(February 28, 2023) Brian Bell shares a timely meditation…

Standing Somewhere in the Shadows (that 1943 once very popular number by E J Rollings) came to me afresh recently…

Are your crosses too heavy to carry,
And burdens too heavy to bear;
Are there heartaches and tears and anguish
And there’s no one who seems to care?

Standing somewhere in the shadows you’ll find Jesus,
He’s the friend who always cares and understands.
Standing somewhere in the shadows you will find Him,
And you’ll know Him by the nail prints in His hands.

Overshadowing darkness
Christians are called to carry crosses (Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23) and as we do so, life can be shades of shadows at times! Praise God that our Saviour is there for us!

The reality is that it is not Jesus who is standing in the shadows, it is us – men and women ‘lost’ in the dark shadows of life.

Praise God that Jesus can be found in those situations, by believers who sometimes find life darkly overshadowing us. I’ve known those times myself and found that Jesus was always there for me – and He also used the encouragement of friends and mentors to help me through.

With that in mind I share these thoughts about dark shadows.

Shadowy valleys
There are many things in life which we may never experience –for example great wealth or positions of great power or popularity. However, it makes no difference who we are or whether our position in life is humble or high – at some point sorrow will touch our lives.

TV news continues to highlight the sorrow of many around the world due to earthquakes, war, increased crime, murders, financial concerns, cyber hacking, covid-19 deaths, and other medical concerns. I’m sure you, dear reader, can call to mind personal sorrows which have touched your life.

David was no exception – his Psalm 23 is very comforting at this time, indeed at any time! When he was a young shepherd David knew what it was to walk through ‘the valley of shadows’ where a lion or a bear might lurk in waiting for the sheep – or even for himself, their shepherd.

When David was leading his sheep through the valley he would tap his rod on the rock which made up the narrow side of the valley and those sheep which could not see him or hear his voice would be comforted by its sound. Knowing that God is also close to us will always console us when we go through dark time of shadowy valleys. After all, as Hebrews 13:5 (and other scriptures) declares, ‘God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”’

Later in his life David was forced to hide in shadowy wilderness valleys as he sought to escape from King Saul. However, in Psalm 23:4NLT he reminds us not only of the certainty of sorrow in dark times, but of a consolation given by the Lord – ‘You are close beside me.’

Darkness and comfort
There’s a story told of a young man and his daughter returning home after burying his young wife, her mother. The little girl asked if she could sleep beside her dad that night. In the darkness he heard the child’s voice: ‘Daddy it’s very dark and I can’t see you. Is your face toward me?’

‘Yes’ said her dad, ‘my face is toward you’… and with that comfort the child fell asleep.  As he thought about this the dad slipped out to the side of the bed and knelt to pray, ‘Lord, it’s very dark and I can’t see you… is your face toward me?’ Instantly he felt the Holy Spirit assure him of the Lord’s presence and he too soon fell asleep.

In times of sorrow, it is a blessing to know the help of family and friends – but there are dark shadowy times when only the presence of the Lord will do. There is a closeness in the Lord’s presence, especially when the shadows bring us sorrow (as in these dark times). 

Under God’s shadow
Psalm 91:1 speaks of the greatest shelter in life: ‘Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.’

Are you familiar with Vernon J Charlesworth hymn, A Shelter in the Time of Storm by chance? This is yet another ‘oldie’ – (ca. 1880) – that brings truth about God’s sheltering comfort in dark times.

The Lord’s our rock in Him we hide;
A shelter in the time of storm.
Secure whatever ill betide,
A shelter in the time of storm.

As believers we can find shelter daily as we make time to meet with the Lord in prayer and meditation. While the place and precise time of day may be different for each of us, what we often call the ‘quiet time’ is a time of sheltering.

And we can also find shelter as we meet and fellowship with others, share in worship and in the ministry of God’s word.

Being under His shadow offers us so much… consolation, comfort and closeness. And covering. I don’t think we really know how much the Lord covers us – shelters us – in the circumstances of life, how many things He has kept from harming us.

Perhaps, if you would look back on your life – as I often do on my own – you too can recall situations when the Lord’s providential hand was covering you in dark shadowy times. And you too can declare as song writer Paul Williams wrote: ‘I’m covered over by a shield of love.’

God’s shadow – security!
Psalm 63:7 acknowledges God’s protection:‘I think how much you have helped me, I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings.’

The image here is that of chicks in the protection of their mother’s wings – remember how Jesus wept over Jerusalem – declaring how often He would have gathered them as a hen gathers her brood, but they would not let Him (Luke 13:34). When we feel secure in our homes we are able to relax more easily and sleep better!

God’s word tells us that He is not willing that any should perish (John 3:16) – this is an indication of God’s goodness. We are also told the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).

‘Death’ is the extremely dark shadow that speaks of separation – physical death separates us from loved ones at the end of life. However spiritual death (a reference to the soul) is separation from God for eternity.

Jesus’ sacrificial death on Calvary saw God’s justice on sin. Perfectly fulfilled by Christ alone, it offers security in a salvation which no one can earn by my good living (self-righteousness), or by following the rituals of any church or religion.

The only protection we have from this separation from God is to realise we are sinners and, in genuine repentance and faith, open our hearts to receive forgiveness that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus.

Darkness to light!
When we accept Christ as Saviour, we’re instantly removed from the shadows of eternal death and transferred into His glorious kingdom of light!

‘For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night’ (1Thessalonians 5:5). ‘Darkness’ here is skotos – from the base of skia as used of spiritual darkness in Matthew 4:16NTL, ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.’ 

Ralph Waldo Emerson was known for many quotes, such as this one… ‘Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.’ True. But our ‘sunshine’ comes from living in the light Jesus has given us!

May we move on from dark shadows into our tomorrows, under God’s shadow and unafraid as His children of light! (1 John 2:10).

Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. Brian describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’

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