A favorite Bible passage of mine is Psalm 23. I remember my third-grade teacher reading Psalm 23 before we began the school day. After the psalm, we prayed and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Those, of course, were the days before teacher-led school prayer was determined to be unconstitutional.
Psalm 23 has stuck with me all these years, but I was never sure what the verses meant. Recently, I read Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 by Dallas Willard. The book opened up for me deeper thinking about what Psalm 23 means and how I might apply in daily living.
In this post, I will share my thoughts on the first verses, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” I hope that you will find my musings helpful as you grapple with living through these times.
The word “Shepherd” appears many times in both the Old and New Testaments. In the ancient world, sheep farming was common and a significant contributor to the economy. A shepherd guards and protects his sheep from predators. In the New Testament, Jesus is called “The Good Shepherd.”
“My” Shepherd implies that we are in the care of someone else, meaning God, the creator of the universe. God is with us always, watching over us even when we go through difficult circumstances like we are experiencing today.
In the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” in Matthew 18, Jesus goes after “the lost sheep” who has wondered away to bring the sheep back to the flock under His protection. I find this a comforting thought. Jesus is concerned with us, even when we wander from the path he would have us on.
Shall not Want
“Shall not want.” Think about that for a moment – not lacking or wanting anything. “Not wanting” speaks to the sufficiency of God. God is all we need. He will provide for us no matter the circumstances. We can lean on Him, if we lose our job, get sick, if we have a problem relationship, if our finances go awry, or even if we are anxious or suffering through a pandemic.
Not wanting anything is a natural result of acknowledging that God is our Shepherd. It means putting Him first, relying on Him, not our self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiency is central to the American dream. It is especially noticeable here in Silicon Valley. If we pick the right company, work hard, and impress our bosses, we will succeed in our work. We will get promoted, receive bonuses, and our stock options will be valuable. Self-sufficiency sometimes deceives us into thinking that we are in control.
But then an economic downturn happens. We lose our job and our income evaporates. Or we experience the death of a spouse, parent, child, or close friend. Not only do we grieve for our loss, but we are anxious about our mortality.
We are not in control, as the coronavirus outbreak is teaching us. But if we have God as our Shepherd and put Him at the center of our life, rather than ourselves, we can live a “life without want.”
Living a full life – a life without want — means having God in our life, in fact, at the center of our lives. With God at the center of our lives, we become “others” centered, not self-centered. We are caring, not inconsiderate; humble, not arrogant; exhibit integrity, not dishonesty.
In the news, we are seeing many examples of people at the front lines risking their lives to care for and save other people. Such sacrifice happens when we are “other” oriented, not self-oriented. Faith in God teaches us to care for others.
Jesus said in what is called the Great Commandment, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
How do we love God and care for our neighbors? Here are some suggestions:
As you are “sheltering in place,” you might try to connect with people who may need a simple phone call or video chat. You might have a neighbor who needs groceries. Consider ordering take out from your local restaurant and leaving a generous tip. I have a friend who dropped off a $1,000 tip to a nail salon that had recently opened.
My church, New Beginnings Community Church, took a risk and set aside $85,000 to help a local food bank and three smaller churches that depend on cash giving on Sundays. The church also committed to increasing its benevolence fund to help those in the community who are financially hurt. The congregation responded by substantially increasing its giving to meet those needs.
Enjoy the Simple Things in Life
Faith in God also teaches us to enjoy and care for His creation. This morning I was in my backyard enjoying blooming cherry and wisteria trees (see the photo in this post). Beauty surrounds us. When we rush from task to task, we can easily miss that beauty. Take a walk and enjoy your neighborhood, or a nature trail, or just the sunshine, and thank God for His creation.
Since I am less busy, I have enjoyed more time with God –praying and studying the Bible. And I am reading more, reflecting on life, people, faith, and how God is leading me. There are lots of online apps that help with reflection and meditation. My favorite is Abide.
If you are considering faith, you might start by reading the Bible. I suggest that you start with the Book of John or Matthew. The Internet also has Bible reading plans. Here is an example from Tyndale.
Also, if you are considering faith, or if your church is closed, as all are in California, you might try viewing a livestream church gathering. Here are links to some gatherings in Silicon Valley: New Beginnings Community Church, Menlo Church, Hillsong SF, Westgate Church, and Echo Church.
And pray. Jeremiah 29:13 says, ”You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Although this is a difficult time, there is still much to be thankful for. Research shows that there are many proven benefits of showing gratitude, including improving our physical and mental health, sleeping better, improving our self-esteem, and helping with relationships. You might even consider starting a gratitude journal or list.
Life is a journey. The current difficulties we face will pass. But consider the opportunity we have to adapt our lifestyles so that we can live a “life without want.”
Here is a video on Psalm 23 from NBCC that you may find inspiring: