The shepherd-king David says to the Lord that his “rod and staff, they comfort me.” How can the rod and staff of Yahweh be a comfort to us?
Simply this: we know that the Lord is with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4a), by a) his defense of us from our enemies, and b) his guidance and discipline in our lives (the staff). His protection and discipline in our lives is a sure sign of his immanence–a very present help (Psalm 46:1).
We know that we are delivered from our enemies when we see Christ at work in our lives through the power of the Spirit, who sanctifies us. As we put to death our flesh, we find that our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3), and can glorify God that he is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1 again), defending us from all our enemies who seek to destroy us.
We know that his staff is present in our lives when we feel the discipline of the Lord. Whether it is the rebuke of a brother or sister in Christ drawing our attention to our living out of conformity with the gospel (see Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Gal 2:11-21), or whether it is through troubles in our life that we find that we are out of step with the Spirit–no matter the form of discipline, we can rest in the absolute fact that the Lord disciplines those he loves.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:5-6)
Whatever valley you find yourself walking through, take comfort along with King David in the nearness of God, manifest in his discipline and protection of you, his beloved child. And do not shy away from the discomfort of turning to God through his Word; for when we sinful humans turn to Scripture we are first confronted about what sort of men and women we are, in light of the absolute and terrifying holiness of God (Isaiah 6). We must go through the discomfort to find the complete and perfect comfort of the presence of God, a God who is fundamentally for us. You must get through the “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” of Psalm 22 to arrive at the “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” of Psalm 23.
Persevere, Christian. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that “we have come [a perfect indicative verb] to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). Holding firm to the end…this is not a conditional statement; holding firm is the outworking of the present, indicative reality that we share in Christ. Stand firm, therefore!