Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Valley of Deep Darkness

Leslie Basham: According to Nancy Leigh DeMoss, getting real about God's presence will remove fear.

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

Leslie: It's Friday, June 8, and you're listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. This past week we've heard the touching story of a mom who lost three children to disease. If you missed any, you can catch up on her story and her incredible attitude by listening to those programs at ReviveOurHearts.com. It's the kind of attitude Nancy will describe today as she gives us a fresh look at a very familiar passage.

Nancy: It's interesting how often, while I'm preparing on a particular topic or for a particular series for Revive Our Hearts, how the Lord not only does things in my own life, but brings me into circumstances and situations in other people's lives that have so much to do with what I'm studying at that moment.

It's a way of making me really ponder the passage more deeply and say, “How does this apply to that situation, to that person, to that need?” I've been astounded over the past few months as I've been meditating on the 23rd Psalm and studying and preparing for this series how many people I was around who were going through very difficult, dark, desperate circumstances.

I talked with a woman who had buried her elderly dad three months earlier and within the past week had lost her mother to leukemia and then four hours later lost her 24-year-old daughter in a tragic automobile accident. You say, “How can all this happen to one person in such a short period of time?” I talked with three wives in this period of time whose husbands are terminally ill.

I talked with a person who has been through cancer surgery in excruciating pain and we talked about lying there in ICU after the surgery, just longing for God to take their life. That person said, “I don't for a moment doubt the sovereignty of God.” It's a person who's really grounded in God's Word and in God's ways, “But I'm mystified by why I can't seem to find Him or experience the sense of His presence in this situation.”

Well, this Psalm, the 23rd Psalm, has something to say to us in every season and circumstance and situation of life, including the desperate kinds I've just described. The psalmist has talked about lying down in green pastures, walking by still waters, having his soul restored, being led in right paths, but now he comes to that part of the psalm that, perhaps, is why this psalm is so often quoted in funerals. He says in verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Now in the original language, “the valley of the shadow of death” would be better translated “the valley of deep darkness.” This is not a verse just about death. Death may be one of those deepest valleys. It may be a part of very deep darkness, but he's talking more broadly than that about any valley of deep darkness.

The valley here is not some sort of lush, rolling meadow between two hills. It's a deep, dangerous, dark ravine that's found in the hills of Palestine. You see, early in the year, the flocks would graze in the lowlands, and then in the summer months, the sun would melt the snow on the mountains.

The shepherd would lead his flocks to higher ground where they could graze, where they could find more pasture land, but in order to get them from the lowland up to the high land, to new grazing places, he had to take them through these ravines. These were places where there were sheer cliffs, where tall trees would block out the sunlight, so they were places that were gloomy even in the daytime, and in the night, there was just this deep, penetrating darkness.

One misstep in these valleys, these ravines, and you could fall down a deep precipice onto jagged rocks and lose your life. There were serpents. There were wolves. There were hyenas lurking, ready to attack these helpless, defenseless, clueless sheep, and the shepherd would take his sheep through these ravines.

They had to go through them to get to the higher land. What a picture of the fact that our Shepherd has to take us through some dark valleys, through some dangerous and difficult places, in order to get us from the lowlands of our Christian life up to higher ground!

You say, “Lord, I want higher ground in my life. I want to know You better. I want to be closer to You.”

God says, “Oh really? Then there's some paths we need to take that are hard ones.”

This phrase, deep darkness, the valley of deep darkness—that deep darkness phrase is used nine times in the book of Job. Job understood in his suffering and in his excruciating pain what it meant to be in deep darkness, and he says in Job 28, “It's like the pitch-black darkness at the bottom of a mine shaft” (see verse 1-5). You can't see. It's oppressive.

Isaiah says, This deep darkness is a place where people stumble around as if they were blind. It's a place where there's deep despair, hopelessness. It's a fearful darkness. It can include any great danger or cause of terror.

I told you earlier that I've been reading Pilgrim's Progress. There's a place in that story where Christian comes to The Valley of the Shadow of Death, and he describes it as a solitary place, a lonely place. He says that the road that went through that valley was narrow. It was treacherous. It was a place of deep darkness and terror and demonic oppression.

In fact, in that place, he actually came right up to the very mouth of hell, not into it, but right up to its mouth, and he could see the flames flaring up, leaping up from hell. He said, “Over that valley there hung the discouraging clouds of confusion while death spread its wings and hovered over it.

“It was a thoroughly dreadful sight. Everywhere there was nothing but disorder. The path here was so dark that often, when Christian lifted his foot to take a step forward, he did not know what he would find when he put it down.”

Does this make you think of any seasons of your life when there was just dark, deep discouragement, confusion, clouds? You couldn't see to take the next step, had no idea where you were going, what was happening? Voices—in this time in the valley of the shadow of death, he was hearing these demonic voices screaming at him. It was terrifying.

In fact, in John Bunyan's other writings, including his autobiography, we learn that he had some of his own experiences, some real-life experiences in the valley of deep darkness, particularly during the twelve-year period when he was imprisoned for his faith, for his preaching. He was in prison while he was in his 30s. His wife and four children were left to fend for themselves during that twelve-year period.

Bunyan says, “I was once in a very sad and low condition for many weeks.” In fact, he describes being tormented with thoughts of death. He says, “I was at this time so possessed with the thought of death that I often felt as if I was on the ladder with a rope around my neck going up to the hangman's noose.” He said at another time, “Suddenly, there fell upon me a cloud of great darkness which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life,” no sense of God's presence.

The valley of deep darkness—if you haven't been there at some point in your Christian life, you probably will be between here and heaven at some point, and there are differing degrees of it. It's not all as torturous and tormenting as what we've just read, but it can be—for Christians, for Christians who are following the Good Shepherd.

Remember what the verse right before this one was—verse three? “He leads me in paths of righteousness.” This valley of deep darkness is one of those right paths that He sometimes leads His sheep onto.

When you get into this valley, assuming you didn't get there of your own doing, assuming you didn't leave the Shepherd and just go off on your own, and you stumbled into that ravine, then don't blame your Shepherd. But if you've been following your Shepherd, you've been trusting Him, loving Him, obeying Him, serving Him faithfully, and He leads you into this dark place, this valley of deep darkness, then when you get there, remember how you got there. Remember that your Shepherd led you there, and remember that you're going through this valley of deep darkness, that you will come out on the other side.

It may not feel like it. It may seem in the marriage you're in that this valley of deep darkness is going to last forever. I'm telling you, it won't. It may last for all of time. It will not last for all of eternity, and eternity is a whole lot longer than this life.

Remember how you got there. Remember that this is the Shepherd who loves you. This is the Shepherd who cares for His sheep. We want the Lord to take us on to those higher grazing places, that higher ground, but we don't want to have to go through the valley of deep darkness to get there.

Can I tell you, there are no shortcuts? You have to do it. You have to go through it. It's easy to remember that God is with us when all is well and you're lying in those green pastures or beside those still waters, but remember that He's also with us when all does not go well, when we find ourselves in deep darkness, in times of unexplainable depression, illness, health issues, rejection, loss of loved ones, financial pressures, relational/marital issues, times of intense loneliness.

You feel like no one else understands. No one can enter in to what you're experiencing, times of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical nightmares, times of confusion, unanswered questions, deep, profound mystery. It doesn't seem consistent with God's ways that this would be happening in your life.

Now let me just say that 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's 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, and 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” (Psalm 23:4).

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 and slavery for all their lives, and 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.

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 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, and you may be right in the center of God's will. According to God's Word, God leads you, and He will go with you into that valley of deep darkness. You fear no evil because He is with you.

No matter how great may be the evil around you, the One in you is greater yet. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). That's the reason we fear no evil.

Now it's interesting that up to this point in the psalm, David has been talking about his Shepherd, and it's been in very intimate, warm, precious terms. Now, in this valley of deep darkness, he starts talking to the Shepherd. In the place where there's the greatest potential danger or threat or fear, he makes this statement of faith. “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

In a deep darkness, there are times when you cannot see your Shepherd, when you can't even sense that He's 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's 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, and 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? You know, 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.

I mean, atheists become prayer warriors when they get in the foxhole, right? 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. At times you will, but if He is your Shepherd, if you are His child, you will never go through it alone. Now let me just say this. 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.

I've watched people go through tragedies and trials and even to the point of death without Christ, and that is unfathomable to me how they can. They can't. There's no hope. If you don't have the presence of God with you, you are in trouble.

You can't make it. 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, “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 flame shall not consume you'” (verses 1-2).

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.

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

I talked with a wife recently, and she and her husband are in a valley of deep darkness right now. We were talking about it, and she said, “But we're not going through it alone.”

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's high and lifted up in heaven, fills all the universe, He is with me.

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

Now 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?” (Psalm 22:1). 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, and to feel that is not sinful.

What's 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, and 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 very shaken. Things I had always been sure of I now was questioning. I was doubting, and for a period of months, I had so little sense of God's presence in my life.

As Job says, “I looked to the right. I looked to the left. I looked in front of me. I looked 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; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (see Job 23:8-10).

I look back on that experience, and it's crystal clear to me that God was there all along. He never left me. I'd like to say I went through that experience with no fear.

I didn't trust my Shepherd, and you know, 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, and then I remembered 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.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake.”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been through the valley of the shadow of death. God led her out to tell others how to survive. He can use your valley experiences to grow your faith and encourage others, too. I hope you'll get a copy of today's message from Nancy. Pull it back out when you're in the shadows, and be encouraged to keep walking.

Today's message is available as part of a CD series with Molly Veldt. Three of her children died young of a genetic disease, yet God gave her incredible perspective. Her attitude will lift you and prepare you for any dark seasons in your future.

When you order the CD series, we'll include a book by Nancy called Surrender: The Heart God Controls. Learn to surrender to God's plan even when it leads you into some dark valleys. We'll send you Surrender and the CDs when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Ask for these resources when you call 1-800-569-5959, and you can also donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

What did you learn from your father? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has identified several important things she learned. In fact, all of us who listen to Nancy's teaching owe a lot to Arthur DeMoss. Learn from the wisdom he passed on to Nancy as she presents a new series starting Monday. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

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

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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