The Word of God Is Fresh Each Day
Have you ever had this experience? You’re doing a Bible study or using a devotional, and you come across a piece of scripture you’ve read, heard, and discussed what feels like a hundred times. And you think, “How in the world can I find anything new to learn from this verse?”
If you’ve found yourself there, you’re not alone.
I’ve been using this small book as part of my daily practice. At the top of each day’s page is a short scripture to meditate upon, with just a few inches of blank space at the bottom to write down any thought or response that comes to mind.
For a few days, the scriptures were lines from the 23rd Psalm. And, much as I love it (my go-to for difficult times), I couldn’t imagine finding anything particularly insightful to write about these passages that I believed I knew so well.
I’m thankful that my arrogance was proven wrong. As a side note, I should let you know two things: One, Psalm 23 is the only scripture I prefer in the King James Version. When I was in Lay Pastor training, my wise friend Pastor Nancy advised the class to memorize that version, because, she said, those words are often more familiar and comforting to people who are in pain. I have found that to be true. And the KJV of this psalm is also, in my opinion, beautiful poetry.
Two, I’m a visual person, so when meditating on scripture, I often picture it in my mind. When I read verse 2 of the psalm, for example, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, I visualize myself at rest, lying in a field of soft grass, looking up at a beautiful, blue sky. Perhaps you do something similar.
One day, the passage in the devotional was verse 4: Yea, 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.
While this verse promises that God is with us through difficult times, it has always made me feel uncomfortable. The image I see in my mind has seemed threatening—a darkness, a shadow looming over me. A reminder, that I—indeed, that we all—will have to walk through that valley, not only at the time of our own deaths, but also during the loss of people dear to us. And the truth is that, even with Jesus walking beside me, I don’t want to go there again! None of us do.
Reading it this time, though, I was given a new understanding. The psalm doesn’t say, “though I walk through the darkness of death.” And shadow is not the same as darkness, is it? There can be no shadows in the dark, where there is no light at all. Shadows are, in fact, dependent upon light. And so, walking through a shadow—even the shadow of death!—infers that light is waiting on the other side. That no matter how big and dark the shadow, it is, in fact, surrounded by light.
Of course, in the Bible, the image of light is often used to describe God’s self— always there, always shining. The beautiful opening of the Gospel of John assures us: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (verse 5). What a great comfort! What a beautiful reassurance that God will never abandon us to the darkness.
A second understanding that came to me was that the in the psalm, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The scripture doesn’t say we “walk into the pit of death”—a place where we’re trapped, where we can’t see a way out. As I meditated on the words, I realized that, for me, a valley is a place of protection.
If I see myself standing on a plane, a vast, flat piece of land, I feel exposed to whatever threats may come along. But if I picture myself in a valley, surrounded by hills and mountains, I feel that I’m in a more sheltered place. A place where troubles may still find me, true…but a place where I feel less fearful, less threatened, almost like the earth itself is cradling me.
I suppose this may relate to where I grew up, in a small valley surrounded by the hills of southern Indiana. All of my adult life, I’ve felt compelled to return to those hills again and again. They do give me peace. Perhaps they do the same for you.
And the psalm assures us that this is a place we will walk through—we don’t have to stay forever in that place of shadows. If you think about it, we live each day in the shadow of death, since we don’t know what our tomorrows hold. We can either choose to allow our thoughts to linger in the shadow, or focus upon what lies beyond it.
So we need not fear the shadows, dear ones. They are the simple and eloquent result of Light making its presence known. The Light of God lives in Holy Scripture. In Jesus Christ. In the workings of the Holy Spirit. And in each one of us.
This is my page for tomorrow.
Can’t wait to see what new insights God will give me about this one!