I once asked the little boy if he had ever prayed. He quickly responded with, “yes.” Then he told me that he was riding his bike down the big hill on a bumpy road when his brakes failed. As he was about to lose control, he “prayed to God for help.” He was “scared he was going to die.”
Have you ever been that frightened? I have. When I was younger I thought I was invincible. The 1st time I can recall being “scared I was going to die” occurred when I was snorkeling off the south coast of Australia. A complete novice, I was caught in a rip current and was being pulled out to sea. I was a very strong swimmer, but no match for the surf. In answer to a quick prayer, I recalled the wise counsel of swimming parallel to the shoreline. Obviously, God had more work for me to do here on earth; I survive the exciting experience.
Some circumstances may be even more frightening than death. For instance, fear associated with uncertainty – the uncertainty of the future, including employment, poor personal health or especially the circumstances of someone you love may threaten us. Challenging situations, interpersonal confrontations and consequences of poor decisions may also rival “being scared to death.”
Have you ever been that fearful? King David, the author of Psalm 23, implies that he has. He boldly invites us into his experience: 4. 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.
David envisions circumstances in which he either has or will face the threat of death. He depicted it as a deep ravine or valley, dark and dangerous, like a peril or eerie shadow. He feels alone; the prospect of harm is real. Surrounded by doom and gloom, he recalls that the LORD is his Shepherd. His only hope is in the LORD. And so, he conquers his fear through faith in God.
I had an experience which helps me to understand this verse. Not long after my debilitating implicit injury, I had surgery on the vertebrae of my neck. Sometime within the next few days, I developed an E. coli infection in my lungs. Heavily medicated, I didn’t sense the danger (or future) I faced. Although the details leading up to this are fuzzy, the experience remains real. I was having difficulty breathing and struggled to remain conscious.
My wife Judy and some others were with me as I attempted to give consent to update my will. One of my friends, an attorney, was asking me questions. All the while, I had this “hazy sensation” that I was lying prone on a large table which was tilting. I struggled to “hang on” but there was nothing to grab. Although the incline increased, I did not slip over the edge. Yet, I remained secure.
Something else was happening as well. My mind was flooded with significant passages of Scripture which I have cherished. Here are some examples:
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“Everyone calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him, we might, the righteousness of God.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“… If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
“God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.”
“My help is from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
“I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
These thoughts and others occurred repeatedly and in random order. This encouraged and convinced me that Jesus, my good Shepherd, was with me and propping me in time of peril.
Some words of an old hymn were also brought to mind: “… behold, I am with you and will cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.
You probably have some wonderful experiences of the Lord’s mercy and care. During the busyness of this season, make time to pause and consider the wonder of this promise. Remember, that Jesus is with you. Immanuel means “God with us.” Another of his names is more popular – Jesus. He came to save his people from their sin and to undo the works of the devil. He is our Shepherd, who has committed himself to be with us in our deepest trials. Our Shepherd is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.