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I will Fear No Evil

I Will Fear No Evil
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 STAFF THEY COMFORT ME: Psalm 23:4

By Ted Schroder,
www.tedschroder.com
May 29, 2016

The Latin fortis, from which 'comfort' is derived, means strong. To comfort means to come alongside to strengthen. We must bear that in mind when we hear in this verse that the Good Shepherd comforts us when we experience times of fear. What fears do you fight? All of us fight one fear or another. The totally fearless person is a foolhardy person. Children get into danger because they have not learned to be fearful of consequences. Fears that control us can become phobias which have to be treated professionally. We fear negative possibilities. We fear making the wrong decisions. We fear making a fool of ourselves or losing the regard of people we want to respect us. We fear depression and despair. We fear pain, physical harm, disease, or death. We fear loss of the ability to function freely, to live comfortably, to succeed in life, in work, in our expectations. The valley of the shadow of death stands for everything that would seek to destroy the purpose and plan of Christ to give us life in all its fullness. It is not only death we fear, the dread of nothingness or extinction, it is fear of being alone. John Bunyan's description of Christian's experience of this valley in The Pilgrim's Progress is similar to the popular horror writing of Stephen King or Dean Koontz.

"Christian was aware of forces, like mighty winds, which rushed to and fro, and which, he feared, might tear him from limb to limb or trample over him. For several miles he managed to keep moving forward in spite of these grim sights, sounds and sensations, but when he heard a pack of fiends approaching, his courage failed and he stopped, frozen with fear. In this emergency, reason came to his rescue, reminding him that it would be as dangerous to retreat as to advance, and so the pilgrim pressed on shouting, 'I will walk in the strength of the Lord God.'

"At this the fiends fell back, allowing Christian to pass by, though not unscathed, for one evil and malicious spirit crept up behind and whispered blasphemies in the traveler's ear... In this tortured frame of mind, he continued along the way for some time, but his spirits rose a little when he heard a voice quoting, 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.'"

Allegorical though this description is, it surely reflects the worst fears we experience in our nightmares and daily life. All of us have to go through deep valleys in our lives. They are the places and times when the sun does not seem to be able to penetrate down to where we are. The valley of the shadow of death is anything that threatens to diminish us. It includes that shadow side of our life, of our personality, that troubles us. It is those things we see in other people that we do not like. We cannot dismiss them easily, for they are real. Texan author and preacher Max Lucado has written:

"Fear. His modus operandi is to manipulate you with the mysterious, to taunt you with the unknown. Fear of death, fear of failure, fear of God, fear of tomorrow - his arsenal is vast. His goal? To create cowardly, joyless souls. He doesn't want you to make the journey to the mountain. He figures if he can rattle you enough, you will take your eyes off the peaks and settle for a dull existence in the flatlands."

How can we walk through this valley and fear no evil? The key to walking through the valleys of the shadow of death in our lives is to experience the presence of a powerful, comforting God. Jesus said, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) How is he with us to comfort us in this frightening journey of life? The Good Shepherd has two instruments he uses to comfort us: a rod and a staff. Phillip Keller in A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 interprets the rod as the Word of God and the staff as the Spirit of God.

The Shepherd's Rod is his weapon to ward off those who would rob and steal or destroy his flock. The Shepherd's Rod, that Christ gives us to protect us from the enemies of our soul, is the Word of God. In Revelation 19:15 the Rider on the White Horse, called Faithful and True, makes war on those who do evil. His name is the Word of God and out of his mouth comes a sharp sword. Knowledge of the Scriptures gives us the power to defend ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death with the promises of falling asleep in Jesus and resurrection from the dead.

The Shepherd's Staff is his implement to rescue and care for the sheep. It is his means to comfort us with his presence. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as the Comforter to stand alongside us and strengthen us. He reaches out to us with his Spirit to be with us always. If we want to experience the presence of Christ in the valleys of our lives, we will seek the daily infilling of his Spirit. Even in the valleys we find refreshment. Streams trickle down the valleys from the snow-clad mountains above. Jesus speaks of "streams of living water flowing from within those who believe in him - by this he meant the Spirit." (John 7:38) The strengthening comfort of the Spirit of Christ enables us to rejoice in our sufferings, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
(Romans 5:3)

Catherine Booth, the co-founder of the Salvation Army, suffered a lingering death through breast cancer. On December 19, 1889, when she thought she was dying, she sent this message to her Salvationists: "The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over. Don't be concerned about your dying; only go on living well, and the dying will be all right." Dr. Joseph Parker of the City Temple said of her death, "She has ceased to fight; she is with God's angels. Mrs. Booth has not gone into the unseen world on the strength of a religious fancy, a new-fangled theory, a startling speculation. She threw her arms around the Cross, and went into the unseen sanctuary trusting to the all-saving and all-cleansing blood of Christ."

Ed Weihenmayer in Lenten Meditations for March 23 wrote: "I think often about how I will face death when it finally comes... can you be absolutely sure how you are going to face dying before it really comes? I have seen believers, who are suffering in their final days, with smiles on their faces, lifting everyone up around them, because they know where they have been and where they are going. I want to be one of them. I pray I will be one of them."

Ruth Etchells, former Principal of my theological seminary, St. John's College, Durham University in England, has written this prayer on dying:

Lord, I know I am near the end:
Stay with me, my Lord.
I know that dying is my last big task for you:
Stay with me, my Lord.
As you have helped me in my living,
So keep me faithful in my dying:
Stay with me, my Lord.
However its dread or pain may seize me,
Lassitude, chill, darkness overwhelm me,
Even as disintegrating appalls me,
Lord,
Even then,
Stay with me, my Lord.
Help me, O help me, to make
An offering of it to you,
O Lord of my death as well as my life.
O Christ my Lord, O Jesus my Lord,
Give me a holy death. (Just As I Am, p.171)

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