“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1).
At some point, as a young child, my mind messed up the syntax and meaning of the phrase that will hold our attention this week: “I shall not want.” Somehow I connected the idea of “not wanting” with the “the Lord” so that what the Psalm really said was “I shall not want the Lord to be my shepherd.” That didn’t make sense.
The main action word of the sentence, the act of wanting, seems to hang there at the end of the sentence with no point of reference. It is an aimless and vague wanting. Now, a good bit older, I think I get it. Not just the way the words work in the sentence and what the sentence means – but the way our wants can dictate so much about how we live. Wants have a way of hanging there aimlessly, vague in their direction and focus. We want but we don’t know what we want.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And yet we do. We seem to want all the time, even when we don’t know what.
As we step deeper into Psalm 23 this week we will want to tread carefully. We’re walking the terrain of our desires and the ground is treacherous – not because our desires are bad, but because desire can be a very good thing, a positive motivator of our actions and decisions.
Some of our wants are born on the broad daylight of hope. Desire takes the form of a dream in the mind and soul.
This is the kind of wanting that moves a person to seek counseling because there’s a desire for wholeness and healing in some area of life. This kind of wanting empowers a person to change careers because they deeply desire to do something with their life that makes a difference in someone else’s life. This is the kind of wanting that makes young people decide to get married and gets a young father to work every morning because he’s determined to get to of debt.
Almost everything of worth that we pursue in this life is born of desire. The desire shapes a dream. We see ourselves and our world differently than it is right now and we want what we see. These desires answer God’s beckoning, an invitation to become who God created us to be. This is desire bent heaven-ward, and it is good.
But some of our wants are born in the darkness of fear. This wanting does not live within us as a dream. Rather, we carry it as a kind weight. It is a nagging sense of lack. This kind of want is the discomfort of an empty place and we are certain we can fill it ourselves. This is the “want” of Psalm 23. It is a craving that pulls us away from the shepherd in an attempt to secure our own well being.
I don’t need to rehearse the ways this wanting shows itself in our living. We’re all acquainted with it. Whether it’s the acquisition of things or money or the attainment of a new position in the company or a word of praise and affirmation for something you did. Psalm 23 is telling us that we need not live our days driven by that nagging lack. We don’t have to keep looking for the next thing that will fix us or make things right.
The Rolling Stones sang with an almost angry passion, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Not a bad song, except for one thing. It’s not true. For those who have a shepherd in Jesus, there is satisfaction. Not a lazy and complacent kind of satisfaction, but a deep trust in the God who shepherds us.
So what do you want today? Think about it. What’s ahead of you, pulling you into the day? What’s behind you, pushing toward your life? Are your wants heaven-bent dreams, or is there a nagging lack – and can you tell the difference?
Plant within us, O God, desires that become dreams and move us toward your will for us. And in those places of fear, the nagging lack where we try to secure our own well being, teach us to trust you as our shepherd. Grant to us today the satisfaction of being loved by one who wills our good and is sufficient for all that we need. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.