Podcast Episode 9 - In the Valley

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Welcome to Jen’s New Song

My name is Jennifer Holmes and this is a podcast for those struggling with their mental health.  Whether that means you have bipolar like I do, or you’re struggling with depression, or you’re just going through a difficult season and need some help remembering who God is, this podcast is for you.  

Right now we are working our way through a series on the Psalms and looking at how the psalmists weren’t afraid to tell God exactly how they felt, but at the end of the psalm, they reminded themselves of what they knew to be true about God.  Even if they didn’t feel that way at that moment, they still reminded themselves of the truth.  That’s exactly what I need to do in my life today, and maybe you do too.

My goals for this podcast are for you to feel as though you’re not alone, for us to be able to talk about the hard things, and to be able to honestly cry out to God with our difficult emotions.  But I don’t want us to stay there.  We don’t have to live in defeat.  We can begin to renew our minds through the word of God.

Join me for today’s look at Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

That might seem like a strange place to stop reading, but stick with me for a minute.

This Psalm might be the most famous passage of scripture ever.  I think it’s only competition would be John 3:16.  It’s quoted at funerals, its painted and cross-stiched, and embroidered and it’s memorized by kindergarteners everywhere.

The problem with such famous passages is that sometimes they lose their impact because we don’t actually think through what they’re saying anymore.  We just quote them by rote.

Psalm 23 was changed for me forever when I read the book, A shepherd looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller.  Mr. Keller was a shepherd and goes through the psalm teaching us what the different word pictures mean from a shepherd’s point of view.  It brings the Psalm alive and I highly recommend it, I’ll link it in the show notes.

When I was compiling a list of psalms that followed the pattern of, this is what I feel, but this is what I know, I was surprised to find Psalm 23 on that list.  Maybe I shouldn’t have, because David seemed to find himself needing to remind himself of what he knew all the time.  And I’m grateful, because I’m in the same boat.

Do you feel like you’re often in the valley?  I think the valley of the shadow of death happens to us all frequently, not just when we’re facing death.  It might be literal death - the death of a loved one, our own illness leading to death, or even the desire for death.  But valley might really be any struggle that we’re going through.  The valley of mental illness, of physical illness, of loneliness, of sin, of financial difficulties, the list could go on and on.

We all find ourselves in the valley.  But David didn’t stop there.  He goes on.

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

There’s that future tense again.  I will fear no evil.  He’s reminding himself of what he knows to be true.  That God is even in the valley.  That God provides even in the valley.  That blessings abound even in the valley.

Here is a quote from Mr. Keller’s book about why the sheep have to go down into the valley.

“With the approach of autumn, early snow settles on the highest ridges, relentlessly forcing the flock to withdraw down to lower elevations.  Finally, toward the end of the year as fall passes, the sheep are driven home to the ranch headquarters where they will spend the winter.  It is this segment of the yearly operations that is described in the last half of the poem. 

During this time the flock is entirely alone with the shepherd.  They are in intimate contact with him and under his most personal attention day and night.  That is why these last verses are couched in such intimate first-person language.  And it is well to remember that all fo this is done against a dramatic background of wild mountains, rushing rivers, alpine meadowns, and high rangelands.”

It is in the valley that they are entirely alone with the shepherd.  I love that line.  Its in the shadow of death that there is no where else to turn.  That would be the worst feeling in the world if we didn’t have a shepherd.  But we do.  We have a shepherd that leads and guides and comforts and protects.  Even in the valley.  Especially in the valley.

But what about those days when it seems as though we will never be out of the valley?  When the shadow of death is real and covers our life?  Some people will live with a shadow forever and it seems as though there will be no more mountaintop experiences.

There is one more verse left for us.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There is goodness and mercy for every situation.  And when we live with that eternal world view, that view of heaven, that joy of our salvation, it doesn’t matter that will feel forever in the valley.  Because the valley doesn’t compare to the house of the Lord.  And even the shadow of death looses its sting because death itself only leads to heaven.

It is unlikely that you will spend the rest of your life in the valley.  But even if you felt like you were, you can remind yourself of what you know.  That there is goodness and mercy.  And it is sure.  And forever is only reserved for eternity with the Lord.  The valley cannot last forever because Jesus won the victory over death.

I want to end with one more quote from Mr. Keller because his perspective is so beautiful.

“I know of nothings which so stimulates my faith in my heavenly Father as to look back and reflect on His faithfulness to me in every crisis and every chilling circumstance of life.  Over and over He has proved His care and concern for my welfare.  Again and again I have been conscious of the Good Shepherd’s guidance through dark days and deep valleys.

All of this multiplies my confidence in Christ.  It is this spiritual, as well as emotional and mental, exposure to the storms and adversities of life that puts stamina into my very being.  Because He has led me through without fear before, He can do it again, and again, and again.  In this knowledge fear fades and tranquility of heart and mind takes its place.

Let come what may.  Storms may break about me, predators may attack, the rivers of reverses may threaten to inundate me.  But because He is in the situation with me, I shall not fear.”

Thank you for joining me today.  I wanted to let you know that I made something new for you!  I have a free mini course available called Elijah and his God.  I’ve learned a lot about God and mental illness by studying Elijah and would love to share that with you!  Head to jensnewsong.com/join to get the free course delivered right to your inbox.  If you would like more daily encouragement, follow me on Instagram or Facebook @jensnewsong.  If you hit the subscribe button on your listening app, you won’t miss an episode of this podcast.  While you’re there, would you consider rating and reviewing?  It really helps other people find the podcast since iTunes loves that sort of thing.  

I wrote this prayer, maybe you would like to adopt it as your own?

Dear God, 

I thank you that you are the good shepherd who take care of his sheep.  What a beautiful picture you’ve given us.  Leading with goodness and mercy.  I thank you that even though we may walk through the valley you are with us and that we have an eternity of living on the mountain top to look forward to.  Comfort those who are afflicted, guide those who are wandering, provide for those who are wanting.