Through the Valley
Through the Valley
It was near the twilight of his life, and quite possibly he sat on one of the curvaceous slopes of the hills of Judea, looked out into one of the valleys, and saw a common site of the times. David had walked with the Lord for many years, and maybe in a time of reflection and contemplation he saw a flock of sheep being led through the valley by a faithful and loving shepherd. Flashbacks in his mind took David to his days as a young lad serving in his dad's household.
He began to reflect upon his walk with God, and as his eyes were captured by the sight in front of him, maybe it dawned on him, As that shepherd is to those sheep, so has the Lord been to me. David said, "The Lord is my shepherd," and for a moment David was caught in the tension of the call of God on his life. Maybe David realized he was one who walked in two roles. It is such a walk, a walk of duality, that you and I share today. It is the shepherd's dilemma that hovers and covers our lives. For, as David, we are called to be both shepherd and sheep. You are God's shepherd, and yet you are God's sheep. What a duality of roles. What a tension in our existence. The shepherd's dilemma.
The Lord sometimes has to make us rest.
David said, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures" (KJV). He is the Lord Jehovah Ra'ah. He is the God of gods, and he is my shepherd. David said, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Ah, that's my dilemma. As shepherd I lead God's people, and yet I'm following God as a sheep. He makes me lie down. There's something challenging about that phrase. David says God is such a shepherd that he maketh me to lie down. God knows there is a sheep in me, and there's something about my sheepness that would cause me to trot right on through the green pastures. God is so committed to blessing me with the blessing in the pasture that when he has to, he'll make me lie down. He knows my sheepness comes out unexpectedly, and if I'm not careful, I'll trot right on past my blessing. There's something about my sheepness that is uncontrollable. There's something about the sheep in me that even though I try to lead God's people as shepherd, my sheepness causes God sometimes to make me lie down. He'll force me to lie down if he has to. He will not risk me trotting through the blessing he has planted in the green pastures. There's something in my sheepness that comes out sometimes unexpectedly. Baaaa. There's something in my sheepness that will cause me baaaa to miss the blessing God has for me. Baaaa. There's something about me that if God is not careful baaaa I'll run right past the blessing baaaa he has for me. And baaaa there's something about the sheepness in me that God will have to sometimes baaaa make me lie down.
I'm so driven sometimes. I'm so obsessed with being a shepherd that I forget I'm a sheep. It's a part of my dilemma. As a sheep God often makes me to lie down. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures … he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." It's not death. It's the shadow of death. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, and he allows me sometimes to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
It's those times when I experience things in my life that seem to overwhelm me. It's when the burden and the weight and the challenge and the chore of leading God's people have me feeling I'm about to be consumed. It's when the weight of leadership and the responsibilities of guiding God's people weigh me down to the point that I feel I'm in the very shadow of death.
When you are in a valley, remember a mountaintop is ahead.
But notice what God says. It's "through the valley of the shadow." God has to remind me of the definition of a valley. He must let me understand the topological concept of a valley, for you can never be in a valley unless you are positioned between two mountains. Whenever I realize I'm in a valley, it by definition means I just left some mountaintop and I'm on my way to the next mountain. In between there is a valley that often seems to consume me. It often seems to weigh me down. It's that valley of discouragement. It's that valley of weight and load. It's the valley that has me struggling and wondering why am I here. It's the valley where I tend to reexamine and reanalyze and reinvestigate the call of shepherd on my life, the challenge that has me wondering, How did I get here? The catch is, you can't stop in the valley. "Yea, though I walk through." Yea, though I walk in—not what he said. "Yea, though I walk through," which means you came in one side; if you keep on walking, you're coming out the other side. God has brought you here to tell you this journey is not complete.
God blesses us even in the valley.
Watch this. Though you feel you're walking through the valley, God has a blessing in the valley. Watch this. "Yea, though I walk through the valley … I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Watch this, verse 5, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
The flow of the text would imply God does something unique in the valley, that even with the shadows lurking around me, God brings something into my life. God makes an assignment on my life even as I am in the valley, for the Bible says he prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Now watch this. I want to suggest this is the meat of this text. If you miss this, you'll miss what God is trying is trying to tell you. "Thou preparest a table before me." I'm in the valley, in between two mountains, and God moves. I'm in the valley, in between decisions, and God moves. I'm in the valley, in the midst of depression, in the midst of confrontation, in the midst of challenges, in the midst of failure, in the midst of disgust, in the midst of discouragement, and God moves.
Here's what he does. He prepares "a table before me." In English the word before can be one of two parts of speech. Before is either a preposition of location or an adverb of time. Watch what God does. In this valley, in this shadow, in this struggle, in this challenge, in this call, God prepares a table—symbolic of blessing and provision—before me.
Before: preposition of location. If you were invited to dinner in that culture, you would recline at a long, low table, if you sat at a table at all. Eating was an experience. It was a time of fellowship and sharing. It was a long, drawn-out time of interaction with someone else. It was at this time of fellowship that the table would be prepared. The various entrees would be prepared sequentially before you, in the preposition of location.
Have you been to Benihana? Benihana is a unique restaurant with an Oriental theme. You sit at a table, and a guy comes out with knives and is throwing them between his legs and behind him, flipping them up and catching them. He's a craftsman and an artist, and he begins to prepare the meal before you. While you are watching him, he brings out the hors d'oeuvres and the shrimp and meat, and he begins to slice it and dice it and prepare it before your eyes.
Here's the catch. You know a main entrée is coming. You are watching him go through the various preliminaries and appetizers, but in your mind you know a main course is coming. Sometimes he'll slice the main course and put it to the side, and you are seeing this simmering meat or fish, knowing the main course is coming.
That's the way God moves sometimes. Sometimes God puts you in a position, and you can smell a blessing coming. Sometimes God puts you in a position, and you see God moving things from here to there, place to place, and you see God setting you up to receive it. You can't always put your name on it, can't always explain it, can't always figure out what it is. You just know God is up to something. You can't always dictate it, can't always put it in your computer. You just have a sense in your spirit that God is doing something.
Maybe you don't know what God is up to, but there is a move of God in your church, in your life, in your spirit. You know God is preparing something right in your face. With you watching and looking on, he's putting things together, moving things from here to there. He's about to bless you. You sense it in your spirit. You can't always articulate it; you just know he's preparing a blessing and a table before you. He's letting you watch it. Maybe you've seen God move. You've seen God touch. You've seen God heal, deliver, and save. There's a new spark of excitement in that ministry, and God is letting you watch him get ready to do something. He's preparing a table before you, preposition of location.
Before: adverb of time. In David's culture it was not unusual for the shepherd to bed down the sheep toward the evening, and then go down the road to spot out a location he would bring the sheep to the next day. He would clear away the debris, and he would prepare a space for the sheep. He would prepare a table for them. The next day he would lead them to the place he had already prepared for them.
Now he had prepared it for them before they got there, and he prepared it while they were resting at the last stop. They did not know when they would stop again, nor did they know what they would receive when they did stop. But the shepherd knew, because he had gone before them and prepared the table.
The challenge of the sheep was simply this: to follow the shepherd until they got to the next table. Maybe you don't see where God is leading you. You can't see your way out of this valley. You cannot see your way out of this challenge. You don't know the way things are going to go, and yet God has prepared a table before you get there. It's already prepared. God has called you here to lie down in this pasture of revelation, that you might prepare to move on and walk with him to the place of your next blessing. Your challenge is to not stop where you are.
I speak to that pastor who is so discouraged you are contemplating giving up. I speak to that pastor who is struggling with the discouragement and the weight and the shadows of ministry, and you're wrestling and evaluating and questioning, Should you continue? God brought you here to tell you he is your shepherd, and he has prepared a table before you get there. Your challenge is to keep walking, my brother. Your challenge is to keep walking, my sister. Your challenge is to recognize that God the Shepherd has gone on before you to prepare your blessing.
God blesses us as the enemy is watching.
He prepares "a table before me"—listen now—"in the presence of mine enemies." While he is preparing the blessing before me, there's an audience of spectators. God does the preparing in plain view of the enemy. The enemy sees God encouraging you. The enemy sees God inspiring you. The enemy sees God strengthening you. The enemy sees God nourishing you. It's a picture of the shepherd feeding the sheep when, lurking in the shadows, there are wolves and coyotes pacing back and forth. Their lips are parched, their tongues are wagging, their eyes are glazed, and they're watching the shepherd blessing and feeding the sheep right in front of their faces. If they could only get their teeth on one of those sheep. But they cannot get to the sheep, because on one side of the shepherd is a rod and on the other side of the shepherd is a staff, and the sheep are protected by the presence of the shepherd himself.
The enemy's problem is that he sees you getting blessed, but God holds him at bay; he cannot get to you. No matter how dark it may be in that valley, you have the protecting hand of God and the protective presence of the Spirit of God. The enemy does all he can to stop you, and yet you are still watching God bless you. Look at where you are right now. In spite of all the challenges God, has still blessed you. In spite of all the opposition, God has still blessed you. In spite of those who could not get the vision, God has still blessed you. In spite of all the problems and failures, God has still blessed you. The enemy would have destroyed you, and yet God has held him at bay. Not only are you watching God bless you, but the enemy is watching God rest his hand on you and anoint you and bring you through every trial you face, because he prepares a table before you with the enemy looking on.
God protects us on every side.
The shepherd goes down the road about a day's journey and clears the space, the table, where the sheep will be blessed, fed, and nourished. Up on the cliffs are those stalking coyotes and wild animals, recognizing that if there is a shepherd who smells like sheep, there must be sheep somewhere. He sees the blessing being prepared, and there is a shepherd but no sheep. The coyotes then get smart. They circle behind the shepherd and go to the place where the sheep are sleeping, now vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.
But God has made provision for the sheep. The enemy seeks to attack the sheep, thinking they are vulnerable and away from the shepherd, but the shepherd has done two things. First of all, the shepherd has left under-shepherds to watch over the sheep while he's away, and then he has been in such a relationship with the sheep that the sheep know his voice. The shepherd has put some of his own spirit in the sheep, so when it looks as though the sheep are vulnerable, in fact they are protected on the inside by the spirit of the shepherd.
They're protected on the outside by under-shepherds who are at the charge of the shepherd. The goal of the enemy is to keep the sheep from leaving where they are and getting to the next feeding place, but there is some shepherd in the sheep that keeps the sheep moving. There is some shepherd in the sheep that keeps the sheep progressing. There's some shepherd in the sheep that keeps the sheep trusting. That's why the devil has been against you.
Now you know why you've caught so much hell and had so many problems in that church. The devil has already seen what God has prepared for you, and he's doing everything he can back here to keep you from getting to where God has ordained. But the Spirit of the living God dwells in you, and God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all you could ask or think. The devil and hell cannot stop you from receiving what God has ordained if you'll walk on by faith and not by sight.
He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. He anoints my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
Wow. A valley is but a depressed place between two mountains. Whenever I enter into a valley, my faith tells me there's a mountain in my path. My faith tells me that one day I'm coming out of this valley. My faith tells me the Lord has protected me on every side, that God is the faithful shepherd who would not leave me.
Yet God is a faithful shepherd who protects and inspires me as a shepherd leading sheep. And so the shepherd says, "The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. I'm protected on every hand." The shepherd goes in front of the sheep. The shepherd says:
His rod and his staff they comfort me. I've got a rod on one side, I've got a staff on the other side, the shepherd in front of me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
Now look at me. I've got a shepherd in front, rod on one side, staff on the other side, goodness and mercy bringing up the rear. There's an old song in the African-American culture that says, "All night and all day I've got angels watching over me."
Look at me, y'all. I've got the shepherd in front, rod on one side, staff on the other side, goodness and mercy bringing up the rear. All night and all day I've got angels watching over me. There's a song that says, "On Christ the solid rock I stand."
Look at me y'all. I've got a shepherd in front, rod on one side, staff on the other side, goodness and mercy bringing up the rear, all night and all day got angels watching over me, on Christ the solid rock I stand.
You all don't see me yet. I'm covered on every hand. Shepherd in front of me, rod on one side, staff on the other side, goodness and mercy bringing up the rear, all night and all day angels watching over me, standing on a rock, filled with the Spirit of God. God's on the inside of me.
I'm protected on every side, and that means that I'm coming out of this valley. I'm coming out of this problem. I'm coming out of this discouragement. Coming out of this depression. Coming out of this failure, because this thing is not over yet. The psalm does not end in the valley. The psalm does not end in end in the shadow. The psalm does not end in discouragement. The Bible says surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, which means I'm still going somewhere. I'm still on my way out of this thing. I am coming out of this.
Praise God as he leads you out of the valley.
When I was a little boy I used to love to watch cowboy movies. I noticed there was a formula. There were always good guys and bad guys. The bad guys would go after the good guys. Then the good guys would go after the bad guys. Eventually the bad guys would hole up in a hut somewhere. Then they would be surrounded by the good guys. I would always wait to hear them say the same thing: "Come out. You are under arrest. You are surrounded." God has us surrounded. Then he says this, "Come out, and when you come out, come out with your hands in the air."
You're coming out of that problem. When you come out, you've got to come out with your hands in the air. That means you've got to come out praising God. That means you've got to come out giving God the glory. You've to got lift up your hands and bless him.
I'm coming out with my hands in the air. That means I'm coming out praising him. I'm coming out magnifying him. I'm coming out exalting him. I'm coming out lifting him up. You ought to declare it in Jesus' name. I'm coming out if I have to come out by myself with my hands raised. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors." Praise him by faith that he's already prepared a table for you. Praise him by faith that he'll make a way out of no way. Praise him by faith that he already has a blessing for you.
Now take those hands that are raised and put them together. "O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph."
God will not leave you in that valley. He's prepared a blessing for you. He's prepared a table for you. And he is so committed to the call that's on your life, when he has to, he'll make you lie down. He is so committed to the call that's on your life, he'll meet you in your valleys.
Ken Ulmer is pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church in Ingelwood, California, and author of The Anatomy of God (Whitaker House).