“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, they comfort me.”
– Psalm 23:4
My Fear: The “Till Death” Part
“Quina, will you marry me?”
“Yyyeess…but…is there any way for us to ensure that we’ll grow old together until we both painlessly slip away into eternity…in our sleep…on the same night…gently holding each other…our many children, all believing, having started their own families?”
As I write this I’m anticipating hearing that wonderful, “Quina, will you marry me?” question any day now (and every day, of course, feels like fifty). I’m ready to exclaim, “Yes! Yes, of course!” I’m also praying that my heart doesn’t inwardly respond as I just imagined it above.
J.C. Ryle once stated, “The greater are our affections the deeper are our afflictions, and the more we love the more we have to weep.” At the precipice of pending covenant blessing, images have been flooding my mind with the billions of ways that tragedy may very well befall me. But don’t we all wrestle with these fears at some point? Even Job, the most righteous man of his time, admitted when he lost his children, wealth, and health, “the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” (Job 3:25). His worst nightmares came true. What if mine do too? And what about you?
Why I Can Still Say, “I Do”: He Is With Me
Psalm 23, too easily glanced over because of its familiarity, is filled with precious gospel promises—each blood-bought for us by our Good Shepherd who Himself became the atoning Lamb of God (cf. Psalm 23:1, John 1:29, & John 10:11). This very personal psalm, written by the shepherd-made-king of Israel, speaks from the sheep’s confident perspective of the Shepherd’s loving provision (23:1), protection (23:2-4), and purpose for His sheep (23:5-6). In my fight with the paralyzing fear of tragedy, I’ve found each verse of this psalm to be rich with God’s sufficiency through every path He leads me.
Note, for example, verse 4: “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, they comfort me.” Here it is: the valley I’m fearing. And like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the only way to reach the Celestial City is to traverse through, not around, this valley.
But our great Shepherd’s gracious presence makes any valley fruitful (Hebrews 13:20-21). He promises to be with us in a particularly consoling way through our worst possible heartbreaks. Yes, His rod disciplines us all-too-easily-straying sheep; but it also wards off Satan, the world, and our unbelief. Plus, His guiding staff proves His compassion and care for His fearful sheep. With it He draws us to Himself in close intimacy. With it He reassures us of His loving, immovable presence and His wise direction.
When the fear of tragedy threatens your joy and trust in the Good Shepherd, behold His rod and His staff: precious promises like those in Psalm 23 which confirm that He is favorably with you forever, especially through the valley of unspeakable tragedy.
Where else in Scripture can you find God’s promise to be with His people? How does this particular promise propel us to take love-motivated risks and make sacrifice-requiring commitments? Here are a few places you can start: Deuteronomy 31:6-9; Psalm 108:13; Isaiah 43:1-3; Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 21:3.