It’s hard to imagine what it might have been like to be anointed as the next king at the age of 11.  I don’t know what you were up to at the age of 11, but I know what I was up to.  I was obsessed with two things:  baseball and the beach.  That was it!  My life revolved around hitting and throwing a ball and playing in the sand riding waves. What about you?  My guess is you weren’t getting ready to run a nation.  But that was/is the story of King David. At the age of 11, 12, 13…somewhere in his preteen ages he was anointed, by Samuel, as the next coming king of Israel.  There was only one problem and it was a pretty big problem and it was a problem that got him in trouble over the course of the next few years.  That problem was there was already a king!  He was handsome.  He was tall.  He was powerful and he was a little insecure.  So David’s life as a preteen gets started off with a bang.  He’s anointed as the next king and then he goes back to shepherding sheep.  You may know the next milestone in his story.  There happened to be a little giant in a valley named Goliath.  David comes on the scene as he’s delivering snacks to his brothers.  Finds himself in the middle of the battle field….takes Goliath down.  Everybody says, “This kid’s got something going for him.”  Saul, the king, notices this as well.  So David goes from the pasture to the palace.  He becomes an attendant for the king; he becomes an armor-bearer for the king.  He starts to rise in both power and prominence.  As he does that, King Saul starts to get a little bit more and more insecure.  So David goes from being a little shepherd boy to being a giant slayer to being prominent in the king’s household.  That’s quite the ascension, is it not?  That’s quite the storyline.  If we’re taking signups I’m going well, count me in!  That sounds like a storyline I’d live.  If you continue on in David’s life, here’s what happens: As quickly as he gets to the mountaintop he finds himself in the valley.  He’s an attendant in the courts of the king.  He’s an armor-bearer for the king and he starts to develop a following.  So instead of having food delivered to him in the courts of the king, he starts having spears thrown at him!  He goes from the pasture….to the palace…to on the run from crazy, insecure Saul in the desert.  If you were to chart the arc and course of his life, his life is a series of really high highs followed with really low lows.  I think one of the reasons we love reading the poetry of this king is because he invites us not only into his highs but into his lows.  He invites us into this world that you and I live in and we know and so if the Scriptures paint for us a world different than this beauty mixed with sorrow, this joy mixed with pain….if the Scriptures didn’t point out there’s going to be some really high highs and there’s going to be some really low lows through its characters that it presents to us, the narratives it invites us into, the poetry that it gives us of what it looks like to live a life of faith…..if it DIDN’T invite us into really high highs and really low lows, we would know we can’t trust that because it’s not what life is really like.

I can remember in February of 2013, my son had just been born.  We were sitting in the hospital room and my dad helped my mom get into the elevator and walk into the hospital room.  My mom got to hold my son for the very first time.  She could barely walk at this point.  There was no diagnosis on her brain condition.  We knew things were going down hill.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it was this moment where beauty and life intersected with pain and death in a way that I couldn’t describe in words.  And somehow I had to choose…God, if you’re present in the miracle of this little baby, somehow you have to be present in the valley of the shadow of death also.  As my mom walks to meeting you face to face and my son is born and this mixture…this mish-mash of sorrow and pain, beauty and joy found itself in one picture for me….my mom dying holding my son just being born.  I thought that’s what life is like, isn’t it?  This mixture.  And if the Scriptures don’t speak to that they don’t speak to real life.  Luckily, for you and me, they do!

One of the reasons that this song, this poem, this ancient Hebrew poetry has captured the hearts and minds and imaginations for centuries, for millennia is because it invites us into both the joy and the pain.  Listen to way King David says this: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {As if to say, I’m satisfied.  He’s good.  He feeds my soul.  He leads my life.}  He makes me lie down in green pastures. {He makes me lie down not by force, but by favor.  He’s just so good, I long to be with me, to be near him.}  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. {He brings me back. He carries me home. When I wander, when I stray he finds me and that shepherd is so good he hunts me down, puts me on his shoulders and brings me back into the fold.}  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {If David simply stops there, none of us remember this psalm. Because we’re going there’s a lot more to life, David, than just green pastures, still waters, quiet streams, skipping through fields….life’s always good…life’s always awesome.  David, you don’t know what I’ve been through!  Now, luckily David downshifts on the freeway in fifth gear and here’s what he throws at you!}  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.    You almost want to pause and say, “David, you’re not allowed to do that.  You’re not allowed to go from still water, green pasture, paths of righteousness to valley of death that quickly.”  But then we look at our life and go no, no, no, no, you are able to go there. In fact, you HAVE to go there, because that’s our story, isn’t it?  That’s the story of humanity in many ways.  We can find ourselves on the mountaintop one day and in the valley low the next and wonder what in the world happened to us!!

David goes from warm fuzzies to deep valleys real quick, doesn’t he?  I think that’s what clings to our soul about this psalm.  He’s able to invite us into his story.  He’s able to invite us into God’s story and he’s able to retell OUR story in such a way where we’re able to see it a little bit better.  We wrestle with this, don’t we? We wrestle with the “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” line.  I’ll say it like this:  I wrestle with that.  Philosophers wrestle with that.  Theologians wrestle with that.  Listen to the way this author puts it.  His name is J.L. Mackie and he wrote a book called The Miracle of Atheism and in it he says: “If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is so much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist, but not the traditional God.” Here’s what he says.  This problem of evil, this problem of pain, this problem of sorrow that’s mixed with joy is just unreconcilable with a God who’s good and powerful and loving.  Have you ever turned back to Him and had that conversation:  Come on, God, if you’re good, why can’t we get pregnant? Come on, God, if you’re good, why did I lose this friend?  If you’re good and you’re powerful, why did the marriage flop?  If you’re good and you’re powerful, why did I lose the job? If you’re good……isn’t this our story?  I think what Mackie loses sight of and what maybe you and I lose sight of too, is if we’re going to propose that something is good, we’re automatically starting with some moral plumb line, aren’t we?  And if we’re going to say something’s good and something’s bad that “goodness” and “badness” came from somewhere, didn’t it?  So, philosophers and theologians will point to that and say no, no, no, you can’t have good and bad if you don’t first have God.

The second thing I’d point out to Mackie and others who may wrestle with pointing their finger back at God is: Hasn’t God used some of the darkest things in your life to bring some of the brightest light out of your life?  Just by show of hands, how many of you have been there?  Where you might have said something like, “I would never choose to walk through that again.  I don’t want to do it over, but what God did in and out of that is absolutely breathtakingly glorious and beautiful!”  I think Mackie and others lose sight of just how resourceful God is….not in preventing the pain, but in utilizing it to grow us, bear fruit in us and invite us to become and walk more in the way of our Messiah.

I love that David goes from quiet streams, green pastures, paths of righteousness to “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” in one sentence, because here’s his invitation to you and to me today.  His invitation is really simple: Walking with Jesus or trusting God as the Good Shepherd means that as seasons change, my faith remains.  It means that God can’t be God only when I’m anointed king or only when I slay Goliath—this is what David’s saying—or only when I’m in the palace eating good food, protected, provided for….God can’t be God THEN and then in the next moment cease to be God because I find myself wandering in the desert or having javelins thrown at me.  I have to either trust the shepherd in the good seasons AND the bad, or I have to trust Him not at all.  I want to propose to you as well, this morning, that walking with this Good Shepherd means that as seasons change our faith remains.  That’s a hard thing, isn’t it?  That’s a really hard thing in the reality of a life that’s mixed beauty and pain, trial and victory, joy and sorrow.  It’s a hard thing to say, “In every season, God, in every season, I want my faith to remain.”

Let me invite you back into Psalm 23:4, because David’s going to do something wonderful in this psalm and he’s going to invite us how to engage in the struggle.  I think one of the reasons it’s stood the test of time is not because it gives you all the answers.  And while we think that’s what we want, we think we want answers, but God knows we need presence.  And THIS passage, THIS Scripture, THIS chapter, THIS poem invites us not to have all the answers….a lot of people go I know why suffering happens and here’s why, X, Y and Z.  We all know in the midst of suffering that’s completely unhelpful!!  Have you ever been in the hospital and had somebody who knows it all come to visit you and felt like you know, that was really refreshing and great??!!  No you haven’t!!  And you won’t!! Because it isn’t!! What you want is somebody to come and enter into your pain and to be with you.  And that’s the picture that David paints of the Good Shepherd.  Not as a know-it-all, but as a presence-in-it-all.  Look at his perspective:  Even though I walk through the valley….    Here’s what he doesn’t say:  If I happen to encounter some deep valleys along the way and if I happen to encounter pain and if I happen to encounter suffering and if life happens to get a little bit difficult at some point along the way……if that’s a sort of a hypothetical throw-it-out-there type of situation…not for David.  David’s like deep valleys, dark shadows and death ARE going to be part of my, and I’ll say it to you, and your reality.  Here’s what he’d invite you to believe:  In the midst of every season, trust Jesus in the midst of every season, pain is inevitable. It’s part of the human condition.  It’s part of living in a fallen world.  It’s part of being alive.  And it’s an okay part of being alive.  It’s not easy, but in some ways at some point it reminds you..I am alive.

So for David as a shepherd in the Middle East, they would have these canyons that would be carved out by flash floods that would come through a region.  And over the course of years, these canyons would grow deeper and deeper and deeper—-think canyons in Utah, think some of those slot canyons…..because some of the canyons that I read about in the Middle Eastern region during this time would have been about 5 miles long and no more than 20 feet wide at the widest part.  So as a shepherd leading his sheep through this dark, deep valley….here’s what was in a shepherd’s mind: Is a storm going to come and wipe out my sheep?  Is a bandit going to come?  Is a thief going to come and destroy and decimate?  In a place where you can’t go anywhere and you can’t even turn around, David says THAT’S sometimes where the shepherd leads you.  Can I get an amen? There’s some seasons in life where you feel like I don’t have any options, I don’t know where to go.  The pain is pressing in, the sorrow is hard to endure and God, I don’t see how you’re present in this.  Theologically, David has zero problem with that.  He has zero problem with….man, one moment I’m in green pastures lying down, fed, protected, life’s good and in the next moment, I’m in the deepest, darkest valley.  He has no problem believing that God is present in BOTH situations.  In fact, listen to Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  As if to say that maybe those are the moments—in the deep, dark valley, in the shadow of death—God is closest!  God is most present! God is most available!  OR that I’m most intuned to the fact, “God, you better be out front, because I have no clue where I’m going and I don’t know how to navigate this.”  You see, the Good Shepherd knows where he takes the sheep before he takes them.  He’s not an aimless wanderer, he’s a Good Shepherd.  When He leads them in the valley of the shadow of death, he leads them there for one of two reasons:  one, because that may be where the best or only food source resides. OR he knows that that’s what they need to walk through in order to get to the mountain peaks.  One of two reasons he takes you there.  We typically will say back to God something like, “God, if you’re good and if you’re present and if you’re in charge, there’s no way this would have happened.”  I think sometimes the Good Shepherd wants to say back to us, “No, no, no, no, no.  It’s BECAUSE I’m good and BECAUSE I’m in charge and BECAUSE I’m powerful and because I know and because I’ve walked this course before you THAT’S why I lead you there!”  So we’ll say after something like, “God, you did something, you birthed something, you worked something in me that could never have possibly happened without THAT thing, THAT hardship, THAT sorrow, THAT trial and you were good in it all!”  Look up at me a second, friend.  If you and I are going to walk with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, even as seasons change our faith remains, if that’s the perspective we’re going to have and hold, we need to be aware that the life that we live, the world that we live in pain is simply inevitable.  We could go around this room and tell story upon story of…yep, been there…yep, absolutely walked through that…don’t know how I made it, but God, you were good in the midst of it.  Pain is inevitable.

Here’s the next thing David says: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….   As if to say, I find myself in this deep, dark valley, this painful situation, this sorrowful situation, BUT I’m not going to stop there.  I’m going to keep going, I’m going to keep walking.  The worst thing you can do in the midst of pain and sorrow is to say back to God, “God, I’m not going any further!  God, I’m not walking with you anymore! God, I can’t trust anymore!  How are you good in this?”  Let’s talk for a second.  Heart-to-heart.  I’ve been there.  The morning my dad called me to tell me my mom had passed away, I was….man….I’m looking back at God going, “Hey, I’m a pastor.  If you don’t give ME a miracle, who you going to give a miracle to?  And if you can’t shield me from pain, are you going to shield THEM from pain?  How am I going to stand up here and say you’re good week after week, Sunday after Sunday?”  My tendency is to stop and sink anchor.  The worse thing you can do in the valley of the shadow of death is set up camp.  Some of you have.  Some of us have.  Where the pain has just been too much, the suffering has just been too much.  It’s been too real.  It’s been too hard.  We forgot that through valleys as we come out of them, God often leads us to mountaintops and we’ve just said back to him, “God, I can’t believe that you’re good enough in the midst of this to continue to walk with you.”

Pain is inevitable.  Persistence or perseverance is essential.  So David says I’m going to walk through the valley.  I’m not going to stop.  I’m not going to set up camp in the valley.  I’m going to keep marching, keep going, keep trusting, because the only hope worth having is a hope, not that walks around pain and walks around sorrow and dances around it…the only hope worth having is a hope that walks through it.  I love the way that Winston Churchill said it:  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”  Look up at me for a moment, friend.  If you’re in the valley, keep going.  Keep walking.  Keep trusting.  Keep hoping.  Keep loving.  Keep persevering.  Keep pushing forward.

David says here’s one of the things that can make you set up camp quicker than anything else.  One word:  FEAR.  We fear what’s on the horizon.  We fear what’s in back of us.  We fear our past.  We fear our present.  We fear…..    So we start to say well, maybe just maybe it’s easier to live in fear.  Here’s what David says.  It’s real definitive.  I will fear NO evil. I was thinking about that this week, as a Christian subculture we do not do this well.  In fact, we sell tons of subscriptions to magazines and radio programs and TV shows….we use fear in order to sell products.  Have you ever noticed this?  Just listen to the radio for a little bit.  If people didn’t fear monger, what would they talk about on some radio stations?  So I will fear no ISIS.  Have you ever heard that? I will fear no economic downturn.  I will fear no job loss.  I will fear no call from my doctor.  I refuse to be paralyzed by fear and I’m going to ground my anchor in faith.  That’s what King David says.  And he makes it so definitive that his prospect is simply this:  You can choose to either follow the Good Shepherd or you can choose to live in fear, but you cannot do both!  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul writes it to his apprentice, Timothy: For God gave us a spirit not of fear {So if we live in fear, if we dwell in fear, if fear shapes us and fear guides us, we can know for certain THAT is not from God.  You don’t need to pray about that.  It’s just true!  If you live in fear, it’s not from God, it’s from the enemy.  He loves that you live in fear.  He loves that we have these books that are written that will make us just absolutely live in…..oh my gosh, America’s just going downhill quick, it’s a moral decline!  Oh, no!  Listen, is there a moral decline?  Absolutely, there is.  Should we do something about it?  Absolutely, yes, we should.  Should we react in fear? No way!!  Absolutely not! And I’ll show you why.}  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power….    So you can either live in fear or you can live in power, but you can’t live in both.   So if the situations that terrify you, if you actually want to make a difference in them, you can’t make your decisions based on fear.  Because automatically, when we make decisions based on fear, we unplug ourselves from the source of power that we’re designed to live connected to.  Because God says that’s not my spirit at work.  That’s not my presence at work.  You’re acting out of fear and you can get somewhere with that, but you can’t get somewhere with me.  That’s not my spirit I put inside of you.  Here’s the way I look at it: Fear causes me to want to control.  God’s presence causes me to want to trust. I can either control or trust.  I can either live in faith or fear, but I can’t live in both.  So Paul says to Timothy that that’s not from the spirit of God.

The second thing he says:  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and of love.  Do you know it’s impossible to love somebody you’re afraid of?  It’s impossible!  You can either fear your enemies or you can pray for them.  You can love them.  You can live in the way of Jesus towards them.  But these two things are at odds with each other, is what Paul writes to Timothy.  God’s spirit that he put inside you isn’t a spirit of fear, but it’s a spirit of love, of self-sacrificial laying down your life for your enemy type of love and if you fear somebody, you can’t love them.  You can only react to them, but you can’t love them.

Finally, he says:  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)    Have you ever stopped to think about how many dumb decisions you’ve made based out of fear?  Fear makes us make decisions, causes us to do things that in hindsight when we look in the rearview mirror we go I don’t know if I’d do that again.  There’s a reason that when you’re going on a roller, there’s a reason they don’t take your picture as you’re clicking up.  Cause you’d look like this (bored, pleasant look).  So they DO take your picture when your mouth (is open) and your hair is crazy and you look ridiculous.  Because you look ridiculous when you’re scared!  We all do!  We make dumb decisions when we’re terrified.  We all do! And what Paul is saying to Timothy and what I think David would say to us is simply this:  You can have a clear mind and live courageously or you can have a cluttered mind and live fearfully.

He says:  I will fear no evil….  Here’s the thing, maybe there’s a footnote at the bottom of your Bible that says “except this evil,” but my Bible doesn’t have one.  There’s no footnote.  There’s no “fear no evil except this kind of evil.”  None.  What kind of evil are you fearing?  What kind of evil has its claws in you?  What kind of evil’s driving your decision making, depleting you of power?  Rendering you unable to love?  Causing you to make some decisions you might look back on and go, “I don’t know if I should have done that.”  Pain is inevitable. Persistence, living without fear, perseverance is absolutely, 100% essential.

Listen to where David lands this plane:  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.   So here’s what he says:  God, you’re present when they anointed me king at the age of 11, 12 or 13.  You’re present when I slayed the giant in that valley at the age of 17ish.  You’re present when I moved from the pasture to the palace and God, even in the valley of the shadow of death, even in my desert wanderings, even when I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from and the armies were bearing down on me, they were searching for me, there’s a bounty out for me head…..EVEN THEN in every situation, in every season, God, my faith will remain because I’m confident you are present with me and you’re for me.  For some of you that’s a word this morning.  You’re walking through that valley and you’ve lost sight of Him {look up at me for a second}.  I can assure you, He hasn’t lost sight of you.  The Good Shepherd is saying, “No, no, no, no, no.  I know where my sheep are.  I’m with my sheep.  I’m out front of my sheep.  I’m leading my sheep.  I’m good even in this!”

What does it really mean, though?  What does it really mean to trust and know and abide in the fact that God is present?  I’m going to give you four things.  One, it’s knowing a love that conquers fear.  That’s abiding in His presence.  In John 15, Jesus invites us to abide in His love.  It’s knowing a love that conquers fear.  Tim Keller, in his great book The Reason for God, says:  We cannot explain, based on our theology of who God is, we cannot explain why every bad, terrible, heartbreaking situation happens.  We don’t have an answer for why it happens oftentimes.  But we can know for sure that it’s NOT because God isn’t present.  And it’s not because God isn’t loving.  And it’s not because God isn’t good. And he said, “The follower of Jesus needs only to look to the cross to rest assured of that.”  Because on the cross He proves I’m with you, I’m for you.  I’m not going to just watch you walk through the darkest valley, I’m going to lead you there.  I’m going to give my very life for yours. I’m going to redeem you.  I call you by name, you’re mine.  When we walk with Jesus knowing His presence it means we know a love that conquers fear.  Second it means we know a joy that endures.  The Scriptures say in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.  As if to say he knew what was coming and so he was willing to walk through what was present.  Do you what’s coming for you, friend?

A love that conquers fear.  A joy that endures.  A power that overcomes.  Followers of Jesus are confident in the words of Christ where he says to his followers, “Oh, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure.  Tribulation is coming.  Trials are coming. Pain is coming.  I’m not going to circumvent that. I’m not going to try to avoid that or ignore that.  It’s coming,” he says. “But rejoice, I have overcome the world.”  A love that conquers fear.  A joy that endures. A power that overcomes.  And a resurrection that renews all things.  I love the way that Kenneth Bailey, the great author, put it: “The cross and resurrection are the platform on which the good shepherd stands to announce his vision for the future.”  In many ways, he’s taking from C.S. Lewis who said: “They say if some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony {that death, that pain, that tribulation, that sorrow, that suffering} into glory.”

So here’s where David invites us to sink our anchor this morning.  He says pain is inevitable, perseverance is essential and God’s presence, his love, his joy, his power that overcomes and his resurrection that transforms everything is possible, available in every situation.  Will you abide in that today?  Your life, like mine, is probably a mixture.  A mixture of pain and joy.  A mixture of beauty and chaos.  A mixture of “God, where are you?” and “God, praise your beautiful name because your blessings flow.”  Here’s what David says, “Even though I walk through the valley…whatever that valley is for you….even though I walk through it, I’m going to fear NOTHING!  NOTHING!  Because my God is good and he’s for me.

A friend of mine, maybe a friend of yours, too….her name is Jen….she was recently diagnosed with a health condition…I’m going to let her share about it.  But as I thought about this passage, her story came to mind.  I’d love for you to hear it and be invited into what might it look like to really walk with this King through dark valleys.

I’m Jen Orr, married to Jonathon Orr.  I have two boys, Jacob and Joshua.  Jonathon and I were married November 1, 2003.  I’m a Colorado native.  I grew up 10 miles from here.  We’ve been at South Fellowship nine years, probably.  I’ve just loved it here and really feel like it’s our family.  In August, I started coughing.  Everybody kinda had the cough and it was just a cough that lingered for quite some time.  Mine just never went away.  Then in late February, I started coughing up just very small amounts of blood.  My doctor asked me to go into Urgent Care.  They did a chest x-ray and the chest x-ray showed quite a bit.  I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma or lung cancer.  It had originated in my right lung, but by the time we caught it, it had spread to my lymph node in my chest and then spread to my left lung as well.  After all these tests, MRIs, PETscans, biopsies, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  

The first week or two, I was terrified!  I couldn’t sleep very well.  It was hard.  I was so scared and I felt like I was in a dark room…visualizing myself in this dark room, reaching out my hands and just asking Him to meet me there.  The most terrifying part was not fear for my own life, but fear for my family.   Fear for my boys and my husband.  Fairly quickly, within one or two weeks of the initial diagnosis, I felt a peace just cover me.  I knew I should be afraid.  My nature is kinda fear and anxiety and yet, I just felt peace and that none of this surprised Him.  That He knew that this was my path.  He knew that I would be diagnosed with cancer.  He knows whether I’ll live or die.  He knows every detail of my boys’ lives, of my husband’s life, of my life—-He knows every detail.  I think as a mom I struggle with letting go of them. I want their lives to look the way I want it to look.  I want to have control over their lives and protect them.  I had to come face to face with the fact that I may not have that privilege. I had to relinquish control of them, of their lives, of their futures….of my husband, of his life.  

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:  But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   I felt like this is a privilege, which is so strange.  Such a privilege to be brought to death’s door, basically, and to be allowed to feel and experience the grace of God in such a powerful way.  It feels like a privilege.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, people talk about the “fight.”  I didn’t really know what that meant.  What does it look like to fight?  Especially when you are trying so hard to surrender.  But then I just kept thinking of this word “fight.”  What does it look like to absolutely surrender, but to fight.  I thought…the answer is hope.  There’s what the doctors say and there’s the statistics and then there’s God.  And God is bigger, so I started thinking absolute surrender, but you gotta have hope, you gotta have abundant hope.  That kinda became my mantra:  Absolute Surrender; Abundant Hope.  I feel like the image in my mind of being in a dark room and reaching out my hands has changed.  I feel like I was reaching out my hands trying to find Jesus, but lately the image has shifted and I’m still in the dark room, but I don’t have my arms reaching out anymore, because He’s standing right behind me with His hands on my shoulders.  

James 1:2-3 says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  I’ve really tried hard not to let myself feel sorry for myself, but really focus on what a blessing it is to experience that peace that I’ve never felt before, when you should be just terrified and you feel peace.  (End)

Your valley might look a little bit different.  And I would invite you to not compare yours to Jen’s.  That’s her story.  That’s where Jesus is leading her.  That’s where Jesus is out front of her.  That’s her valley.  Yours might look a lot different.  Yours might look like a job you’ve lost or a relationship that’s crumbled or a different health call that you got from the doctor, but at some point we’ll all find ourselves there.  I love her line:  Absolute Surrender and Abundant Hope.  This is a person who’s learning what it looks like to trust Jesus in every season of life.  The good and the bad.  To remember that pain is inevitable.  That perseverance is absolutely is essential.  And that His presence is promised…..on the mountaintops and in the valley low.  I don’t know about you, but for me that’s an encouragement to press into my Shepherd in this season, whatever season he has me, to trust that He’s good, that He’s for me.  Absolute surrender—-I’m a sheep and I’m following.  And abundant hope—-I trust that You know what You’re doing and that You’re good.  I’d invite you to the same.  Would you pray with me?

Jesus, for all of us, we come before your throne where people are, where angels are, creatures are gathering before you in worship declaring you’re good.  Declaring you’re powerful.  And Lord, we want to join with them.  So Lord, some of us, we join in the valley.  Some of us, we join on the mountaintop.  Some in the joy and some in the pain.  Some in the beauty and some in the sorrow.  But all of us, we gather around your throne to remember you’re good.  You’re the Good Shepherd.  Lord, especially for my friends that are in that valley.  Lord, I pray over them right now.  In fact, if that’s you, will you just raise your hand?  You’re in the valley right now.  Life is difficult.  Life’s hard.  You’re wondering God, where are you?  Jesus, I lift these folks, especially, up to you.  May they know your goodness.  May they know your presence.  May they trust you.  Good Shepherd, speak to their souls.  In the valley of the shadow of death, may we collectively fear no evil.  For You are with us. And Lord, we want to be with you.  We love you.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.