“Even though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” Psalm 23
Maybe it is because I am nearing the end of my marathon training, but I was recently struck by the fact that the Psalmist talks about walking, not running, through the shadow of death. One of the biggest things I had to teach myself in ultra-training is that it is “okay to walk.” In fact, it is necessary to walk when the terrain gets too difficult rather than clumsily and bullheadedly try to run through the difficulty. Luckily, for me, during my first ultra as soon as we hit the single track , the group of runners in front of me started to walk up the very first hill. I was forced to walk. This group’s abiding presence made me walk, and since they caused me to walk during the very first mile I was more willing to walk later on.
We are called to walk through the painful parts of our lives, not sprint.
Because walking is a steady and rhythmic pattern; walking is undramatic.
I once watched a documentary about people who walk on glass and fire. The interesting thing is that they walk across hot coals or shards of glass rather than run. One of the reasons why is because if they ran they would be placing too much force on their feet and the shards of glass would shred them. By running, you would actually push your feet into the glass or fiery coals. A steady pace is considered better.
Likewise, God calls us to walk, steadily, rhythmically and undramatically through the painful periods of our lives.
However, there is also the promise of God’s abiding presence while we walk through the dark shadows. Like the runners in front of me, Jesus will set the steady, rhythmic pace that will make us finish the race set out before us.
What fiery coals are in front of you? What shattered dreams sprawl before you? How can you steadily and faithfully walk through them knowing that Jesus is alongside you?
I recently finished Tim Keller’s book on “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.” In it is a profound call towards allowing God to set this slow, steady pace through the valleys of life.
The Bible says that God is ‘near to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18). ‘He upholds all who fall, and lifts up all who are bowed down’ (Ps 145:14)…And he says to believers in Christ, ‘I will never leave you; I will never forsake you’ (Heb 13:5)…
All of this means that even if we cannot feel God in our darkest and most dry times, he is still there. And so there is no more basic way to face suffering than this: Like Job, you must seek him, go to him. Pray even if you are dry. Read the Scriptures even if it is agony. Eventually, you will sense him again–the darkness won’t last forever. The strength you need for suffering comes in the doing of the responsibilties and duties God requires. Shirk no commands of God. Read, pray, study, fellowship, serve, witness, obey. Do all your duties that you physically can and the peace of God will be with you…
John White, who was a Christian psychiatrist, wrote a book called The Masks of Melancholy. He said,
‘Years ago when I was seriously depressed, the thing that saved my sanity was a dry as dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage. If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid, inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people, devotional reading is stopped all together or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.’
White knew that when you are despondent an effort to read the Bible ‘devotionally’–that is, looking for inspiration and uplifting words–is not the answer. Instead, he counsels that you should study the Bible for content. Get the truth from the text. Remind yourself of who God is, and who you are in Christ, and what he has done for you…So do what you can to pray to him and ponder the truth. And wait. Wait like Job.