4 lessons from the valley of the shadow of death

“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4, CSB).

The most disconcerting thing about walking through the valley of the shadow of death is the uncertainty. When you’re walking in shadows, you have no way of knowing what might be lurking unseen, waiting in ambush. It’s unsettling.

But here’s the reassuring part. When you walk through dark valleys in the company of the Good Shepherd, it’s not so scary. Knowing the Who takes the fear out of an unknown what. The I AM disarms the threat of the what might be.

In the book, Faith Crisis, Ron Dunn wrote that sometimes the very things that cause us to think God is not at work—the trials and tragedies of life—constitute the very work God is doing. The darkest valleys are where we learn the deepest lessons. As I walked through my darkest valley in 2013, I learned some things about life, about myself, and most importantly about God.

I learned in the valley what it means to walk by faith. 

We don’t learn how to walk by faith by reading books or listening to sermons. The school of faith is located in the depths of the valley, not on the mountaintop. God’s lesson plans for us may involve boat rides across stormy seas, fiery furnaces, or journeys through dark valleys.

I learned in the valley the priority of relationships.

When you go through a potentially life-ending or life-altering illness your priorities change. You learn that relationships trump to-do lists, projects, and personal agendas.

Vance Havner shared valuable wisdom in Though I Walk Through the Valley, a little book that chronicles his wife’s illness, death, and his grief-filled days that followed: “Count no day unimportant if you still have each other, for the day will come when you would give everything for just one day, any ordinary day, you once shared together.”

I learned in the valley that contentment is found in Christ.

According to John Piper, God’s purpose for all Christian suffering is “more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.” If it takes a dark valley to learn that lesson, then praise God for the valley.

The one thing—the only thing—we really need when we’re walking through the darkest valley is Jesus. Not for Him to do something for us, and not for Him to give something to us. Just Him. Just Jesus.

Finally, I learned in the valley that God is there too.

Nighttime in the ICU was the worst. Long, sleepless, uncomfortable nights. During one of those nights, in one of my worst and weakest moments, I lay in bed recalling some favorite Bible passages. I needed a word from God. My mind turned to Psalm 23 and I silently recited the words …

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me … for you are with me … you are with me …

What came next? For you are with me …. I couldn’t remember the next line. Likely a combination of heavy-duty pain-killers, fatigue, brain trauma, I couldn’t recall what came after for you are with me. I kept trying, for you are with me … for you are with me … for you are with me …, but my mind was blanking out.

In that moment God spoke, not audibly, but His word to me was unmistakable: What else do you need to know? I am with you. That’s all you need.

A peace washed over me and I repeated again, this time in a triumphant declaration of faith, You are with me! You are with me! You are with me! That’s all I needed to know.

Adapted from a blog post I wrote while recuperating from a brain aneurysm in 2013.