“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa. 23).
Last time we discussed the word “shepherd,” and today, we will continue our study of arguably the most famous of all the Psalms. When I was younger, the words “I shall not want” really confused me. I was not raised in the church, so I only heard the Psalm at funerals. In my mind, it read, “The Lord is my shepherd, but I do not want him to be.” I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to clarify its meaning, so I spent many years pondering the apparent contradiction. Thanks to my English teacher, at some point, I noticed the semicolon. That grammatical punctuation denotes two separate thoughts that are closely linked. Suddenly the “light switched on” for me, and I realized it was saying, “I will lack nothing because the Lord is my shepherd.”
In the last article, we learned that the meaning of the word “shepherd” went beyond an actual shepherd of sheep. It was also used in reference to a king who would provide for his subjects. Either way, the context is that we as sheep have our needs taken care of by the shepherd. Of course, this does not mean everything will go without a hitch. It does not mean that God will provide absolutely everything our heart desires. It does not mean we will never be sick or fall on hard times. It does not imply a new mansion, new car, latest iPhone, fame and fortune, the person we so lust after, or any other “want.” Nowhere in the Bible is a life full of desires and free of all challenges promised to us. In fact, we are promised quite the opposite.
John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you….” It is a recipe for spiritual disaster to teach the seeking that everything will be rosy or that everything we ask for will be given to us. Using scriptures like Mk. 11:24 to support the false conjecture that God supplies our every desire is a gross misteaching. 1 John 5:14-15 clearly teaches there is a further consideration, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.”
What it means, then, is that God will supply that which we need. Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” We further read in Rom. 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” The question is then rightly asked, “If Christians will be provided for, why do some suffer poverty, famine, and death?” Clearly, there are political, geographic, and socio-economic factors to consider, but I do not believe that God is saying He will take care of all our needs without exception. What we will “not want for” is more spiritual than physical.
We have God. We have Christ. We have the Holy Spirit. What we have is the certainty of victory despite the hardships of life. We have the comfort of knowing that we will be victorious in the fistfight of life with Christ in our corner. Phi. 4:11-13, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” “I shall not want” also carries a sense of contentment despite circumstances. Let me end today with this. The Shepherd God sent His Son, the Great Shepherd, to save us. That is the fulfillment of the words “I shall not want” to the modern-day reader. Heb. 13:20-21, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”