Don’t you just love the 23rd Psalm? It always seems to be among everyone’s favorite scripture; mine included. Especially verse 4: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” The NIV reads, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” God is with us!
Life is filled with “darkest valleys” isn’t it? No one gets to live life without setbacks & disappointments and trials. If we live long enough... ALL of us will face storms and darkness from time to time. You and I all experience the common griefs and temptations of life...
The real issue is NOT what we experience, but how we respond to what we experience - both when it comes to us as individual followers of Christ... AND as the Church, the Body of Christ. How we respond to the difficulties of life is what defines us.
What do we do in times of trial? Do difficulties dominate us... do they overwhelm us? Do we stop trying and give up when the going gets tough?
You know, if we’re not careful, the trials of life can lead us into a downward spiral... because...
~ Difficulties sometimes cause us to DRIFT from our purpose. This is particularly true of Churches.
We hear the little voice inside (maybe Satan, maybe our on voice) that asks, “What’s the use... What’s the point... Why bother?” Then we’re tempted to stop - or “throw in the towel” so-to-speak when it comes to the things God has clearly called us to do. We don’t see evidence; proof that what we’re doing is producing a net result - and we become discouraged - because, even in the church, we’re tempted to measure things by the standards of the world.
We often forget that as followers of Christ we’re called to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
So... when God doesn’t take the trouble away - or he doesn’t remove the obstacle before us - OR - our numbers in worship are down and we can’t seem to attract new people... we’re tempted to give up.
~ Of course... difficulties also, at times, cause us (or tempt us) to DISCARD what we value. “Well everyone else is doing it!” My mother use to respond to that by saying, “Well if everyone else jump off the river bridge, are you gonna do it, too?” Of course, living by the truth of God’s Word can be hard; it’s easier to capitulate, to conform to the ways of the world - to just “go along to get along” - never mind the consequences. Never mind the fact that God’s Word calls us to transform the world, not to conform to it. Never mind the fact that God’s Word tells us “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
You and I - as followers of Christ - as the Church of Christ - have to “stay the course” - even when it’s difficult; even when it’s hard and no one else it doing it... even when it costs us dearly to stand for the Way, the Truth, and the Life. After all, we’re not called to please the world... we’re called to serve God: the God who created us in His image; and called us (set us apart) to serve Him and honor Him... and to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.
~ Of course, the Difficulties of life can also cause us to DESPAIR about the future. And I think this is particularly true in the Church - especially smaller churches. We figure we’re doomed to start with: we don’t have enough money... or talent... or time. We’re finished, and it’s all over. We’re too small... too old... too tired... too overwhelmed.
As a minister now for more than 30 years, I’ve watched many people (and churches) react to crises in one of those three ways; drifting, discarding, or despairing. And I’ve come to the realization that the true test of faith... is not how high you jump when you’re singing praises to God... but how straight you walk when you’re going through the dark valleys of life.
You’ll always drift in a storm without the right anchor. And only one anchor will really do.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4 NIV).
God’s presence is the greatest anchor in any situation.
*When you and I are feeling hopeless; we have every reason to HOPE. God is with us.
*When you and I are tempted to turn back; we have every reason to PUSH FORWARD. God is with us.
*When you and I are feeling defeated; we have every reason to be ENCOURAGED. God is with us.
“On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand... ALL other ground, is sinking sand.”
God will NEVER leave us, nor forsake us. Make Christ your rock-solid anchor. No matter how dark the valley, God is never closer to his children, than when we’re facing trial, and challenges.
Of course, I know... I know... lots of times, we’re tempted to say: “Well, I don’t feel God’s presence.”
But it really has nothing to do with how you & feel. Feelings get us into trouble; feelings are not facts.
We may feel that the Sun is not shining... but that’s a lie. The Sun is always shining, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. It’s our perspective that keeps us from seeing the Sun.
The Bible says God is there in our darkest valley. That’s reality—whether you “feel” it at the moment, or not.
The Bible tells us, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus makes it clear that storms will come into our lives... he even told his disciples that, “In this world you WILL have trouble...” But then he went on to say, “But I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
We, you and I... as followers of Christ, have a choice to make in how we are going to respond to the world. As our scripture says: “the wise man built his house on the rock.” And our rock, is Jesus, He is the One: be very sure, your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock...
As for me and my house we will build our lives upon the Word of God. No matter what storms may come we know that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. As always, we will trust God and let God be God.
Because no matter what we’re walking through... God and his love are right there with us.
That truth offers stability, and hope, and peace, in any storm.