Feasting in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
In the midst of a challenging season of infertility, I read Psalm 23 with new eyes and was surprised at what I found. Normally, I passed over the ever-popular psalm with a “that’s nice”, only briefly pausing to acknowledge its words. We’ve all come across this scripture hundreds of times - at funerals, in artwork, in those little cards meant to be carried in our wallets. When these verses are shared, it’s usually with the intention of providing consolation, of reminding us that the Lord grants us rest and comfort. This time, I saw the passage with new eyes. While in the midst of my own “valley of the shadow of death”, I saw what David was really doing in this psalm.
He was praising the Lord in the midst of the valley.
Not begrudging God for putting him in the valley and leaving him there for an extended time.
Not complaining about the fact that all of his friends were enjoying weekends on the sun-kissed mountaintops while he hunkered down in the shadows of death.
Not questioning God’s character because He refused to remove David’s enemies.
But praising God for providing for him and blessing him right in the midst of the evil, challenges, and life-threatening situations that he was facing.
Too often, we can fall into the trap of expecting that God’s provision and God’s answers to our prayers mean a removal of all obstacles and any negative or challenging things we are facing. But Psalm 23 demonstrates quite the opposite. While David might have prefered to have his cup overflowing away from his enemies, where he could rest in peace and safety, God instead allows David’s enemies to remain and asks him to feast within sight of them. God blesses David abundantly amidst his trials, as opposed to blessing him through their removal. God comforts David with His presence, not in the removal of the valley. So many times we want to plow through the angst of the moment, in hopes of arriving at greener pastures as soon as possible. David’s words remind us that those greener pastures may arrive before our problems have even been solved, with the intent of giving us the strength and restoration that we need to enter into the mission and the blessings that God has planned for us.
Psalm 23 provides an important model to us of how we should approach trying times in our lives. We certainly can reach out to God for assistance. David himself does this countless times throughout the psalms and it is something we can and should do too. But alongside that, it is absolutely crucial for us to actively look for the ways that God is blessing, supporting and providing for us in the current season, and praise Him for it. God is not just present in the light at the end of the tunnel - He is present in the tunnel itself. If you wait to look for Him until you’ve reached the other side of your trials, you may end up missing His greatest work. If you wait to rest in God’s presence until after your challenges have disappeared, you may not have the strength to get there in the first place.
Using Psalm 23 as your scripture for reflection, go through verse by verse and take some time to journal your answers to the following questions:
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” What blessings has God given to me?
“In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.” Where has God provided me opportunities for rest and refreshment in the past week, month, year? How have these times been beneficial to me?
“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 comfort me.” When, where, and through whom has God provided me comfort?
“You set a table before me in front of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Where has God provided me nourishment - physical, spiritual or social?
“Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life.” Where do I notice God in my day, week, past month?