking of our salvation), though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proven genuine.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7
The pain of life will grow our faith in God much more than the pleasures of life ever will. It is trouble that drives us to our knees in prayer. It is when life knocks us down that we really look up to God. It is when we are struggling that we draw closer to God and depend on Him the most.
And, the genuineness of our faith is found out when we go through difficulties. Our faith in God comes out when we go through trouble.
A second thing that God can do for us as we walk through a dark valley is…
“Not only so, we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4
The sufferings of life will develop the muscle of our character. God wants to build our character. He is far more interested in our character than He is in our comfort or our convenience.
God wants to build our character. He will use the fitness center of pain and difficulty to achieve in us a strong, godly character.
Now I said that God can build our faith and our character. In order for God to do so we have to have the right attitude. Paul wrote that we need to rejoice in our sufferings.
This doesn’t mean that we’re happy about the dark valley we are going through. It will bring us a lot of grief and pain. But we can trust in the Lord and anticipate the good things that He will do for us as we go through difficult times.
That leads us into our 3rd point this morning:
We need to do what David did when He walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The 1st thing is this:
David said that he would fear no evil as he walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He refused to give into fear.
Notice that David said he WALKED through his dark valley. He did not run. He did not panic. He walked. That implies calmness. David said, “I’m not going to be afraid. I will calmly walk through the valley.”
David was not discouraged when he was faced with this dark valley. David said I WILL fear no evil. Focus on that word ‘WILL’. Will implies a choice. David made the decision that he would not be afraid of his dark valley.
Like David, we don’t have to fear our dark valleys. We don’t have to be discouraged by them. We too can make the choice that we will fear no evil.
If you get discouraged, it’s because you’re choosing to be discouraged. Discouragement is always a choice. Always.
If you’re discouraged its because you’re to choosing to dwell upon all the negative things in your life. When you do that, you’re choosing not to look at Christ and all the positive things He has blessed your life with.
You may not have chosen your circumstances. But you always can and you always do choose your attitude.
Tim Hansel was a Christian who lived in severe pain ever since the day that he was injured in a fall. He had severe headaches every single day the rest of his life. He had to take dozens of pills each day just to function.
Tim was a Christian speaker who, ironically, often spoke on the subject of JOY. Tim was quoted as saying- “Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.”
You may not have any control over the physical pain that is in your body or the emotional pain that is in your soul. But you do have control over the misery.
You don’t have to be miserable. You can choose to change that right now. How? The Bible says to rejoice in the Lord always. Choose to take joy in Christ instead of being miserable over your circumstances. Focus on God’s power in your life rather than your problems. Paul wrote:
“God will strengthen you with His own great power so that you will not give up when troubles come, but you will be patient.” – Colossians 1:11
Human energy runs out. The troubles of life sap us of our strength and our ability to cope on our own. We need to draw upon God’s strength. We need to look up to the Lord. It’s like the psalm writer said:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:1-2
This leads us to the next thing that we need to do when we are faced with a dark valley. We need to……
David remembered that he would not be walking through the darkest valley alone. He remembered, “For You, God, are with me.”
God not only promises His power in the valley. He promises His presence. As a believer, you will never go through a dark valley in life all by yourself. God has promised us that He will be with us. Look at His promise in Isaiah 43:2:
“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you…”-Isaiah 43:2
When we are going through a dark valley, God isn’t sitting up in heaven, looking down on our calamity and say, “I sure hope they make it.” He’s down in the valley with us, walking us through it, hand in hand.
There is a strategic change in language between verse 3 and verse 4 in the 23rdPsalm. In the first 3 verses of this Psalm, all the pronouns are in the 3rd person. David, in talking about God as His Shepherd, says, He leads me, He guides me, He restores my soul.
But, as he wrote about going through the dark valley, the pronouns change to the 2nd person. You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. At this desperate point in his life, David quits talking about God and starts talking to God.
It’s the valleys of life that bring us face to face with God. It’s the tragedies that accentuate our need for Him. All of a sudden the ultimate becomes the intimate and God becomes more real to us than He has ever been.
God is telling us- “I am with you. You’re not going through this dark valley alone.” Remember that He is with you.
As we do so, we then need to…..
David reminded himself of God’s rod and staff. The rod and staff were the 2 basic tools that a shepherd used. As a shepherd, David used those tools himself.
The rod was basically about 2 feet long. At the end of it was a heavy knot. Shepherds were very skilled at hurling the rod, like a missile, at anything that would attack the sheep. The rod was used by the shepherd to protect the sheep.
The staff was a long stick with a crook at the end of it. The shepherd used a staff to guide the sheep along the right path. The shepherd used a staff to draw the sheep close to him. He would use it to lift the sheep up when they fell down.
So when David said that God’s rod and staff comforted him, he was speaking of God’s protection and God’s guidance. David received great comfort in knowing that God was watching over him and leading him.
We too need to look to the Lord for protection and guidance as we walk through the dark valleys in our lives. We should realize that God will be there for us, that we aren’t in the battle alone. We should realize that God will draw us close to Himself and comfort us.
You will notice that David did not walk through the valley of death. He walked through the valley of the SHADOW of death.
A shadow cannot hurt you. Shadows are image without substance. But there is one fact about shadows we tend to forget. There is no shadow without a light shining somewhere.
When you are going through a dark valley, you are tempted to think that the sun has stopped shining in your life. You might be tempted to think that God isn’t there for you; that He doesn’t care about you.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Just remember that light is what produces a shadow. And in Jesus we have light. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.” It is Jesus and His light that turns our sorrows into shadows.
Don’t look at the shadows in your life. Keep on looking at Jesus, the Light of the World and the One who lights up your life with hope, peace and joy.
Just remember that the Lord your Shepherd is down in the dark valley with you, protecting you, guiding you, comforting you.
Psalm 34:19 says:
“The good man does not escape all troubles, he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one.” –Psalm 34:19
Christians go through the dark valleys of life just like everyone else. But there is a difference for us when we have to walk the dark valleys of life. It’s a big difference.
While believers and non-believers go through the same valleys of life, the difference for the Christian is not the absence of the shadows, but the presence of the Shepherd. Rely upon your Shepherd to protect you and to guide you.
Is the Shepherd with you? When Jesus becomes your Savior, He will be your Shepherd. He will lead you through the dark valleys of life and one day, He will lead you through the dark valley of death into heaven.
I want to invite you to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior at this time. You can accept Christ this morning, confess your faith and be baptized. When you are baptized, your sins are washed away.
Now you may already be a Christian. You have made a faith commitment to Jesus. But you need a church home. I want to invite you to make a fellowship commitment. If you would like to make Lebanon your church family you can place your membership with us this morning.
If you need to receive Christ as your Savior, be baptized or join the church, we ask you to come forward while we sing this invitation song.