Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss asks, “Do you know that God is right beside you today?”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Not the fact that you feel God is with you, not the fact that you think God is with you, not the fact that you can sense His presence but the fact that He is there. That’s the cure. That’s the solution. That’s the antidote to all fear.

As you walk through that valley, He walks with you as a companion to share the experience with you.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, August 7.

Over the past year, a lot of families have known need and uncertainty like never before. All have been tempted by fear. Some have responded with faith. It’s the kind of faith we’ve been exploring with Nancy in the series, The Lord is My Shepherd.

Nancy: If you get on the Internet and go to phobialist.com, you’ll find a collection of more than 500 fears and phobias compiled by a man named Fredd Culbertson. I’m not sure why he made this a hobby.

Among the fears he lists, let me read you a few, just some that start with the letter “A.” There’s a whole long alphabetical list there. Let’s see if you have any of these fears.

  • - the fear of darkness

I don’t know if I’m pronouncing all these correctly.

  • Acrophobia- the fear of heights
  • Agateophobia- the fear of insanity
  • Agliophobia- the fear of pain
  • Aichmophobia- the fear of needles or pointed objects
  • Anuptaphobia- the fear of staying single

Oh yes, I’m an Anuptaphobic. Is that what you would be?

  • Apiphobia- the fear of bees
  • Arachibutyrophobia- Of course you know that that is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
  • Atomosophobia- fear of atomic explosions

I’d say that is a fearful thing.

  • Atychiphobia- fear of failure

And here’s one I had to grab from the “P” section:

  • Pentheraphobia - Of course you know that is fear of mother-in-law.

Well, we’re in Psalm chapter 23 and the subject of fear is introduced here. We have a good shepherd, one who loves us, one who provides for us, one who ministers to our needs, but we come sometimes to fearful circumstances, fearful places.

The psalmist says in verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness,” or “the valley of the shadow of death” as many of your translations say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” I will fear no evil.

The psalmist acknowledges here that there is evil. It doesn’t mean you will face no evil. It doesn’t mean God will put you in this little Christian cocoon and you’ll never experience hurt or problems. You will go through this valley.

Remember we said the shepherd is leading his sheep from the lowlands up to the higher places, but they have to go through these deep, dark ravines that are dangerous. God is taking us to higher ground. He’s taking us to Christ-likeness. He is sanctifying us so that one day we can be glorified. We can be like His Son Jesus.

But in the process we will have to face evil even as Jesus did here on this earth. He was tempted by the evil one. He was tested. He was tried. There is a cross in our gospel. In fact, we have no gospel if we have no cross. There’s no salvation apart from Jesus having walked through the valley of deep darkness.

So as we follow in His steps, God leads us to take up our cross and follow Him. In this world there is darkness. There is death. There is evil. But the key here is that we don’t have to fear it because the One who is righteousness, the One who is light, the One who is life, is with us. “I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

Hebrews chapter 2 tells us that since we are all flesh and blood Jesus himself became flesh and blood so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (verses 14-15).

That’s the victory of Calvary. It’s there that Jesus crushed the serpent. It’s where He stripped him of his power. Through fear of death, through fear of the deep, dark valley of the shadow of death, Satan had kept people in bondage, in slavery, for all their lives. The gospel is that Jesus Christ came to set you free from that slavery, free from that bondage, free from that fear of death, free from the fear of the deep valley.

So the circumstance is frightening. It’s real. It’s not pretend. There are real ravines. There are real jagged rocks. There is real darkness. There are real hyenas in those ravines, in those dark places.

Jesus was in the wilderness was with wild animals. Mark’s gospel gives us that little detail; it’s important. Because we walk into places where there are wild animals; there is evil. But the fear doesn’t overwhelm us. It doesn’t cripple us. It doesn’t destroy us. It doesn’t put us in bondage. The evil all around us can be very great, very real, very powerful.

Some of you are in a work environment or in a home environment where there is the presence of evil that you are living with day after day after day. You may be right in the center of God’s will there. But according to God’s Word, He leads you and He will go with you into that valley of deep darkness and you fear no evil because He is with you.

It’s interesting that up to this point in the psalm, David has been talking about his shepherd. It’s been in very intimate, warm, precious terms. But now in this valley of deep darkness he starts talking to the shepherd. In the place where there’s the greatest potential or threat or fear he makes this statement of faith.

“I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4).

In the deep darkness there are times when you cannot see your shepherd, when you can’t even sense that He is there. But David is saying, I’m going to express faith in what I know to be true even when everything around me seems to scream, “God is not here! God has forsaken you. You’re alone.”

He said, I may feel that way. I may not be able to see God. I may not be able to sense God’s presence in my life. But the fact is, He is with me. I know it’s true. It’s true whether I feel it or not.

Isn’t it true that God becomes even more near to us, more dear to us, more personal to us when we’re going through trouble and sorrow if we’ll let Him be our shepherd? When things are prosperous, when we’ve got those green pastures and waters of rest, we talk about God. But when we come to the valley of deep darkness, we talk to Him.

This is not just a theoretical, theological knowledge of God’s presence; it’s fact. He is actually here with me in this circumstance, in this home, in this relationship, in this situation over which I have no control. He is here.

You may walk through the valley of deep darkness, and at times you will. But if He is your shepherd, if you are His child, you will never go through it alone.

If you’re not His sheep, if you don’t have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then the valley of deep darkness, the valley of death, is something greatly to be feared because you’ll have to go through it on your own and you can’t make it through by yourself.

But for the child of God there’s this assurance: “He is with me.”

Isn’t that what we sing about in the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”? “Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.”

When do you need cheering? When do you need guidance? When you’re in the valley of deep darkness. That’s when we find His presence.

Isaiah chapter 43:1-2,

Thus says the LORD, he who created you . . . he who formed you . . . "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.”

Why? Why do you not fear? Because “I will be with you.”

I don’t know any more reassuring promise in all of God’s Word. I don’t know anything better to cling to in every circumstance and season of life than the reality, the promise, that God is with me.

The reality, the fact, of God’s presence is the antidote to every fear. Not the fact that you feel God’s with you, not the fact that you think God is with you, not the fact that you can sense His presence but the fact that He is there. That’s the cure. That’s the solution. That’s the antidote to all fear.

Aren’t you glad? You’re not going through it alone in your marriage, in your life, in your relationships. He’s a companion. He’s a guide to lead you through that valley, to show you the way out. It’s dark in that valley. We can’t see.

But my Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow. He’s a protector. He’s a comforter. He’s there with you in all those roles. Just think, the God of the universe who is high and lifted up in heaven, who fills all the universe, He is with me. He is with you.

You may be facing some great disaster or a catastrophe or problem or pressure in your life, but whatever it is, you are not facing it alone. The Lord is with you.

This promise of God’s presence stands in stark contrast to what we read in the previous psalm where we hear those desperate words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That’s when we’re reminded that there’s only one person who could ever really say that prayer to God—“Why have you forsaken me?”—and that’s the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep who was Himself at Calvary on the cross bearing our sins. God turned His back on His Son. Jesus walked through the cross alone.

But since He went through Calvary for us, since He was willing to be forsaken by God, no child of God will ever have to say, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We may feel forsaken. We may feel alone. We may feel abandoned. To feel that is not sinful. What is sinful is to therefore assume that your feelings are fact. The fact is, you are not forsaken. You are not abandoned. He is with you.

I remember a season of my life when it was just oppressive darkness as a result of some circumstances and losses I had experienced. It was one of those points, really the only one I’ve been through quite like this, where everything, the foundations of my life just seemed to be shaken. Things I had always been sure of I now was questioning; I was doubting.

For a period of months I had so little sense of God’s presence in my life. As Job said, I look to the right. I look to the left. I look in front of me. I look behind me. I can’t find God.

But then in his anguish Job is reminded, I may not be able to see God but He sees me. He is there. "He knows the way that I take and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:9-10). 

I look back on that experience and it’s crystal clear to me that God was there all along. He never left. I’d like to say I went through that experience with no fear. I didn’t trust my Shepherd.

Months later when I came through that experience, I remember waking up in the middle of the night one night with a song going through my heart. I hadn’t had songs in the night for months and months.

I remember thinking, “Why did I ever doubt my shepherd?” It was so clear to me. He was there. He’s here. Why did I ever doubt it?

Why do I doubt it now? No reason. The Lord is my shepherd. So we’ve seen,

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Remember that this is in the same verse where David is talking about walking through the valley of deep darkness. It’s a place where he needs and longs for comfort. The word comfort has some synonyms in the Old Testament. It can mean “to cheer, to console, to revive, to encourage, to enliven, to invigorate, to gladden the heart, to exhilarate, to refresh.”

The word comfort in the English language actually is a compound word, “come” and “fort” that is putting two words together that mean “with strength, to give strength back when your heart has lost comfort; it has lost courage." Comfort is God strengthening our hearts again.

I like what one writer said, a commentator on the Psalms. He said, “To comfort is to help another who is choked with grief or fear to breathe freely and to give his heart air.”1

Doesn’t that bring a picture to you of times when you are choked with grief or fear? You’re crying so hard you can hardly breathe. It may be literally outwardly or just in the inner recesses of your heart. This writer says, “To comfort someone is to help that person to breathe freely and to give his heart air.” That is comforting.

As I’ve meditated on that verse over the past several weeks, I’ve asked myself, “What are some of the ways that people try to find comfort when they’re fearful, when they’re threatened, when they’re confused, when they’re discouraged?” Remember this is the same verse that talks about the valley of deep darkness. It’s a time when you need comfort.

There are a lot of different ways we try to find comfort. We escape sometimes to friends, just somebody who can wrap us up in their arms and be an encouragement, to family. It may be we escape to work, trying to find relief from our pain.

We may try to deaden or dull the pain with food. Some do it with alcohol, with drugs. Some people do it with shopping. I’ll feel better until the statement comes at the end of the month, of course.

There are people trying to deaden their pain or find comfort through pornography, even women, or illicit relationships in the arms of an understanding man. These are some of the ways that people try to find comfort.

It’s interesting as the psalmist talks about what brings him comfort. He mentions some things that I would not think of initially as being means of comfort.

“Your rod and your staff,” he says to his shepherd, “they comfort me.”

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound very comforting to me. Whatever a rod and a staff are, I don’t think of them as instruments of comfort. Yes, somebody’s arm around me; yes, encouraging words; yes, notes of encouragement. But a rod and a staff?

How do a shepherd’s rod and staff provide comfort for sheep? How do God’s rod and staff provide comfort for His sheep, for us?

The shepherd’s rod is a symbol of his power. It’s usually a large club and it’s used to defend the flock against wild beasts, to provide protection from wolves and robbers. It may have been what David used when he killed a bear that was trying to attack his sheep.

That rod provides security for the sheep. They know as long as that shepherd has that club in his hand, that rod, it’s an assurance that they’re going to be protected from their enemies. They can’t protect themselves. Those sheep are helpless. They’re defenseless.

But they know that their shepherd has a rod, has an instrument that will be used, if necessary, to hold off any enemies. So that rod comforts him, the thought that the rod is in the shepherd’s hand.

And then the staff, just a stick with sometimes a bent or a hooked end; sometimes they call it a crook. It’s used for multiple purposes, but one of them is to restrain the sheep from wandering off.

If they do wander off and they fall in a hole, that staff is what is used to pull out the sheep. Or if they get caught in a thicket, the staff may be used to prod or to guide the sheep along. But it’s a means of comfort.

Phillip Keller wrote probably the classic study on Psalm 23, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. He was himself a shepherd. He said,

Being stubborn creatures, sheep often get into the most ridiculous and preposterous dilemmas. I’ve seen my own sheep, greedy for one more mouthful of green grass, climb down steep cliffs where they slipped and fell into the sea. Only my long shepherd’s staff could lift them out of the water, back onto solid ground again.

One winter day I spent several hours rescuing a ewe that had done this thing several times before. Her stubbornness was her undoing.2

Does that sound like people or what? You say, “Yes, I’ve got some kids like that.”

Well, the fact is we are like that so often, and God uses His rod and His staff to rescue us, to protect us, to direct us.

Phillip Keller also talks in that book about how a staff is used by a shepherd to examine the sheep, especially when their wool gets real thick; to examine them for parasites or insects or burns or disease. He’ll use that staff to inspect them, to separate the wool and look down below the surface and examine them thoroughly.

Isn’t that what God does with His Word? He takes His Word and He shines it into our hearts by the power of His Spirit. He says, "I’m the God who searches all things. I’m the God who knows all things. I want to know not just what’s on the surface, what other people see about you, what other people think you’re like. But I want you to see that old self life, that stuff underneath the surface. Everybody thinks you’re so kind and loving and good, but underneath your attitude stinks."

He’s exposing that. That would be a frightening thing, something we wouldn’t want to happen unless we knew that it was being done by a shepherd who loves us and who is able to restore us and to heal what it is that He exposes there.

So as God brings His rod and staff to bear in our lives, He comforts us in our affliction, in times of terror, in times of danger. He uses His Word. His Word is His staff by which He leads us, to rescue us when we have fallen by the wayside, His Word as we read it ourselves or as we hear it taught or preached by others.

I love those verses in Psalm 119:50 and 52 that says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. When I think of your rules from of old [your word], I take comfort O LORD.”

And then God uses His people. They can be a staff and a rod in His hand to protect us, to direct us, to comfort us, to provide exhortation, to provide accountability. I need God’s people in my life who are instruments in His hand to help rescue me, to say, “There’s a danger ahead. I don’t think you’re aware of this. Watch out. You need to be careful in that situation. I see something that’s a blind spot in your life.”

Thank the Lord for those people. They become instruments in God’s hand to comfort you.

God uses circumstances. He uses life experiences. The very ones we’d want to avoid often become instruments of God’s comfort and blessing in our lives as He uses them to train us and protect us. Of course ultimately all that comfort comes from the Lord Himself. 

Second Thessalonians 2:16-17,

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Thank you, Lord, for Your rod and Your staff. Thank You that You know how and when to use them. You’re a good shepherd. You don’t beat up on us. You may chastise us but it’s always for the goal of restoration. You protect us. You guide us. You comfort us. You gladden our souls. You enliven and revive our hearts through Your Word, through other means that You use to bring comfort to us. We thank You in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been reminding us that God is our ultimate source of comfort. We’re reminded of that through His Word. We’ve heard from a lot of listeners who’ve been challenged to dig deeper into God’s Word, thanks to a study Nancy co-wrote called Seeking Him.

Nancy tells us about one of the women affected.

Nancy: Yes, Leslie, I’ve been so encouraged by the response we’ve heard from many women who’ve been through this study and found it led them in a process of experiencing personal revival.

For example, we heard from one woman who is currently leading the Seeking Him study with a group of women in her church. She said, “We’re on week eleven and it has been absolutely wonderful. Ladies are being challenged and hearts are changing before my eyes.”

That really was our objective in writing this study—not just that people would fill their heads with more knowledge about God but that their hearts and lives would be transformed and revived by the power of His truth.

I’m thinking of another woman who found that as she went through the Seeking Him study, God brought some conviction to her heart. She wrote and told us, “I work in an office where I have the responsibility of handling some money, and I haven’t been faithful. I’m stopping that now.”

She said, “I can’t express how much I appreciate your teaching on maintaining a clear conscience and purity in all the other issues.”

We’d like to send you a copy of this study that has affected so many lives. When you send a gift of any amount to help us with the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we’ll say “thank you” by sending you a copy of Seeking Him.

 Just call us with your donation at 1-800-569-5959, or you can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Can you imagine the richest person in the world inviting you to be a guest in their home? I think it would be pretty fun. Believers in Christ are going to experience something like that but infinitely better. We’ll hear more about it Monday on Revive Our Hearts.

 Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1George Adam Smith, Four Psalms, p. 13.

2Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, p. 90.

 

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