A few months ago the online workout group I am a part of (project momsanity) challenged its members to memorize Psalm 23 while doing wall sits, which I joined in on due to the fabulous prizes that could be won at the end of the month.*
While walking home from dropping the kids off at school one day that month, I was going over the psalm…just saying it over and over and reflecting on each part. As I got to “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” part, I stopped in my tracks, realizing that part is not separate from the first part. The Holy Spirit has been guiding me as I have been flushing out what this means for me on a day to day basis.
I have been taught that sheep are about as smart as a bag of rocks, as sharp as a marble, not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier….But in doing some research on them, I found a study from University of Illinois reporting sheep “to be just below pigs and on par with cattle in IQ. Sheep can recognize individual human and ovine faces, and remember them for years…If worked with patiently, sheep may learn their names….”
I think Jesus knew this before the research was done. He talks about sheep a good bit in his teachings.
“The sheep hear [the gatekeeper’s] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10: 3-4, 14-16
As followers of Christ, we know his voice. We know the leading of the Holy Spirit when he guides us. And because we know his voice we can walk through the valleys, trusting God is with us because He has already been leading us…leading us beside still waters, in paths of his righteousness and us to lie down in green pastures.
There is something to be said that when the rockiness of life hits there is a river of steadiness through it. There is something that can hold us firm on the path. And its God. Even though life at times is murky and we can’t see, we can have a steadfast faith, a faith that endures. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I won’t fear. Why? Because God is with me. And I can trust that God is with me and leads me to the still waters because He has proven Himself many times before. I just have to remember how He has lead me before. Then I can believe He will lead me now.
But it is in the valley that sanctification happens.So when we are in that valley we have a choice. We can choose to see the darkness of the shadow or we can choose to turn away from the shadow and face the light. We can be like sheep and follow the shepherd or we can be like a goat: stubborn, obstinate, refusing to listen or be guided by anyone but ourselves and remain in the dark valley. And where has that gotten anybody but into deeper darkness. (My friend Lindsey wrote an incredible post on sheep and goats that you should read.)
When we turn and follow the light, we walk through it and eventually we climb out of it not because of anything we have done in our own strength but because of what HE has done for us, in us, through us, ahead of us. And in those valleys we can have peace and rest because we trust. Because we have a good shepherd who we know is leading us in the paths of his righteousness by the still waters, making us lie down in green pastures. As we go through the valley and become more sanctified, we trust him more, we cling to him so we can climb the hill with clean and holy hands lifted high and with a pure heart.
I more times than not, have forgotten that Jesus has led me before. That He has never been unfaithful. But I as am walking through some valleys in my life at the moment, I want to rest beside those still waters. I want to lie down in that soft, green meadow. I want to turn from the shadow that the mountains are casting around me and walk in the light that is shining down in the valley from above those mountains, being led on the path of His righteousness. All for His name’s sake.
*I did not win any prizes, but I can hold a wall sit for at least a minute now.