05 September 2011

The Valley of Death

As we continue to talk about Psalm 23 and study the sheep/shepherd relationship, we come to the part of the psalm everyone can quote:

Verse 4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;

Even as a kid I was familiar with this portion of the psalm even though my family didn't attend church. The way I came to know this verse was through old westerns. After watching my favorite Saturday morning cartoons until noon, it was time for the Lone Ranger, the Duke and many other great westerns. After the star of the western caught the bad guy there would be a trial and if the bad guy was sentenced to death you knew he was to be hung. The next scenes would show the bad guy walking towards the gallows. The bad guy would have the sheriff on one side of him and the deputy on the other side with a preacher leading the way reading this portion of the psalm. So my only exposure was through these scenes, and it wouldn't be until much later in life that I would begin to understand what it was saying.

We have a vision in urban America of what sheep herding/farming looks like. We see flat green pastures or gentle rolling hills but that is not the way it was in David's time. If the sheep herders were in a flat area or valley there typically wasn't any food for the sheep. So the shepherds led their flock up the side of mountains to flat areas called tables. These tables provided fresh food for the sheep.

After the area was depleted of its value for the sheep, the shepherd would lead the flock further up the mountain. The terrain would be treacherous, loose rocks, steep climbs, and one slip could mean certain death for the sheep. So the shepherd would carefully plan every single step he took, being certain that where he stepped the flock could follow. Walking in the footsteps of the shepherd kept the sheep calm, they would not fear, they trusted the shepherd completely. So the shepherd couldn't be too far ahead of the sheep or they would lose sight of him and not know where to step. Not knowing where to step in this situation was a death sentence for the sheep.

The sheep during these travels would not take their eyes off of the shepherd. They would watch every step he took to make certain they stepped exactly where the shepherd was leading them. Not deviating to the left, the right, and they would never be in front of the shepherd but putting there feet exactly in the foot prints of the shepherd. Where ever he would lead they would follow.

What would life be like for us if we followed the footsteps of the Good Shepherd exactly where he stepped not deviating to the left, the right, or ever being in front of him? Where would he lead us? How far could we go? How high could we climb? Or is this what we are fearful of? We fear that he would lead us somewhere we don't want to go and before we realize it we are outside of our comfort zone and so high up the mountain we have left everything we know behind. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61-62

What would the ministry of the church in America look like if shepherds of the flock planned every step with the flock in mind? What if these shepherds kept their eyes on the footsteps of the Good Shepherd never deviating to the left, to the right, and never being in front but actually following? Shepherds should never be so far in front of the flock that the flock can't see where to safely step next. Because if sheep are fearful they will freeze and not move even though they know the shepherd may be around the corner they need to see where he steps.

What would the ministry of the church in America look like if the flock actually followed the shepherd without bickering and in-fighting? What if we actually trusted the Lord and followed the leadership he has placed over us? I firmly believe that God did not get up today and look at your church and say "how did he become pastor there?" "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:16

More to come...

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