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Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NLT)

There are times in our lives when we feel the darkness is so oppressive that we aren’t sure we can go on. The darkness of our hearts is far more painful, far more fearful than the physical darkness of night. That darkness is temporary and we can use artificial light to guide us on our way.

Not so with the darkness of our soul. The abuse of our past, the struggle to survive in the wilderness and the feeling we can’t go on add to the depth of the darkness. The darkness of our soul causes us to lose sight of God and, more importantly, of ourselves. We become victims of the enemies that lie in wait for us. Worry. Doubt. Despair. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. All these and more paralyze us and keep us from moving forward.

Psalm 23 is a Psalm that is often linked to death and funerals but it’s far from being a funeral dirge. It’s a song for the living. It’s a song of hope in the midst of darkness, safety in the midst of the enemies attack, life to the fullest in the face of death.

Religion offers no light. In fact, it only adds to the darkness. Relationships with others can offer some help for a time, but soon we realize that those we walk with are also making their way through the dark.

What we need then is a guide, a protector, a shepherd that knows us, understands our fears, overlooks our failings and isn’t offended by our weakness. We need a shepherd. Not just any shepherd mind you, we need the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, the one who came to earth to walk among us so he could best understand the darkness each of us must endure.

The rod and staff of the shepherd brought comfort and confidence for the sheep. It was used by the shepherd to count the sheep. They were said to “pass under the rod” as the shepherd made sure each of his lambs was accounted for. Not a mere number count mind you, but a checking over, an accounting for. It was individual. It was personal.

The rod and staff guided the sheep as well. When the sheep wandered from the safe path, or strayed from the safety of the flock, the shepherd used the staff to bring the wandering home. To be sure, some didn’t heed the first gentle redirection. Some required a harsher tap or even a strike to bring them home. Painful? Yes. But the pain of the redirection was much less than the pain of losing you in the darkness and having you be defenseless to enemy attack. Painful as it was, the Good Shepherd would rather inflict temporary pain now than to lose a precious sheep later.

The rod and staff were protection as well. The sheep were in constant danger from enemies that lurked in the darkness. The Good Shepherd was constantly watching the shadows to make sure no enemy could attack his precious sheep.

Regardless of the darkness you are in, with Jesus by your side to comfort, guide and protect you, the darkness will have no power over you. He never promised we would not walk through the dark times. He only promised that in the darkness he was right beside us all the way.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, as with the Psalmist I thank you for your rod and your staff for they remind me of your great love and protection for my soul. Help me today, as I walk in darkness to sense your presence beside me. Amen.

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