This world is a dangerous place. Our society makes life complicated for all of us. Life is confusing. We contend with new experiences every day. No day has ever been like today, and tomorrow will also be unique. Every day the world changes; every day society changes; every day we change. Nothing remains exactly the same.

We desperately need a guide in this wilderness called life. Left to ourselves, we will wander ourselves to death.

There is a reason that Psalm 23 is the best known and most popular scripture in the Bible. It tells us there is a guide.

  1. The setting and message of Psalm 23:
    1. The setting of the psalm is the rugged, barren wilderness of southern Palestine.
      1. In many ways, that area is similar to the American west:
        1. Open, unfenced land as far as the eye can see.
        2. A brown landscape dominated by rugged mountains, huge boulders, and deep ravines.
        3. The only green areas are along the streams that occasionally run through the dry land.
        4. It is so dry that water is scarce and precious.
      2. In Psalm 23 the shepherd is leading his sheep in this wilderness.
        1. He and the flock are constantly moving from one small grazing place to another.
        2. Most of the time there is so little to eat that the sheep graze as they move.
        3. Rarely will you see these sheep lying down, because rarely are they full enough to lie down.
    2. In Psalm 23, a sheep is speaking.
      1. David is the sheep, and God is his shepherd leading him through the wilderness.
      2. The sheep says:
        1. God is the shepherd who leads me.
        2. He will lead me to a place so green with grass that I can eat my fill and lie down.
        3. He will lead me to still waters where I can drink and rest.
        4. And I will be refreshed.
      3. God, my shepherd, leads me along the right paths, and that brings honor to Him.
        1. It was impossible for a sheep of itself to determine the right path that would lead it to grass and water.
        2. The sheep found grass and water only because the shepherd guided it along the right path.

  2. The next verse is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, but it is misunderstood.
    "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me."
    1. "The valley of the shadow of death" is also quite properly translated "the valley of deep darkness."
      1. This verse is not talking about death as I watch it approach me.
        1. This verse is not saying that God is leading me as I near my death.
        2. For the person who belongs to God, that is a correct concept, but it is not the point of this verse.
      2. This verse is talking about living, not about dying.
        1. God is leading me through a wilderness to a place green with grass and with plenty of water so I can rest and be refreshed.
        2. He is leading me to the place that will meet my needs, and that is the place that I want to go.
        3. But to get to that place with its green grass and pool of quiet water, I must pass through a valley of deep darkness.
      3. What is a valley of deep darkness?
        1. It is a long, narrow passage tucked deep between high, rugged cliffs--cliffs so high that they block out the sunlight.
        2. It is a place of danger.
          1. It is so narrow that there is no place to run, no way to escape.
          2. It is the perfect place to be trapped.
          3. Wild animals have many places to hide, and the shadows are so deep that you do not see danger until it is upon you.
    2. What is David's point? You cannot met the true needs of your life if you look for them on your own; only God can lead you along the right path that takes you to the place of refreshing and restoration.
      1. You cannot find the necessities that refresh the soul and give you rest unless you follow the shepherd.
      2. But if you follow the shepherd, he will lead you to the place that meets your needs and gives you rest.
      3. However, if the shepherd is to lead you to that place, you must allow Him to lead you through places you do not want to go.
        1. No sheep would ever choose to go through a valley of deep darkness.
        2. But if the sheep is to have the grass, the water, the refreshing, the rest, it must pass through the valley of deep darkness.
      4. No person by choice would choose to go through life's valleys of deep darkness.
        1. But in this wilderness we call life, if we are to find the place that refreshes the soul and gives rest, we must allow God to lead us through those valleys.
      5. The sheep will travel through the valley of deep darkness only because he trusts the shepherd and the shepherd's protection.
        1. He passes through that valley unafraid of harm because he trusts the shepherd.
        2. We will pass through our valleys of deep darkness unafraid of harm only when we know that God is leading us.

  3. David spoke about what he knew; he spoke from the reality of his experience.
    1. He had been a shepherd.
      1. He had led his sheep to green grass, still water, refreshment, and rest.
      2. As a shepherd, he caught and killed the lion and the bear who attacked the flock (1 Samuel 17:34,35).
    2. David knew, without doubt or question, that in his relationship with God, he was the helpless sheep that needed guidance, and God was the shepherd.
      1. God led David through several valleys of deep darkness.
      2. One valley was created when King Saul attempted to kill him.
        1. Saul felt very insecure as king.
        2. When David killed Goliath, a valley of deep darkness loomed ahead.
        3. Saul heard the people singing, "Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands," he became angry and distrustful (1 Samuel 18:6-8).
        4. As David's popularity grew, Saul became jealous as well as angry.
        5. When his jealous anger turned to rage, he attempted to kill David.
        6. David was forced to flee to the Judean wilderness to live like a hunted animal.
        7. While David was on the run hiding in the wilderness, he wrote this in Psalm 63:1-4, 6-8:
          O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I beheld You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. . . . When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
        8. Repeatedly, David escaped from Saul by trusting God.
      3. David created a radically different valley of deep darkness when he lusted after another man's wife, seduced her, and had her husband killed to hide the evil he did.
        1. He thought he had successfully hidden his wickedness, but the prophet Nathan confronted him with his guilt.
        2. When David realized what he had done, this is what he said in Psalm 51:1-4:
          Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when you do speak, and blameless when you do judge.
        3. After the seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, David entered a terrifying valley of deep darkness that was filled with consequences, but God led him through it.
      4. In yet another valley of deep darkness, David's son, Absalom, took control of the city of Jerusalem, forced his father to flee for his life, and raped his father's wives in public.
        1. As David fled from Absalom, this is what he said (Psalm 3:l-6):
          O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, "There is no deliverance for him in God." But, You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about.
        2. Later, David was restored to his throne in Jerusalem, but it cost him the death of a son that he loved dearly.
      5. Years later, after passing through many valleys of deep darkness, David declared (2 Samuel 22:2-4, 7):
        The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge: my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the name of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; and I am saved from my enemies. . . . In my distress I called upon the Lord, yes, I cried to my God; and from the temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears.
        1. David understood the urgency of allowing God to be the shepherd who led him through life's valleys of deep darkness.

  4. If Christ is to be our good shepherd who leads us through this wilderness to places of refreshing and rest, we must allow him to be our guide through the life's valleys of deep darkness.
    1. Though there are many, many valleys of deep darkness in this wilderness we call life, I ask you to consider two.
      1. The first valley of deep darkness that many travel is the dark valley of worthlessness.
        1. This person believes that he or she is utterly without value or worth.
          1. "Everything I do is wrong; I make a mess of everything; I fail at everything."
          2. "I am a walking disaster; I am filled with shame; I am consumed with guilt."
        2. This person constantly attacks and abuses self.
        3. He or she says, "I need a Savior, but a Savior would know how worthless I am, and, with that knowledge, he could not possibly love me."
        4. This valley of deep darkness is the valley of depression, and he or she must allow Jesus to be the shepherd who leads him or her through the valley.
      2. The second valley of deep darkness is the valley of the self-made Christian.
        1. This person asks, "What must I do to be a Christian?"
          1. "Hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized? Okay, done that!"
          2. "Worship properly by doing the right things? Okay, done that!"
          3. "Avoid impure things? No sexual sin, no drinking, no smoking, no cussing, no gambling? Okay, done that!"
          4. "Do God's will? Read the Bible, pray, serve? Okay, done that!"
        2. This person believes he or she is godly because "I have done what I am supposed to do."
          1. He or she is a self-made Christian--acquired the right spiritual model kit and put it together exactly according to the instructions.
          2. "I didn't need a Savior; I just needed to know what to do."
          3. "Needing a Savior would mean that I could not take care of myself."
          4. "I can take care of myself; I just need to know what to do."
        3. This valley of deep darkness is the valley of self-righteousness.
          1. We enter this valley innocently thinking we can make ourselves righteous by knowing and doing the right things.
          2. We don't need a Savior, we just need the right knowledge, the right instructions.
        4. In some ways, this is the most frightening valley of all.
          1. Few things are scarier than believing "I am righteous because of what I have done" and finding out, "I desperately need a Savior."
          2. Only Christ can guide us through this valley to places of peace and rest.

When will I find the green grass and quiet waters that restore my soul? When I understand I need a Savior. When I understand that my Savior used a cross and an empty tomb to do for me what I cannot do for myself. When I understand purity comes through the blood of Jesus. When I understand that holiness comes from being clothed in Jesus. When I understand peace comes from God's forgiveness and love. When I understand that I serve God because I love him, not because I am trying to prove something.

God sent Jesus to be our perfect Shepherd. He can guide us through any valley of deep darkness. He knows them all. He will guide us and protect us through this wilderness called life. But you must be his sheep, and you must follow him, even when he leads you where you do not want to go. But, if you follow him, you need fear no evil.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 January 1997

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