The Valley of the Shadow of Death
A little over a week ago, Susan and I were walking the dog. A young bull moose, just starting to grow his antlers, had been hanging around the neighborhood. We feared he was starving, unable to reach the food he so desperately needed at this time of year. That day, he was lying on the side of the road, just skin and bones. A big patch of hair was missing from his back. Dogs didn’t even pay attention to him. He blinked his eyes and slightly raised his head, but it was clear that he was not long for this world. We called Fish and Game but before they arrived, he died.
Susan lost two beloved aunts this spring. My parents died a little over a year ago, just a month apart. A neighbor has terminal cancer. Others in our family and probably yours are at an age when they know their time is limited. Death is all around us.
The day the moose died, and shortly after we heard about the death of one of Sue’s aunts, there was a tribute on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News to Floyd Kaleak, a mentally impaired panhandler who danced and waved at passing cars from street corners. I remember seeing Floyd and being cheered by his happy smile. Even police officers, who had fielded complaints about him over the years, were saddened. At first he just waved at passing cars and wore a sign that said, “Say hi to Floyd.” After drivers started tossing him spare change, he made another sign, “Pay Floyd”. When he learned panhandling was illegal, he changed the sign again, “Up to You. Pay Floyd.” He died at age 45 of natural causes. His death merited a front page article. I doubt many of us will receive that kind of coverage when we die. Someone said Floyd contributed to Anchorage in the only way he could. He made his mark.
I’m reminded of a story that one of our favorite Bible teachers shared with us. I hesitated to tell this story because I’m not certain I can get through it. I will do the best I can to read it.
It is a supposedly true story of a little man who lived and died in the city of Sidney, Australia. He wasn’t a gifted or especially intelligent person, but he truly loved Jesus. He was discovered by an American evangelist who worked in Asia and the Pacific. After the evangelist spoke at a Christian meeting, he got to talking to a Christian gentleman from that country. He said, “Tell me, how did you happen to come to faith in Christ?”
“Well, it’s the strangest story. I was visiting Australia some years ago. I was on George Street in Sidney, just walking down the street. An odd little man came up to me and said, ‘Excuse me, sir, but I was wondering. The Bible says that there is a heaven and there is a hell. I was wondering. If you were to die today, do you know where you’d go? I hope I haven’t offended you, sir. Have a nice day.”
I didn’t know what to make of it. It was such an odd thing. But I couldn’t get the little man’s question off my mind. For day after day, week after week, it kept coming back to me. If I died today, would I have eternal life? Where would I spend eternity? I realized I didn’t know. So finally I sought out a pastor and said, I need to know where I’ll spend eternity.
That was an interesting story. The evangelist used it as an illustration in another country. After his talk, two people came up to him independently after the meeting and said, “That’s amazing! I know that little man. The same thing happened to me. God wouldn’t let that question go in my heart. Finally I had to ask someone, how can I know how to have eternal life?”
The evangelist started using this story in different countries around the Pacific and he found that more often than not, someone would come up to him and say, “That happened to me, too! That’s why I’m a Christian. He was the strangest person, and I didn’t know what to make of him, but God wouldn’t let go of the message that there is a heaven and there is a hell, I’m going to spend eternity in one place or the other.”
Years later, the evangelist visited Sydney. He really wanted to go meet this little man whose words had made such a difference in the lives of so many people. He went to George Street to asked around to see if anyone there knew about this odd little man. The merchants on that street said, “Of course! What a nuisance! He’s a strange guy. He’s been doing that for many, many years.” Someone finally knew his name and address, so the evangelist went to his home. There he learned that the little man was gravely ill.
The evangelist was admitted for a visit. He said, “Sir, it’s an honor for me to meet you. You are a great man of the Christian faith. I just wanted you to know that everywhere I go across Asia and the Pacific, I find people who have been saved because of your ministry and the words you speak here on George Street.”
At that, the little man started to weep. He wasn’t far from death. He said, “I’m not very smart, and I’m not very talented, and I can’t do very much for God at all. All I knew how to do for Jesus was that one thing. God had me go up to people year after year, decade after decade, and I would tell them that one thing because that’s all I knew how to do. You know, year after year, I never once knew that anybody listened. It’s so nice of God to let me know before I die.”
Death is all around us. Death is in our future, unless Jesus returns first. In Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah prophesies the coming of Jesus. Matthew 4:16 quotes the prophecy to show that Jesus is the promised answer to our pain.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
We live in the land of the shadow of death right now. But like David we can say, “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Death is a reminder to us to make our lives count, to remain available to God and obedient to His will so He can use us for His glory.
Susan will now sing a poem set to music, "My God Shall Be My Strength". The poem was written by Margaret Clarkson, based on Isaiah 49:5. We found it in her book Grace Grows Best in Winter. It is reprinted here by permission of Hope Publishing Company.
My God shall be my strength throughout my pilgrim way
My sure defense, my guard, my guide, my shield and stay.
Secure in him, my heart is strong
And lifts aloft faith’s triumph-song.
My God shall be my strength though fierce may be the foe
No hosts of hell my trusting soul shall overthrow
Through Christ I conquer: by His power
I triumph in the evil hour.
My God shall be my strength though flesh and heart may fail;
O’er want and weakness by His might I shall prevail.
In Christ I triumph over pain
And rise to face the foe again.
My God shall be my strength in sorrow’s bitter hour;
In loneliness and loss I plead His sovereign power.
No harm can pass His perfect will.
And in His love my heart is still.
My God shall be my strength when death shall press his claim.
When languishing in weakness lies this mortal frame:
Through Christ triumphant I shall rise
To sing His grace in Paradise.
© 1962 Hope Publishing Company , Carol Stream, IL 60188, www.hopepublishing.com . All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Note: This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.
Go on to read Freedom and Slavery
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony