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.

Psalm 23: 4

Death is an unspoken participant in all birth. In fact, it is there with us from the moment of conception, and its hour continues to get closer and its pull progressively stronger as the days of our life move along. So, that ever-present shadow just gets bigger and its darkness deeper while the sun of life gains degree by degree on its setting beyond the horizon. We all live in the presence of death’s shadow, and there is nothing that we can do to escape that fact. However, we can do something about the effects of the darkness on our minds, hearts, and souls. God has provided us with opportunity and resource for entering into those shadow lands without the fear and concern that naturally accompany that journey.

We were designed and created by God to have a form of vitality and a drive to engage with life that comes from our likeness to Him. The better I know God, the more that His constant engagement with my world is apparent. God walked through the day with my ancestors Adam and Eve, and He walks with me in intimate fellowship each and every moment of my life. This drive to live takes on the form of planning, designing, and dreaming for the future. God’s imparting of His image into us people also finds expression in our desire for relationships, and it is expressed as we enter into community with others. All of this makes the idea of a permanent end hard for us to accept. When our drive for life and for all that living involves collides with the uncertainty that death and dying bring, our natural and very human fears are brought to the surface.

It is these very fears that Satan attempts to use to break us down. He wants people to doubt the truth of God’s Word. He seeks to get us to question God’s goodness, mercy, hope, and especially His promise of eternity. We all live with the results of the damage that sin has done and is doing to the world where we live. Disease, natural disasters, and machines that fail were not a part of the creation plan. However, evil’s deception and humanity’s selfish desires were not even remotely sufficient in their attempt to derail God’s desire for eternal relationship and communion with us. Death will always be painful. There is no easy way to lose the people who are significant to us. Their absence will always leave an emptiness that is inexpressibly hard to comprehend or to fill. Yet, Christ grants us His comfort. He brings us an answer to the future that demonstrates the temporary state of our separation from those we love and care about. Christ also grants us His presence and the purpose of His will for the remainder of our journey. He is our shepherd as we travel through our own valley of deepening shadows, and it is His glory that will light the way through it and into the unending daylight of eternity.      

“All flesh is like grass

and all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

and the flower falls,

but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1: 24, 25

 

Perhaps it is true for me that age has become more of a reality now that the majority of my allotted days have surely passed into history, and it may be that in this process of journeying through life that I have encountered an ever-increasing number of people who have needed to deal with the effects of aging as well. Whatever the situation, I am acutely aware of my own increasing frailty and that of many of the people I know. I think that the inevitability of age is, in fact, a very intentional part of God’s plan and design for people during these days that arc across our history and bridge the gap between creation’s perfection and Christ’s restoration of that same state of sinlessness. Now we live in days where this earth and our lives need to be more tenuous than what comes next so that we don’t become totally focused on who we are and what we possess in this life.

 

God implanted aspiration and drive into us. It is in no way wrong for me to want to do things and to plan for their achievement. It is honoring to God when I use the gifts, talents, and skills that He has given to me. However, it is also easy for me to become so caught up in my abilities and accomplishments that I lose sight of God’s presence in all of it and only value my own efforts. This tendency toward looking inwardly for strength and for guidance draws me away from the real power of Christ and causes me to become ever more compliant to the often unrighteous voices of this world. So, God throws that proverbial glass of icy cold water into my face; sometimes He even leaves the ice cubes in it for extra emphasis, and I am reminded of the perishable certainty of this body and of its life on earth.

 

At the same time, Christ speaks to my troubled soul with words that come from deep inside of eternity. The Lord speaks truth, and that truth brings both comfort and commission to my heart and mind. He leads me out of self and into His redeemed perspective for the unknown number of days that I have remaining to me in this life so that I can more fully engage with Isaiah’s ancient words of prophetic wisdom and apply their guidance to this day. Although the warranty on this body of mine seems to be approaching its end, Christ has taken my soul and my earthly existence out of the tyranny of those final days, months, or years, and He has placed me within the forever continuing narrative of God’s Word. So, I am at peace with it all and excited to follow my Lord into today and tomorrow.

We do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

 

Each passing day seems to bring another sign that time is not all that kind, for the mirror will reveal another spot here or a wrinkle there, and the joints ache a little more the day after activity than they did last year. Even the mind starts to operate just a little less clearly. Maybe it’s just that I am not getting enough sleep or enough of a certain vitamin? Well, maybe it’s simply that I am a year older than I was on this date last year, too. It’s all a reminder of the fact that I will not live forever in this world and with this exact body, for the organs, bones, joints, tendons, and tissues that I was given at birth were all infected with the fatal disease of sin.

 

On the other hand, my soul has been totally cured, released from being enslaved, and freed to rise above all of the pain and loss of this world. That doesn’t separate me from the condition of others or from the inevitability of my own physical decay, but it does change my priorities so that how I deal with the issues that life brings my way becomes more important than the issue itself. God wants me to continually turn to Him and to seek out His will in everything. Then, even the most serious illness and the most disabling injury can become a step along a path of renewal when we open our hearts and minds to Christ’s perspective on those situations. There is no physical or emotional pain that He does not understand, and there is nothing that I can face in this life that my Lord will not and can not take me through.

 

God doesn’t ask me to just grit my teeth and endure my days, and He never leaves me in a state where the day to day experiences of life are empty, futile, and frustrating. Instead, the Spirit of Christ speaks to my heart to provide encouragement and brings insight and understanding to my mind. Then, the disturbing and troubling times that are an inevitable part of living in a failing body that resides in a corrupted world are brought into perspective. It is through and during this daily walk with Christ that the aspects of my being that matter are renewed. For during these times of clear focus on the Lord’s direction and provision for me I gain great insight into who He is and about how He works. My spirit is renewed, transformed, and set free by this deepening relationship with Christ.