Forgive me if I sound solemn in this post. I received news this weekend of a family who tragically lost their husband/father. This isn't even a family that I know well, yet when you are "acquainted with grief" it doesn't take much to feel their hurt. As a close friend of this family shared details, I was reminded how quickly one can go from the mountain top to the valley of death with a phone call or a doctor's appointment, without warning and within minutes.
I'll never forget when my mom was battling cancer. My eldest daughter Olivia was in first grade at a Christian school and each week a different memory verse came home in her folder. The very day my mother died, the following verse written on a little card came home in her backpack.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
It was no mistake that this was the verse that I would have to say over and over with my daughter until she (and I) would never forget it. It was like a love note from my Heavenly Father.
A couple week’s ago I shared a bit about my first real valley and why the 23rd Psalm is special to me. The darkest valley of them all is the one in which you face death. It’s that “can’t see your hand in front of your face” kind of dark that makes you so unsure of what’s ahead that you just stand there paralyzed, afraid that any step in any direction will make you fall deeper into a pit that you’ll never be able to climb out of. So to be able to say that you can walk in a valley of pitch black darkness and not be afraid because the Almighty Shepherd is with you . . . well, that’s pretty big stuff.
The second part of this verse is just as important because it’s our clue to the tools He uses to get us through these valleys--His rod and His staff. There are many biblical scholars who can more eloquently explain what these items represent, but in my humble experience this is what I’ve found.
The rod is God’s Word. Just like the shepherd’s rod was used to defend and protect his sheep, God’s Word serves as a mighty weapon. It keeps us walking on the path of truth and protects us from the vultures of guilt, anger, depression, bitterness, blame, and questioning. This rod also disciplines and so often when I read the Bible I have those ouch moments of conviction.
The staff is a bit harder to define. The shepherd’s staff is used to guide the sheep in the right path, to draw them closer to the shepherd for protection, and even to rescue the wayward sheep who is trapped in a thorny thicket or stuck in a dark pit. Perhaps the staff represents many things, which I think includes scripture and certainly the Holy Spirit. But I also think it includes the prayer support and encouragement of fellow believers. Now this is just my goodness and mercy grocery list and yours may be different.
While I'm on the subject of groceries, I've been known to toss a gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream into my cart when I’m having a rough week. In the same way, praise and worship songs are such a source of comfort and encouragement during the walks through dark valleys. Surround yourself with uplifting music for (unlike their edible counterparts) these aren’t empty calories--they will nourish you in ways that nothing else will. And that’s the main reason I even have music on my blog. Whatever blah, blah, blah, I do through the week, I at least know if someone is hurting and they show up here, they will be fed something that makes them feel closer to their Shepherd.
So speaking of dessert, there are many wonderful valley songs that I played over and over during some hard times. One was “He Will Carry Me” by Mark Schultz. It's such a sweet song celebrating the privilege of being carried in the safe arms of our Heavenly Father. Like a piece of gum, songs have a way of losing their flavor if they've been chewed too long and I've certainly sucked the marrow out of this one. But it still brings such comfort that I wanted to include it on my play list for any readers who haven't heard it.
A newer one that is my favorite 23rd Psalm song (now that's a tongue twister), is Psalm 23 by Glory Revealed--the artists on this one are Geoff Moore and Trevor Morgan. For those of you who aren't familiar with Glory Revealed, it’s a collaborative effort led by Third Day’s lead singer Mac Powell and features Powell and some of the best Christian artists today. It's undiluted scripture put to song with beautiful instrumentals. It’s not available on my play list below, but can be found on i-Tunes. I keep their songs playing at home and it’s amazing how many scriptures my kids have learned just listening. It’s dinner and dessert in one bite--kind of rod and staff in Swiss Army knife form.
The song I’m featuring today is a classic--”If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens. If you aren’t familiar with her story--she lost her eyesight at 2 years old and has been walking a literal dark valley ever since. Her voice is so pure and the lyrics so poignant. The first time I heard it I was in my car and pulled over so I wouldn't miss the words that so perfectly seemed to echo my prayers at that time. This video includes the beautiful lyrics with her sweet voice.
As always, thanks for coming to dinner. Have a blessed week.