"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;" Psalm 23:4a
In a sheep's life, there are times when their shepherd will take them on a journey; a journey that will lead them through a valley that may seem rough, but their good shepherd is right beside them leading them through to the other side. If they keep their eyes on their shepherd while walking, he or she will guide them to the freshest, purest water and guide them through the scariest, dangerous spots on their path. If they decided that they do not want to go because it looks too hard, they would make things worse for themselves and for the other sheep with them. This is why they have to trust their shepherd, as he or she knows what is best. Their shepherd knows that on the other side of this valley is the higher plain where the richest, greenest pastures lie. In order to get there they have to go through the valley.
In our Christian walk, we will go through valleys in our lives. We can choose to fight, hide or walk hand in hand with our Great Shepherd. He knows what is best in order for us to get to the " higher plain" in our walk with Him. He knows where we can find refreshment along the way, He knows when we will need to be carried as we walk through the most difficult parts of the journey and once we arrive to where the "higher plain" is, we will have the sweetest fellowship with our Great Shepherd.
I know this journey all too well. I have learned to call these journeys "blessings", because when I am trusting His heart through the journey, that is when He shows me His heart and the blessings I receive are like the luscious, green pastures the sheep long for. Two of the journeys, valleys, the Great Shepherd took me and my family through was the deaths of our daughter and granddaughter. There are many more, but I think these two particular journeys, I truly needed to be carried at spots along the way, but then we would come to a spot of refreshment where someone was an encouragement to my family or I. At times it may have seemed dark and scary, but the fact I knew the Great Shepherd was holding my hand, leading each step of the way, I was able to come to the "higher plain" and have sweet fellowship with my Great Shepherd.
How can we face the trials that come our way? Well, we can learn to face them calmly with Christ. His gracious Spirit will guide us as we face them fearlessly. He reminds us in John 16:33, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." What a great reminder!
For us to reach a more intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father, we will have to go through these valleys/trials. What’s so amazing is, we are not going through it alone. The Great Shepherd is guiding us and even sometimes carrying us through those “valley of shadows”. He gives us great benefits and lasting gratitude from our valleys. We in turn are able to comfort others. It is in the valleys that we find strength and courage from our Great Shepherd. He guides and sustains us through our darkest times and our faith is renewed if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.
In the painting, you see Jesus, the Great Shepherd, carrying the sheep on His shoulders as He prepares to walk through the valley, but in the background you see light. Our Great Shepherd has no fear as He takes us through the valley, because He has been there Himself. His valley was the deepest and darkest valley there ever was and yet He went through it for us because He saw the LIGHT at the end! He is the best guide because He has walked the same path before and He knows how to comfort us. What better place to be than to be Carried by the Shepherd.
"He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." Psalm 23.3b
Sheep are creatures of habit and left unattended will continue to follow the same path they have been on, not venturing out into new territory. When they constantly follow the same path daily, those paths start to produce ruts and parasites. A good shepherd will make sure that their sheep go on to new paths by going before them to find that good pasture and then leading them to it. When that shepherd opens the gate to a freshly green pasture, the sheep walk through with excitement. It’s a new territory that maybe they have never been to, but as long as their shepherd is with them, they feel safe and content to go.
As I have mentioned before, throughout Scripture, God points out that we are like sheep. Our behaviors and habits are a lot like sheep if we are honest with ourselves. Sheep can be very stubborn, proud, and self-willed. When I look at how sheep are, I realize that this can also describe me and any other human being. We are sinners after all. If that stubborn, self-willed sheep continues to go the way they want on the same path, they will end up on old paths that are polluted with parasites and will end up becoming sick and maybe even dying if they are not taken care of.
Our world is a fallen world, filled with a lot of pride, selfishness and greed, which leads to ruined lives and guilt. Just as a good shepherd will lead their sheep to a better pasture, we have the Great Shepherd who says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34. As Christians, many of us do not want to give up our “rights”, our own decisions…we just want to lead. Unfortunately, when we’re confronted with this, we simply deny it, saying that we are following the LORD, and this is what He wants. We go through the motions and think everything is alright in our relationship with the LORD, but only a few of us will relinquish our self-will and follow our Great Shepherd to unknown territory, trusting His heart along the way.
Christ made it apparent in Scripture that it is not going to be an easy path following Him. Instead of having an attitude of thinking about our wills, our desires and our wants; our attitude should be one of following our Great Shepherd to new territory. Trusting Him with each step we take as we discover new “pastures” and a new abundant life as we walk with Him. I then need to ask myself some questions?
Does Christ have first place in my life and are others before myself? When I was a kindergarten aide, I had the privilege of teaching Bible class to them. One thing I saw most of them struggle with is putting others before themselves. It’s our sinful nature to want ourselves to be first. It’s called PRIDE. As I saw them struggling with this, I was reminded of something that was told to me many years earlier and I had tried teaching it to my own children, now to these kindergartners. It was the word JOY! Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last. Once we have discovered the joy of doing things for others, that’s when we have started to go through one of those “gates” of God’s green pastures.
Am I willing to not be a part of the group?
It’s natural for us to want to fit in, to belong. We still want to have our own individuality, but we want to be accepted. As children of God, Christ followers, we bear the mark of belonging to Him. Unfortunately, that also comes with being criticized and mocked from a society that wants no part of Him. In Scripture, we are reminded of the passage that says, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:” (Isaiah 53:3A). Just as He was then, so is He now. We may be called on to help those that are suffering. It may be to show compassion to a homeless person, inviting them to church, taking them out to dinner afterwards, being there for them if needed, or maybe visiting a shut-in who just needs some fellowship and encouragement. Maybe you might be called to go visit those in jail, to share the gospel with them or help them to grow in their relationship with Christ. Is it easy to do any of that?
Probably NOT! Does it take us out of our comfort zone? Probably YES! It may interfere with your plans, but maybe the LORD wants to take you into a green pasture that you have never been before. It may be a little scary, but remember, the Great Shepherd will never take you into a new pasture without going before you to make sure it’s right for you and then staying with you while you are there.
Am I willing to let go of my rights, in favor of others?
In other words, am I willing to take the backseat and allow others to be in the forefront? Again it is natural for most of us to want to be in the lime light. The only thing is God calls that pride. When we willingly let go of our rights, deny ourselves like Scripture says, we are free from the personal bonds of pride. We are contented in Christ alone, not in what others want or see.
Am I willing to be second instead of being in charge?
When our desires are simply to please God and other people, we don’t have to deal with hurt feelings or how things affect us. We have found a place of restfulness and contentment knowing that our personal life is in our Great Shepherd’s hands. Each day is as if we are in a new fresh field of green grass. The fact that we put others before ourselves, allows us to freely be there for others.
Am I willing to accept life’s trials with a heart of thankfulness?
This is a hard one! How can I have a heart of thankfulness, when I have lost a child or a grandchild through death? How can I have a heart of thankfulness when I see a loved one go through cancer then die, or having a child deal with a deadly illness? There are so many other circumstances in life that would be hard to have a thankful heart. Again we are reminded in Scripture to be thankful in all things. Not just when we are going through great times, but in EVERYTHING! In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it says, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”. The LORD has allowed my family and I to go through many trials, but I know there are many other people that have gone through so much more than we have. One thing that has helped me to have a thankful heart through my trials is a little saying I read one time and have never forgotten. On those days when I do not have or want to have a thankful heart, the Great Shepherd gently reminds me of this saying, “When you can’t see God’s hand, TRUST His heart!” If my Savior could trust His Father’s heart as He went to Calvary to take our sins upon Himself, then I can absolutely trust this same Father’s heart with my life’s trials. For us to know this is to step into a large area of green pasture with a spirit of quietness, strength and most definitely peace.
Am I willing to be broken to God’s will?
When we allow our will to be broken to God’s will, it’s the beginning of a revival in our hearts. It may be painful and humiliating, but it is the only way for us to let go of our own will. It is taking the letter “I” and bending it to the letter “C”. Not our will but Christ’s!
Finally, am I willing to follow Christ, the Great Shepherd?
Basically, this means that I am to obey Him. I’m to go where He leads and do what He wants. He tells us in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” When we decide to do what God asks of us, we are following Christ. If you notice the shadow in the painting, it is of a cross. Only Christ, the Great Shepherd can lead us to the right pasture and it is because of the cross that we can truly be “Following the Shepherd’s Path”!
In this special blog series, I painted Psalm 23 verse by verse, personalizing the verses from a sheep's devotion to their Great Shepherd. Each picture is painted on a roof slate with acrylic paint. There are a total of 12 blogs when completed.