The Privilege of “Walking the Vale”

Psalm 23:4

Yea, 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.

Sometimes, when the Shepherd takes one of His beloved through that valley, He allows a pastor to journey along part of the way.  The pastor may never be the same again.

A Tie that Binds

This was not the first time I’d made this journey.  The time comes — you know it is time to visit every day, if you can.

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

You don’t want to fail to visit on the day the Lord comes for His dear child — and you don’t know when that will be.  But it is more than that.

A bond grows between a dying person and a pastor, stronger as days pass, as physical weakness grows.  This time, I journeyed with one who had himself been a pastor, so I was more his colleague and friend than his pastor, but the tie that binds was the same.  Pastoral visits “in the vale” do something to both people.

I was leaving town, a trip long-planned.  Her time was short, but she didn’t want the Lord to take her while I was gone, so she asked me to pray that He would preserve her for my return.  Her “Amen” was fervent, and she was so joyful when I got back.  I’d not known her long, but now we loved each other.

A Spiritual Lifeline

It has a powerful influence when you come to realise that, for one of the Lord’s saints, you are now part of his spiritual lifeline.  He (or she) cannot read the Word anymore, and relies on you.  You choose the spiritual food he will receive, the Scriptures you read, the hymns you will sing.  He may look to family for comfort, especially if they also know the Lord, but he looks to you, as a messenger from the Lord, for spiritual comfort and strength in a completely different way.  You feel it, and so does he.

Psalm 66:18

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

You know you must keep pure, close to the Lord, for you must choose Scriptures wisely, the right words of comfort, hope, and peace.  It is impossible to know this day’s needs, and you can only trust the Lord to lead to the best Scriptures and the best things to say.

You must pray for the sick, for the family, for doctors and nurses, for financial, physical, and spiritual needs.  Others can pray.  Others WILL pray.  But you must pray, and pray, and pray — before the visit (for wisdom and words), during the visit (for the needs of the dying man and his family), and going home (for the ache in your own heart).  But the Lord  will not hear if you regard iniquity.  You must keep pure, so you can pray.

That is true for any pastor, any time, for any Christian always.  But when “walking the vale” you know its urgency, as you may have never known it before.

Love Flowing Through

Romans 8:31-39

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These verses are powerful to the dying saint.  Our hope is this — God loves us.  Without that, there is despair.  Those facing eternity must KNOW God’s love, and may need to see it in YOU.  God teaches you, perhaps as never before, that you really can be a channel of His love flowing through you, and you MUST be, now.  And love answers to love.

We both knew it was his last week, perhaps his last day.  A lost sinner only weeks before, now he looked to the Lord, looking through me to the Lord.  He couldn’t really speak, but his eyes said he loved me for bringing him the Gospel of hope.  If he could not speak, I must speak for both.  Not knowing what to say, I somehow knew what to sing.

God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Strike death’s threatening wave before you;
God be with you till we meet again.

This man, now without words, who never in health cared enough about spiritual things to darken our church’s door, took my hand, pulled it to his lips, and kissed it.  Soon, God struck death’s threatening wave before him.

When you have the privilege of “walking the vale,” you learn how important it is to love, and you begin to learn a little bit about love — a very little bit.

You know you are inadequate to express God’s love, but you meet the dear one’s eyes, and find it is enough after all.  Your weak love is enough, as his is more than enough for you — because love is from God.  You begin to understand, a little, how our weak and pathetic love for God yet pleases Him.  You may never really be the same again.

Connected

Hebrews 10:25

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

The bed-ridden person in his last days can’t come to church meetings — but he can still teach a pastor how important it is to connect, to stay connected with one another.

I’d barely known him.  I wasn’t certain he was the Lord’s.  But I’d read the Scriptures and explained the Gospel.  He had heard it before, but now it was urgent, and he knew it.  I could see it in his eyes.

I read John 3:16 and said, “It’s true.  God will save you if you believe.”  He nodded.  I said, “Everyone is praying for you.”  He tried to answer, but the stroke had taken his speech.  He took my hand, and began tracing with his finger.  “I-K-N-O-W.”  I said, “You know.”  He dropped my hand, and closed his eyes. 

Why was “I know” so important to him?  God knew his heart.  It wasn’t to talk to God that he traced a message on my hand, but to connect with those of us who were praying.

God did not make us to be alone.  Even in the last days, people desperately want that connection with others.

The pain was so bad he couldn’t even lie still.  We talked, but he was miserable.  “Why visit when I can’t even talk to you?  It’s almost like you care,” he joked.  But he was hurting too much to laugh.  I read Scripture and prayed, but kept the visit short. 

As I left, he said, “See you in church.”  I said, “Will you make it?”  He said, “Of course!  I’m not missing!”  I smiled, said, “Lord willing, see you then,” and left, knowing he would not be in church on Sunday.

When “walking the vale” you learn how much God made us for fellowship.  The way the dying cherish even the least fellowship, the least connection, teaches you to highly value it.  When you see what meeting with God’s people means to those who really can’t — and so wish they could — it makes you value that privilege even more.

Singing to One Another

“Sing God of Bethel.”

“Can you sing The Old Rugged Cross?”

“That is so wonderful” (about I am His and He is Mine).

Amazing Grace.”

“How about Great is Thy Faithfulness?”

Safe in the Arms of Jesus, please.  My mother sang it.”

Ephesians 5:19

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The walk “through the vale” is hard when God’s cherished saint loses the ability to respond much at all.  It is then the pastor learns anew the value of well-loved hymns.

When dying saints can still choose, they rarely choose new songs.  They want ones they’ve always known and sung over and over.  When it is hard to think, to remember, those trustworthy songs still comfort and encourage, still remind of God’s love and faithfulness, of loving fellowship through the years.  Even the newly saved often know and trust hymns like Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, and How Great Thou Art.

But responses may fade as the end nears.  The pastor prays and reads, hoping Scripture is encouraging the one who can barely respond.  Then, he sings.

Closed eyes open to Glory for Me.  Lips move to Blessed Assurance.  Now, though one can no longer produce sound or really respond to anything else, two people are again “teaching and admonishing one another” — and perhaps the pastor is the one really learning.

You learn that  familiar hymns, often sung, become faithful-friends-in-song, companions for a vale-journey if it is protracted (or for prison, if persecution comes).  You learn to be grateful for hymns (even for some with weak doctrine) as you see God use them.  Your desire grows to teach saints music they can sing that stands the test of time, with solid doctrine to comfort and cheer the darkest journeys.

When music becomes the primary way your heart communes with a dying saint, you value God-honouring music as never before.  You value congregational music, for performances have no worth in that valley — you want to sing together, even if one of you can only move the lips or answer with the eyes.

God’s Treasured Word

Psalm 119:11

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Jon:  Thy word have I hid in mine heart…
Together:  …that I might not sin against Thee.

When “walking the vale” with a believer, you learn anew the value of treasuring Scripture in your heart.  Scriptures, memorised or read repeatedly until they are familiar friends, are a great comfort in the last journey.

When fatigue and weakness take over, when mental effort is too much, processing new or unfamiliar Scriptures can exceed capabilities.  A pastor may recognise that words are flowing over a person but they are not engaging, not received.  Then familiar passages become such a treasure, passages like Psalm 23, Psalm 91, Romans 8:28-39, and others — if they are indeed familiar, if the Christian knows them.

Walking “through the vale” makes you want God’s Word more, to gain more “Scripture friends,” more passages that will engage your heart if the time comes when your mind is limited in its capacity.  It makes you want to teach people to read it, to read it all the time, to make Scripture friends to take on shadowed paths.

Precious in His Sight

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

Hebrews 4:15

…touched with the feelings of our infirmities….

Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

You’ve asked for healing, and the Lord gave permanent healing — there will never again be sin, pain, or sorrow for His beloved child.  It is not what you hoped, but by now you knew His answer — you just didn’t know which day.

Perhaps you’ve seen the body, taken that hand for one last time — but that frail house is empty now.  You are glad the suffering is over, you rejoice in a soul promoted to Glory — but you still weep.

The death of a saint is no light thing, it is precious in His sight.  He holds our life, and our death, in His hand.  There is joy in the Homecoming, but our God of all comfort is not untouched by His people’s sorrow — He knows the feelings of our infirmities.

As you stand beside the body, when seeing loved ones, when alone, at the funeral, it comes in waves, over and over, the joy and the grief, comfort and loss and hope and peace.  You think maybe, a little, you begin to see death as our Father does.  You feel no despair, and much more joy than sorrow.  As you mentally know it was God’s timing, you also feel it to be true.  But it is momentous, almost overwhelming for a mere mortal, an immense, valued, precious thing.

Your heart is broken, yet renewed — stronger, more clear-sighted, with a greater sense of joy, of God’s love, of hope, of eternity.

You thought you were “walking the vale” with a dear, beloved brother or sister in Christ, but that was only on the surface.  The reality is deeper and greater.

You walked that valley with the Shepherd.  You will probably never be the same again.

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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6 Responses to The Privilege of “Walking the Vale”

  1. Cyndy Veysey says:

    These were such a blessing, Jon. Thank you for sharing this experience with your readers. Very encouraging. Praise the Lord for our being able to “walk the vale” with Him, and sometimes with another beloved brother or sister in the Lord.

  2. Ruth Gleason says:

    Stopped to check facebook before going to exercise, now I have much to ponder as I ride that bike. Such a blessing to walk with you through your pastoral experiences – heart-wrenching but precious. I know the Lord has given you gifts and also wisdom and strength to minister this way.

  3. RebeccaNH says:

    Achingly beautiful. Thank you for your wisdom and experience on this difficult but sweet time in a believer’s walk.

  4. Jon Gleason says:

    Thank you each for the comments. May the Lord teach us His heart in these matters.

  5. Bruce Smith says:

    Good morning Jon. It has been a month and a day since Jeff left us for a better place. I had a time os silence this morning to re-read your blog. God bless you.

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