Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
I once heard a Bible scholar assure us that the "darkest valley" is for real in Israel. Using some considerable detail he made it clear that some terrifying gorges awaited the ancient traveller. These situations are still with us, even if in a different form.
Life is not always easy. Sometimes we experience terrible episodes, times of deep despair and excruciating pain. These are occasions when we don't think we can endure one more moment of agony. For some of us, this is our darkest valley. During the past couple of months a renewed struggle with cancer has brought me to some of those low and desperate moments when there seemed to be no way out of the dark, dark valley. I remember that even simple tasks like standing up, creeping along with a walker, getting dressed, attempting to eat, shaving and brushing teeth were sheer agony. It was in these darkest moments that "I fear no evil; for you are with me" came to the rescue.
The rescue came in the form of the still small voice of God our Father whispering saving words. "Just do it! Just do it!" he said. "Trust me! Trust me! Trust me!" That was all I could hear, but that was enough. With my last ounce of strength I pushed on. I struggled to my feet once more. Once more the walker clicked along its weary and painful way. In time, however, the crisis passed. I was surviving. Unsteady feet and shaking hands were still part of the routine chores but little bits of progress were noticed. Dressing was slightly less painful and slowly, very slowly meals became tolerable. Concentrating and remembering are returning bit by bit. A new day is beginning to be something to enjoy not merely something to endure.
It is true that life is not always easy. It is, however, equally true that even in our worst moments we have nothing at all to fear and for one reason only: that the Lord is with us. Through all Scripture the words "do not fear" and "I am with you" appear again and again in one form or another. Watch for them! Let them sink in and pray that they will control your whole being; body, mind and spirit. They are truly our rod and our staff. I know. I have been there.
Prayer: O Lord our God, great Shepherd of your flock, in your great mercy and compassion let the simple but marvellous words of that old Twenty-Third Psalm become a vital part of our total being so that even in our most desperate moments we will never be afraid and never lose the sense of your powerful but gentle presence. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.