Most sheepmen endeavour to take their flocks onto distant ranges during summer. This often entails long “drives”. The sheep move along slowly, feeding as they go, gradually working their way up the mountains behind the receding snow. By late summer they are well up on the remote alpine meadows above the timberline. With the approach of fall, early snow settles on the highest ridges, relentlessly forcing the flock to withdraw down to lower elevations. Finally, toward the end of the year as fall passes, the sheep are driven home to the ranch headquarters where they will spend the winter. It is this segment of the yearly operations that is described in the last half of the poem.
During this time the flock is entirely alone with the shepherd. They are in intimate contact with him and under his most personal attention day and night. It is well to remember that all of this is done against a dramatic background of wild mountains, rushing rivers, alpine meadows, and high rangelands.
Every mountain has its valleys. The best route to the top is always along these valleys. Any sheepman familiar with the high country knows this. He leads his flock gently, but persistently, up the paths that wind through the dark valleys. Not only is this the way of the gentlest grades, but also it is the well-watered route. Here one finds refreshing water all along the way. There are rivers, streams, springs, and quiet pools in the deep defiles.
During the summer months, long drives can be hot and tiresome. The flocks experience intense thirst. How glad they are for the frequent watering places along the valley route where they can be refreshed.
As Christians, we will sooner or later discover that it is in the valleys of our lives that we find refreshment from God Himself. It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty. We are thrilled beyond words when there comes restoration to our souls and spirits from His own gracious Spirit.
Most of us do not want valleys in our lives. We shrink from them with a sense of fear and foreboding. Yet in spite of our worst misgivings, God can bring great benefit and lasting benediction to others through those valleys. Let us not always try to avoid the dark things, the distressing days. They may well prove to be the way of greatest refreshment to ourselves and those around us.
Another reason why the rancher chooses to take his flock into the high country by way of the valleys is that this is generally where the richest feed and best forage is to be found along the route. The flock is moved along gently — they are not hurried. The lambs have never been this way before. The shepherd wants to be sure there will not only be water but also the best grazing available for the ewes and their lambs. Generally, the choices meadows are in these valleys along the stream banks. Here the sheep can feed as they move toward the high country.
There are going to be some valleys in life for all of us. The Good Shepherd Himself assured us that “in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The basic question is not whether we have many or few valleys. It is not whether those valleys are dark or merely dim with shadows. The question is how do I react to them? How do I go through them? How do I cope with the calamities that come my way?
With Christ, I face them calmly.
With His gracious Spirit to guide me, I face them fearlessly.
We know of a surety that only through them can we possibly travel on to the higher ground with God. In this way not only shall we be blessed but in turn, we will become a benediction to others around us wh may live in fear.
An excerpt from A Shepherd Look at Psalm 23