“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23.4)”
Comfort in the Wood?
     I’ve often read through, listened to, even performed in choirs the 23rd Psalm and wondered – “Rod… Staff… Comfort?” Then, my wife and I went through three years of what we pray wasthe most challenging season of our life. Blending a family, learning to live and love more biblically, a challenging pregnancy, a second pregnancy – this time with twins, running a ministry, caring for people, the loss of two good friends in their 30s, tight financial situations that seemed to never end, etc. God stretched us and delivered us. 
     He still does. Hallelujah.


Rolling in the Deep
     Ever been through one of those seasons when it seemed you were barely treading water, putting out only the nearest and tallest fires, catching a breath only to be dragged back to the bottom by the next wave? Yeah, odd mix of metaphors. But, you get the point – “survival mode”?
Sometimes, for God’s perfect will of sanctification to work best in us, we have to go through the worst, darkest of valleys. Sometimes, it’s truly the valley of the shadow of death. A close friend of ours just lost her mom very quickly to cancer. Other friends just experienced a miscarriage. A 37 year old woman with 4 kids ranging 8 to 1 has stage 3 cancer. Not valleys I’d want to go through. You?
     Those times, in my mind, never bring up the image of a well carved billy club or a 6-foot tall walking stick, especially when I admit to my need for comfort.
But, God…
     But, Christ is our shepherd. Our authority, guide, protector, and liberator. In those valleys I get weary. In those times, peripheral vision shrinks because of the calamity right in front of my eyes. In those times, I might be stalled and stifled by self-medicating: mouth stuffed with cookies, ears stuffed with buds, zoned out and wandering through life like a… like a… lost and wounded sheep.
     Can’t relate? Your time will come. We’ll all find ourselves at one time or another thinking “snap out of it!”, when “BANG!” God hits us in the head with a “reality slap”.  I’ve never been hit with a nightstick in literal terms, but have you ever told of a time in your story when God hit you “in the head with a spiritual 2×4”? Rod… Thank you, God. So under the pressure I’d have stepped off the cliff had I not been hit by that blow. Startled, yet comforted that someone was looking out for me when I had no capacity to do so for myself.
     Thank God for the rod.
Your Mileage May Vary
     I won’t give an example of being stuck in a thicket of thorns, wounded and bleeding by my own wandering – you fill in that blank. You’ve got the scars, don’t you? As Shepherd, He’s shown you the value of a staff that can pry you out of what’s entangled you. It may take patience and struggle and you may keep bleeding while you come unstuck. But, there’s comfort, isn’t there, seeing His staff lift the briars from your path?
Be Encouraged
     As you disciple others, the thickets and cliffs God has protected you from are crucial testimony. We all wander into trouble… too close to cliffs. Trouble even occasionally seeks us. Sometimes, we may even question His authority or sovereignty when He leads us through treacherous territory. Ultimately, the toughest territories turned out to be the best way to the greatest and most lasting life change under His authorship. The muscle and spiritual stamina built by the climbs through the valleys are what bring us the greatest mountain top experiences.
Grace and peace,