Thinking It Through: Through Dark Valleys
By Christian Ramirez
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The words of Psalm 23 have been heard by millions around the world and throughout history as comfort and encouragement for God’s people. They’ve become a hymn for the heart as we travel through life’s dark valleys, where suffering stands alongside the hope we have in our Savior.
This last year, Psalm 23 resounded mightily through the deepest parts of my soul. To me, like many believers around the world, the last months have felt like a long trip through a dark valley. Sickness, the deaths of dear ones, fear and misinformation, isolation, and the absence of in-person church fellowship for a season have been some of this journey’s recent lows.
As the psalm continues, its words take on more meaning: “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.” (v.4, ESV) Maybe you’ve read these words before and wondered: What brings such confidence? How can the psalmist stay calm? There must be anxiety of not knowing what comes next. Surely, there is fear of the compelling shadow of death all around him. How can he say, “I will fear no evil”?
And then, you wonder, How can we fear no evil? How can we move past the fear and the pain to continue to honor and serve our God as good sheep?
The answer is simple yet deep: the Good Shepherd is there with us. You see, the psalmist knows who the Good Shepherd is. He has walked with Him, he has seen His mighty works, and he trusts that He is by his side. So, even though the valley is dark, his Shepherd shines brightly.
We should have an even stronger trust. Looking at the psalm from this side of its revelation leads us to understand our Good Shepherd’s character even better. He is the Man of Sorrows experienced in pain (Isaiah 53:3). He has gone through our same circumstances and understands our struggles (Hebrews 2:14– 18). He is also the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us (John 10:11). He knows the valley of the shadow of death and has felt the anxiety and sorrows that accompany it because He has walked there before (Luke 22:39–46). And, above all, we must remember that He has been victorious! He conquered the valley, He came to the other side, and He defeated death itself (1 Corinthians 15:55–57).
This beautiful psalm reminds us that the good, sweet, gentle, experienced, and powerful Shepherd is the One who walks by our side. Yes, the valley is dark and frightening; no one says it isn’t. But, as children will tell you, the darkest rooms are easy to face when you have a light by your side. I’ve walked the valleys—in some ways, I’m still walking through one—but the knowledge that the Good Shepherd is by my side keeps me going. It keeps me hopeful and even joyful amid this world’s suffering.
We must never forget that a valley is only a stage in our journey; it is not the final destination. We must go through it to reach the land of plenty that our Good Shepherd has prepared for us. Believers like Paul knew this, and so they sang as they traveled, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV) As the Good Shepherd walks with us, He tells us: Yes, we are going through a valley; yes, it is dark. But trust me because I’ve been here and I have come out victorious (John 16:33).
Whatever your situation is right now, I pray that the Lord, our Shepherd, will comfort you and that nothing will stop you from serving Him. And I pray that, even through our suffering, we may tell the world around us about our mighty, good, and loving God and about the way to Him through the Good Shepherd. ■
Christian Ramirez serves in Colombia.
Originally published in Missions magazine, May 2022. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at CMML.us/magazine/subscribe.