People are used to the 23rd Psalm being read at funerals. That seems to be it's claim to fame. Every great once in a while, a pastor will preach from it during a worship service; it has almost become trite to some Christians who tend to tune it out when they hear it. I feel it is very important for us today in our culture. Why? Because we all have valley moments.
While we were traveling through New Mexico recently, my husband's son took us on a tour of the area near the air force base where he serves our country. You can experience a lot of different climates, terrain, and see some fantastic scenery. In an arid place with limited rainfall, there are several dry river beds. We drove for miles with no rest stops except for these things, pictured on right. There were no rest rooms, no water fountains, just a picnic table in the shade! After a couple of hours of this, I would have given just about anything for one of the old Ohio rest stops with an outhouse and well pump! Oh, we did see, two hours later, a couple of port-a-potties sitting beside the road. We literally sprung from the car at a gas station in a small town we happened to find!
One of the things we learned about the area is that there are snow capped mountains that change from dessert terrain to lush vegetation on the other side of the peak, and the White Sands National Park with it's lake that vanishes during the dry season leaving behind gypsum crystals which blow away as sandy deposits that make up the dunes. There is water and beauty nearby. The arid desert doesn't last forever.
There is another place that I haven't told you about yet. It is the Valley of Fires, in Carizzozo, New Mexico. It is an area where a volcano erupted leaving thick black lava rock five to six miles wide , covering 125 square miles and 160 feet thick. This happened around 5,000 years ago (picture at left). Vegetation does grow on it, but not the kind that would be valuable to eat, unless you are a lizard. I wouldn't want to get stuck there. It is now a National Park with a campground. What was devastating, which probably wiped out a lot of life at the time, is now a source of eerie beauty filled with campers, hikers, and tourists. People learn from what is left.
Why do I tell you all of this? How does this relate to Psalm 23? We all go through some pretty horrible valleys in life. It is our Valley of the Shadow of Death. David wasn't writing about death itself, but being in some dire circumstances. We feel alone, desolate, and devastated. However, King David writes that he will fear no evil, because God is with him. Earlier in the psalm, he likens God as a shepherd who provides for and protects him like the shepherd does for his sheep. I have to say that David went through some tough times when the valley was filled with death from bloodshed. His life was on the line. However, he felt the comfort of God's protection and guidance. Do you know God is with you in the rough stuff of life?
As desolate as the Valley of Fires is to humans for living, so are some of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Job loss? Divorce? Death of a family member? Enemies bearing down on you? Those circumstances feel like the searing heat of lava flowing into our world, burning everything in it's wake. You don't have to go it alone. God is there waiting for us to ask Him to take us through it. Just like a lava covered valley turned park, we can look back on those valleys and turn them into a reminder of God's love and care during those times.
We like the beginning, being able to rest beside a beautiful, calm body of water where all is well. Those places are still nearby like the snow-capped mountains and lush vegetation on the other side. Just as there is water in the basin where the white sand dunes lie, there is life. Even when life seems dry, we can find joy. And just as David saw the dinner feast set before him as his enemies watch in awe, there is a reward for us. Peace.