In the first half of the psalm, David talks about all the beautiful and lovely places we go with God: lying down in green pastures, walking beside quiet waters and right paths.
In those places we lack nothing. He leads. He refreshes. He guides.
But then we enter the valley.
Not just any valley, the valley of the shadow of death.
What the NIV translates as the "darkest valley."
Even in this valley of darkness and death, the Lord is with us.
We don't have to fear evil, because He is there; His rod and staff providing comfort.
But it is a place with evil none the less. It is a place with darkness, death, and enemies. And there, in the presence of our enemies, He prepares a table. He provides food and a place of rest. He anoints us with oil. He binds up our wounds and heals our pain.
And surely, surely His goodness and mercy, His love, will follow us all the days of our life.
I looked at these verses today, and recognized a change.
What is with this change; why are we being followed?
Shouldn't we be following Him, and by extension, His goodness, mercy, and love?
In those early verses we see God in control; the shepherd who is leading His sheep. But at some point we take over. You take over. I take over. Because suddenly, we are the ones leading.
It is clear how that goes - we lead ourselves right into darkness, death, and enemies.
But God doesn't stay in the beautiful and lovely places when we stray off the path. He follows us. He follows us into the darkest valley, where the shadow of death looms and our enemies await. And even though it is our choices that have brought us there, He provides for us. He gives us goodness and mercy. He gives us love. He does not abandon us.
Even in this valley, we lack nothing. He provides for us, because His goodness and mercy, His love, will follow us all the days of our lives.
And in the end, there is a promise in all of this: we will live in His house forever. The heart of the promise is, like the prodigal son, we will always be welcomed home. So when we are tired of the valley, and ready to submit our lives to God's will, we take the hands of goodness and mercy, and return to the path He has for us. The path that leads to God's house. And in the house of the Lord, we have a forever home, and a Father waiting to welcome us with open arms of love.
I'm not sure what path you are on in your life. Sometimes I'm not sure what path I'm on in my own life. But I see the shadows growing, and I feel the fear creeping towards my heart. My eyes are opened to what surrounds, and it isn't green pastures and still waters. This, then, is a valley. Maybe not the darkest valley, but it is a valley. And I don't want to be here anymore. I want to hold the hands of goodness and mercy, and be led out of this place.
This world is not my home, and this valley will not break me. I have choices, and I choose the green pastures. I choose the quiet waters. I choose to let God lead. I choose to walk toward the path He has prepared for me. And I know that one day, in timing that is not my own, I will walk into those arms of love, and live in the Lord's house forever.