Literally, the shadow of death is, literally, the darkest times, the darkness of the valley. One commentator wrote, he said, “It is the dark of darkness; the fear of the unknown.” This isn’t just, “God will take me through the shadow of my fear of death,” but it is any crisis where we find ourselves where when we look out, we are afraid and we can’t see what’s out there. That’s a crisis.
But David writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “You don’t have to be afraid because He is with you.”
Let me give you three words to write down here and I’ll develop them. First, His presence; second, His power; third, His pruning. Those are the three things that happen. The reason we don’t have to be afraid is, number one, in the midst of your crisis, whatever you’re afraid of, maybe it’s anxiety attacks. Maybe it’s you’re afraid your marriage will never get better. Maybe it’s a fear about what’s happening with one of your kids. Maybe you have cancer.
I don’t know what it is but wherever your crisis is, wherever the darkness of your valley is, here’s the promise: His presence. “I will be with you.” Hebrews 13, “I will always be with you and never, ever leave you or forsake you.” Five negatives. Can’t say it any stronger.
The Great Commission, we’re told to make disciples and, “I will be with you always.” I don’t understand how it works. All I know is that in the worst and most difficult times, when we come to the end of ourselves, God’s presence, this invisible hand, this buoying up.
I think it’s what the apostle Paul experienced in II Corinthians 12. Remember, he was in the dark time and his body wasn’t working, there’s some physical affliction, and this guy’s got a vibrant prayer life and he says, “God! I got a major problem here!” He says, “Please take away this affliction.” God says, “No.” He says, well, perseverance, “God, please take this away.” God says, “No.” He said, “God, maybe you don’t get this. Please take this away. I mean, I’m an apostle. I’m going to write thirteen books of the New Testament!” God says, “No.”
And His answer is, “You need this adversity in your life because of My plan and My program and here’s what I’m going to give you. My grace will be sufficient for you.” And Paul got it. To the point that he’ll go on to write, “Therefore,” he says, “I will most gladly rejoice in my weakness, in distress, in difficulties, in painful situations, because power is perfected in weakness.”
God promises if you’ll come, wherever you’re at, He’ll give you just enough grace for this moment. Not enough for tonight. Not enough for tomorrow. Not enough for next week. He will hold you up right now and give you all that you need. That’s His presence.
But notice the little line, he said, goes on to say, “Your rod.” Remember what I told you the rod was for? It was to kill predators. Your Shepherd; you have an enemy. And when you’re in the dark times of your life, I don’t know about you, but the enemy swoops in and he starts to throw lies at you. And he gives you ideas about shortcuts, “Hey, if this isn’t a very good marriage, turn that one in and try another one! You’re tired of so and so? Blow them off. Got financial needs? Steal! I mean, do it sophisticated and in a Christian way, but steal! Take life into your own hands. Take a shortcut, figure out…”
And he says when the enemy comes in and tempts you, or condemns you, He has a rod and he’ll crush him. Jot down Ephesians chapter 6:10 to 18. God says you have armor, you have weaponry, you have the sword of the Spirit, you have prayer. He will protect you with His power. “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.”
Third, He has a staff. And when you’re in this dark valley time, believe it or not, God has a game plan that’s even bigger than you getting through it, me getting through it.
I’d like to say to you, you know what, the times in my life when I lean back in my chair one day and say, “Do you know something? Man, God is so good. My marriage is better than it’s ever been, all my kids are living exemplary lives, and they get up every morning and say, ‘Oh, Dad, Dad, we love you, we love you. You’re an awesome dad.’ And I’ve got more money in the bank than I know what to do with, my body feels good, the church is just going on autopilot, everything is awesome and wonderful.” Those are the times when I say, “Oh, God, in gratitude to You, I just want to be more committed to You than I’ve ever been.”
You know what we do when things are like that? Left to ourselves? We forget God. My confession to you, and yours probably would be to me, it’s when I was in between jobs, when my marriage wasn’t going very well, when we’ve had major problems with one of our kids, when I’ve been in the ICU with a close friend or one of my children, when I’ve been so down on myself or we had problems in this church that I thought, “God, if You don’t show up in power and grace, you know, is there a train somewhere I could get on and just go hide?”
And it’s been in those dark times that God has shown up in powerful, powerful ways and you know what He’s done? He has usually pruned me. I have learned more. He has been about changing me, helping me see things that I would have never seen except for, “I’m in the valley of the shadow of death.”
You see, you don’t have to fear evil because you know His presence will be with you, His power will take care of the enemy, and your own flesh, He is going to use those difficult times as James chapter 1 reminds us, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and mature, complete, lacking in nothing.” He’s going to change you.
David was a man who knew crisis, he knew about sheep, he knew about being a shepherd, and he had confidence in the midst of crisis and God wants to give you confidence in the midst of your crisis.
The first thing you need to remember, and I mean remember, is this: You do not have to be in want because the great Shepherd will provide all your needs. So, whatever your needs are, run to Him.
The second thing is, you don’t have to fear. You can be afraid, you can struggle, that’s human. But you don’t have to be paralyzed by fear. Why? Because the great Shepherd will protect you.
Now the psalmist does something very interesting. He has given us this image and then he takes that metaphor and he gently lays it on the shelf, and then he comes over and he reaches another metaphor out of his culture. Because where he’s going to end with the psalm is not down in the doldrums, it’s not going to be out of fear.
He is going to celebrate, understanding who God is, and now the metaphor changes to a banquet. And banquets and feasts and celebrations were filled with food and music and joy and relationships and hugs and kisses and people being together.
Notice now he says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” That’s his third confident affirmation but here’s why: Because the Shepherd promises an abundant life now and forever.
And, by the way, abundant life, doesn’t that ring a bell? Remember Jesus in John 10:10? “I have come that you might have life, and you can have it abundantly.” The word literally means, “spilling over; overflowing.” It doesn’t mean that you’re going to drive fancy cars, have great houses, and never have a problem.
It means you’re going to overflow from the inside out of the overflow of your resources with Christ, that regardless of what you go through, it can be rich, it can be deep, it can be powerful, it can be wonderful, and it can be that if you have this income or this income. Whether you’re healthy as a horse or whether you have cancer. That’s what it means to have an abundant life.
It means to be deeply connected to God in such a way that circumstances don’t have the power to dominate your life. You are defined by your relationship with God.
Well, notice the three pictures he’s going to give us here. He says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This is a great picture.
In the ancient Near Eastern culture, to eat a meal was more than, like, going to McDonalds. It was a fellowship, it was a, and especially a banquet, he says, “Prepare a table.”
The idea is it is a big celebration. And when they would have a great military victory, the general who had the victory would come in, literally, on a white horse. Psalm 68 you might check out and Ephesians chapter 4.
And he would come in with his troops and then the plunder and then all the captains and then they would have this great celebration, giving credit to God for the great victory, and they would have a feast, I mean, a buffet! Awesome! Like, eat all you want!
But then they would have situated around them the captives where their enemies would be watching them eat and enjoy the victory and the splendor as a humiliation to let them know, “Our God is greater than your god.”
The battles in the Old Testament were conflicts of nations and at the heart of most of the battles had to do with a conflict with deities. Is Jehovah God really the God or is it Molech? Or is it Baal?
And he says here, “A banquet in the midst of his enemies.” Deliverance. See, what God promises is a banquet where what He wants to do in your life is He wants to give you victory over your number one enemy, which is, not taxes; not cancer; not a relationship that’s not quite as fulfilling; not a wayward child.
Your number one enemy is sin. We are a slave, according to Scripture, to whatever we obey. And left to yourself, you are a slave to sin. You are a slave to want to do this but find yourself doing that. You’re a slave to knowing what it looks like to be a good dad, a good mom, a good person, a pure person and finding yourself constantly doing the opposite.
And this says what He wants to do first is give you peace. The abundant life is characterized by peace. You know how you get peace? Salvation. Deliverance from your enemy! Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith we have,” have, present tense, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are here today and you’ve never experienced the saving grace of forgiveness, of all your sins washed away, and the power of sin broken in your life where you have a new master: Christ, and the power to say, “No” to sin and, “Yes” to righteousness, and you want the peace that comes then come to the Shepherd. That’s the first thing He wants to give you.
The second thing there is, in this abundant life is more than peace, it’s joy. Notice the next line. It says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” And if you were the host, and you’ve got this huge banquet and it’s a victory banquet, it’s like the big victory party, as every guest would come in they would take olive oil, mix it with some perfume and spices, and they would pour it on them as they were honored. They’d wash their feet and they would want them to know, “This is a celebration; you are special.”
And the idea of the cup overflowing, it’s just a little picture of, “Hey, we’re not giving out goodness in eyedroppers here.” It’s not, “Watch how much you eat.” It is, “There’s the table. It is filled, it is for you, it is lavish.” It’s a picture of God’s goodness. He wants to do good things for us, spiritually and in every other way.
He says, “Enter in, let Me give you victory over your enemies, peace, and then let Me give you joy.” And joy comes from fellowship with Him. “Sit down and eat with Me,” Revelation 3:20, you remember that one? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man, any person, any woman, any child, any student hears My voice and opens the door of their heart,” He says, “I will come into them,” and what’s it say then? “and will eat with them and they with Me.”
See, eating in the Bible is always a picture of fellowship, unity, communion, relationship – byproduct – joy.
You see, the banquet that God invites you to is not just one where there is deliverance and not just joy but look at the last part. Verse 6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me,” the word “follow” means “pursue.”
Most of us, you know, “Gosh, Y2K, I wonder what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen to the Asian market, wonder how my kids are going to turn out. You know what? I’ve heard two testimonies about cancer, should I go get a checkup? I wonder if I’m going to get cancer. Oh, I wonder if someone I love is going to get cancer.”
You know what that is? Anxiety and fear. You know what that belief system is? A commitment that, according to CNN, Fox Network, ABC, CBS, the world is a bad, bad, bad place, it happens to everyone all the time. Instead of, “The world is a fallen place, sovereignly run by a good God that wants to give you goodness,” interesting word, “lavish love, and hessed.” Mercy. Steadfast, loyal, covenant, commitment to you in whatever you…
And it doesn’t follow behind you, it’s pursuing you. It’s pursuing you. How long? All the days of your life. The Shepherd says, “Come. Come. I’ll give you peace, forgiveness for your sins. I’ll give you joy, fellowship with Me. And I’ll give you hope.”
You can get up every day knowing God’s plan for today is good. His goodness and His love are like guardrails on your life and everything that comes in, even in the fallen world, even from the enemy, even from your own flesh, He is going to orchestrate in a way to bring about the highest, best good in you. Man, is this an offer you can’t refuse, or what?
Turn to the final page. Let’s talk now about an action step. How then can you experience God’s peace and power in your situation today? I mean, I hope some of you are sitting here and thinking, “You know, man, fantastic! I just, I didn’t realize…” Jesus, what did He say? “I’m the Good Shepherd; the sheep know My voice. I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
And I hope lots of you are here saying, “Man, am I glad that Jesus is my Shepherd.” But what if you’re here, like we heard in a couple baptisms, and maybe you asked Him to be your Savior but maybe it’s been months ago, or years ago, or many years ago, and you find yourself here and you feel distant from God and you think, “Gosh, can I really get in on this?” Yes. That’s why God brought you today, so you can get in on this. He wants you to come back into the fold so He can love you, provide for you, protect you, and give you His promise.
And there may be others here, you say, “You know something, I’m not in the family. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t imagine people standing up and saying, ‘This is how God was with me.’ I can’t imagine people saying, ‘I don’t know whether I’m going to live or die and I don’t know what the treatments are but I can tell you I’m not afraid and I have peace.’”
And if there’s anything in your heart, in your world that says, “You know what? I’d like to know that God,” you need to act on that. You need to receive Jesus as your Savior. You need to receive Him as your Shepherd to forgive you, cleanse you, come into your life, and give you eternal life. Dwell with Him forever.
Here’s what you need to understand, it’s very simple. You need to understand, one, that we’re all sheep. He’s not picking on us. Jot down, if you would, Isaiah 53:6, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to our own way; but the Lord has laid upon Him, Messiah Jesus, the iniquities of us all.” We are all sheep but Jesus has paid the price.
Second, every sheep needs a shepherd. Sheep that don’t have a shepherd get in trouble and die. Every sheep needs a shepherd.
Third, Jesus wants to be your Shepherd today. If you’re not as close as you need to be, He’d like to take that staff and kind of pull you in close. And if you’re not on the team, in His family, He wants you to pray and say, “Will You be my Shepherd? I turn from my sin, I believe that what You did on the cross was payment, that You rose from the dead.”
In fact, listen to this appeal from Jesus, His own lips, “Come to Me.” Listen. Now that’s not for the person next to you, this is you. “Come to Me,” who? “all you who are weary and burdened,” anybody qualify? “and I will give you rest” spiritually, physically, psychologically. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.”
In other words, “Get in the harness with Me,” do life My way. And you don’t have to be afraid, “for I am gentle and humble of heart.” I’m not pushy. “And you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy,” I’ll carry it, “and My burden is light.”
If you’re a Christian that needs to return to Christ, I encourage you to do that today and if you’re a person that has never received Jesus as your Savior, I’d like to give you the invitation to do that right now.
You’ll notice that there’s a prayer of faith on the bottom. I want to read it and then I’m going to pray it. And if you would like to respond, I encourage you to do that right now.
It says, “Today I ask You, Jesus, to be my Shepherd.” Think about if you want to do that. “I ask You to provide for my needs and protect me from evil. Today, I take You up on Your promise of abundant life.” And then if you’ve never asked Him to forgive you, if you’ve never asked Him to be your Savior then pray, “I ask You to forgive my sins and let me dwell in Your house forever.”
And then for all of us, “Today, I surrender my life to Your wise and good leadership. Make me the person You want me to be.” And then are you ready for this? Notice where it says on the bottom, “Signed,” I’d like you to sign your name.
You know, we live in the day where people don’t make commitments. I think God wants commitments. He’ll be your Shepherd and all His resources come to bear, but He can only be your Shepherd if, when He calls your name, you come. Let’s pray together.
Lord, I could have spent the whole time just talking about how You’ve met my needs and supplied everything from cars to grace to relationships to health issues. And it’s true all over the room today. But, Lord, we need to come to You and so I want to pray and if you know today is your day and you don’t know Christ, I want you to pray, in your heart, right where you’re at, silently, and follow along with me.
Dear Jesus, I want You to be my Shepherd today. I admit today that I have sinned against You and against God. I ask You to forgive me and cleanse me and make me the person You want me to be. I believe You died in my place and rose from the dead. Come into my heart and my life.
If you’re a believer, can I encourage you to say, “Lord, I have strayed. Right now, I ask You to forgive me for that. Be my Shepherd. Lead my life. Give me direction.”