Yea, Though I Walk…

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4a KJV)

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The world is waking up to a global pandemic as I write this. Over 100,000 cases worldwide have been diagnosed; thousands have died. Projections are dire, with the possibility of millions of people who will need to be quarantined or hospitalized, and several thousands more dead before the year is out. Panic has already set in– people are hoarding cleaning supplies, stealing medicines and masks from hospitals, demanding testing long before they show any symptoms, and spreading rumors and false information about how the disease is spread or ways to prevent its spread.

In the midst of chaos, fear-mongering, and panic, the Bible provides both comfort and practical wisdom to face times of struggle and crisis. Psalm 23, often used to comfort people in times of grief, actually says a lot more about life than death. We have no need to panic– even though we find ourselves in unknown, unfamiliar, and threatening situations.

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“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

  • Yea, though–Not “if”, or even “when” I walk through tough times, but “though.” Death is inevitable and unpredictable, and the shadow of death, the threat of our mortality, will fall on us, often when we least expect it. Even without a traumatic event, like a pandemic, we all must travel this valley path at some point. A crisis like COVID-19 is unsettling, but death and disease wasn’t invented last year, and whatever steps we take to prevent or treat COVID-19 will not stop death or its shadow from touching our lives. Nor will panic and fear, denial, or wishful thinking make death’s shadow dissipate. It is wise to face the reality of this crisis with truth and the proper perspective.
  • I–Not “we.” We are surrounded by others who may share much of our fear, our grief, or our confusion at a time like this. But, when we walk through this valley, it is deeply personal, and our reactions, perspectives, beliefs, and emotions will be uniquely experienced. One of the most difficult things about times of crisis is the isolation we may feel when others cannot enter into our thoughts and hearts and painful emotions. Especially when they are dealing with similar fears and pain. Not only is this valley dark and low, it is often narrow. Even so, God is still present and powerful. We can turn to others for advice, comfort, or even excuses. But no one else can walk the road beneath our feet; no one else can choose whether we will focus on the shadows we see or the light beyond the shadows.
  • Walk through— There is a great temptation to try to hurry through any crisis– to look for the shortcut– the immediate cure; the escape hatch; the high ground; the detour. God’s love doesn’t give us the promise of ease and escape. God does not ask us to sprint through this part of our life’s journey. But God gives us the grace and power to keep walking– this valley is not the destination, but part of the longer race. This leg of the journey is difficult; there will be darkness, rocks and walls closing in on us; we may feel the cold finger of death, disease, and loss. Some days our walk may feel more like a crawl–but take heart and keep moving through.
  • The Valley of the Shadow of Death–Death is stark, uncompromising, cold, and overwhelming. Its shadow looms huge and oppressive. But the valley is not death; the shadow is NOT death; and even the reality of death is not bigger or more powerful or more eternal than God. COVID-19 will bring death to many thousands or millions of people, and it will bring sickness, fear, pain, grief, and distress to many more. But it cannot kill God– it cannot dim His great love for each person who suffers; it cannot catch God off guard and unprepared. We may question God’s timing and purpose. We may face hardship, loss, and confusion in the days and months ahead. But we will not face anything– even COVID-19– that can weaken God’s sovereignty. The same hand that raised Lazarus from the dead; the same power that rolled the stone away at Easter; the same Shepherd that led David all the days of his life–the One who holds galaxies in his hand and has numbered every hair on your head–He walks through this valley with us!
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As God gives us wisdom, let us seek positive ways to reach out to those in crisis. Pray! Pray often, and fervently for those who are sick, and those who work in healthcare. Pray for wisdom, that our nations, regions, and communities will respond proactively and compassionately. And pray for opportunities to demonstrate and share God’s grace and mercy.

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Mapping A Prayer Journey

Prayer encompasses many things–it is a conversation, a discipline, and a journey.  It involves talking to God about every aspect of one’s life, and listening for guidance and assurance from Him in return.  It involves seeing Him for who He is and giving praise accordingly.

Often, we take this journey without ever making a plan.  We commit to praying at mealtime (grace) or in times of crisis or stress (thoughts and prayers), but we pray without seeing it as a journey of faith.

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That’s one reason I started keeping a prayer journal, and why I recommend it to others.  I don’t write down what I say for grace, or how long I prayed yesterday compared with today.  But I do write out various requests that come up each day.  I also write down specific people or situations to lift up ahead of time–like charting a journey–so I have an idea “where I’m headed” in prayer for the day.  Each day, I pray for a city, nation, or region of the world–that’s one type of “destination” for my prayers.  I also have a list of people who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.  Not only does this help give a focus to my prayers for this day, but it gives me insight from “where I’ve been” to help me in “where I’m going”.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t pray spontaneous and impulsive prayers.  But it means that I have an outlook and a purpose that goes beyond the immediate and personal.  God wants to have an intimate and personal time with me in prayer, but God is not exclusive in His love…He wants me to see others, to love others, and to include others in my thoughts, actions, and prayers.  Each day, I am challenged to look beyond to see what God has done and is doing around me.  And each day, I am challenged (and blessed) to participate in God’s work as I pray intentionally, and follow the “map” for this journey.

 

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No one will have the same map or the same journey, but here are some suggestions if you’d like to start keeping a Prayer Journal:Prayer Journal

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