Be Comforted in Him
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
For you and me, death does not always mean physical death.
More commonly it means the internal death that comes with sin. That rotten, cruddy feeling that comes when you know you’ve stepped off the path; not just wandered, but step after step, gotten deeper into the shadows, left the right path long ago, and don’t know if He’ll ever stretch out His hand to you again.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:8-10
We are tempted often, because we’re human. Jesus is the only one who never succumbed to temptation. As soon as he was baptized, he was swooped up by the Holy Spirit into the desert to fast for 40 days. In this vulnerable state, the devil came upon him and tempted his faithfulness (Matthew 4:1-10).
The enemy waits for us to be our most vulnerable, too. Yet when we are faced with temptation, we always have a choice.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
The Scripture above is often misquoted as God never gives us anything we cannot handle. That is incorrect. He commonly allows circumstances we cannot handle so we must depend on Him for provision or comfort, healing or rescue, comfort or unexpected joy. This is how He shows Himself.
It is the temptation He suppresses with His rod, knowing through free will we can choose to step closer to Him or away from Him. The thing is, choosing is an option any time, because His arms are always open; His love, grace and mercy are always available. Today. Now. Always.
Then there is the death Jesus talks about.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. Luke 17:33
This surrender, this unabashed giving away of ourselves to sanctification means we let go of control. It means we give up our right to be right. It means when we are unsure, we pray. It means we stop trying to attain perfection and allow the wisdom, love and grace of God to be perfected in us through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus willingly traveled into the valley of the shadow of death for us.
When he experienced a moment of fear, he prayed,
“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36 NLT
When we give ourselves over to His staff of guidance, His will, grace and love become ours. We receive a new path, a new image, a new focus. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz*, explains it this way:
That is the thing about giving yourself to God. Some people get really emotional about it, and some people don’t feel much of anything except the peace they have after making an important decision. I felt a lot of peace…
There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. (They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.)
I know a little of why there is blood in my body, pumping life into my limbs and thought into my brain. I am wanted by God… He is wanting to preserve me, to guide me through the darkness of the shadow of death, up into the highlands of His presence and afterlife. I understand that I am temporary, in the shell of a thing on this dirt of an earth…He understood…that mankind could not save itself; rather it must be rescued…and he was shouting, “Follow me and trust God!” I see it now.
Do you see it, too?