I mentioned a couple of posts back that I had been teaching Psalm 23 in the Chinese congregation. Ever since I completed that series, the past few weeks have been filled with ample opportunity to ponder what I taught, and apply these lessons to my own life.
That little phrase, “I shall not want,” in verse 1 of the Psalm is packed beyond anything I had ever considered before – both when I taught it and over these past few weeks as I’ve found myself “wanting” many things. More than ever, I realize that David, as he wrote, was not saying, “I have no needs, I have no desires, there is nothing I long for.” Then what was he talking about?
You can want a lot yet lack nothing
A careful look at the Hebrew helped me to be able to put this phrase in perspective, and has been a great personal encouragement to me. In Hebrew this phrase would be best translated, “I shall not lack.” In other words, nothing is missing.
Still, when you think about it, David (and us) seem to go through this life lacking many things – health, wealth, and more! David had to wait more than a decade to become King, and that entire time, he was chased by King Saul. David lacked security and was often in need. Yet, looking at the context, what David is saying is this, “Since the Lord (the Creator of the Universe) is my shepherd (the one caring for me and taking responsibility for me), I lack nothing (all is well).”
I’ve been learning that what David was talking about was a state of being, the condition of his soul, not of his body and the world around him. Perhaps he was talking about a kind of contentment.
Commercials (and satan) want you to be discontented
If you stop to think about it, the job of a commercial is to make you discontented with your current situation. It’s aim is to draw our minds to a desire we may not have even recognized, from the “need” for a new pair of slacks, to the latest upgraded iPad version!
I remember seeing an iPad ad recently, and with my plans to visit the US in August underway, my first thought was, maybe I need an upgrade. Fortunately, I took the time to realize that I didn’t need a new iPad, and that I was contented with its use and function. I did realize, however, that I needed a new case (my old case was broken), and so I ordered that (at a fraction of the cost of a new iPad).
But isn’t that how the serpent tempted Eve? His questions and comments made Eve dissatisfied with her current situation. Her contentment with Adam, life as it was in the garden, and her relationship with God was diverted to discontentment. In this case, it wasn’t enough to be the created one, she wanted to be equal with her creator!
The good and bad of contentment
I also realized there is a good and bad side to contentment. The bad side can lead to laziness… that’s when everything is good enough as it is and we begin to take, for example, relationships for granted. We are contented with the status quo. This kind of contentment is destructive, we accomplish nothing, and often times end up going nowhere. It can even break what was once a good relationship!
But there is a different kind of contentment. This kind comes from a trusted relationship with God that allows you to rest in His good hands. This is a contentment that realizes that nothing is really lacking because you are in full possession of something no one can ever take away from you. This is a contentment that hungers and thirsts for righteousness and is always filled (think still waters and green pastures).
This is a contentment that calms our fears, stills our minds, and carries us through the longest nights.
The Good Shepherd is the source of contentment
Suddenly, “I shall not want” becomes a beacon of hope in a world filled with desperate desire, want, and need. The Good Shepherd is with us. He is taking care us. He is. With this kind of assurance, what more can I possibly desire? He knows what I need. I am His sheep and He is committed to caring for me. Do I feel like I need something? I need to only ask Him. He knows what is best for me.
As long as I keep my eyes on my Good Shepherd. All is well. I truly want for nothing, despite the very real struggles of life. This kind of contentment keeps us moving and active as we keep our eyes on our Shepherd and follow Him.
The battle for contentment
Is it really possible to be totally and completely confident of God’s care for me, no matter what? I told my students that it is possible. But it is a battle.
Shortly after teaching on this verse, despite a loss of 8 kg, I found my intestinal issues, and back and knees getting worse. A new round of doctor appointments began. Two doctors felt I needed back surgery (decompression and fusion), a third said I need a knee replacement, and a fourth recommended an even strong change to my eating habits. All that combined with physical therapy was, quite frankly, overwhelming. I was not content with my situation, and to be truthful, I didn’t want to think about Psalm 23. I just wanted God to snap his proverbial fingers and fix me. It didn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong, God was and is able to do that. I have experienced miraculous healing in the past. But this time, I was being forced to do things I absolutely hate – exercise and eat boring food. And the weeks passed, and suddenly, one day, I realized I was feeling better. I recall lying in bed and stretching as I did my exercise and realizing how I did feel better. Suddenly I heard a HUGE crack coming from my back, but without any pain. Gingerly, I turned to get up and found I could walking better than I had in ages. While I do have up and down days, I now feel markedly better since then. I find myself more motivated and more willing to do my exercises and guard what goes into my mouth.
What does this have to do with contentment? I realized that I had not been content in God’s care for me. I had not been cooperating with Him. You see, He is responsible for me, and He had been trying to teach me how to take care of myself for a long time. But now, I was finally listening.
God didn’t want to work “magic” for me, He wanted me to cooperate with what He was allowing in my life, and to rest in His care, knowing that He was and is taking care of me. He wanted me to be confident in His good care, no matter what happened. He wanted me to declare with David, “The LORD is my shephered, I shall not want.”
Not being content can lead to a feeling of abandonment
I think, at times, we all feel abandoned. The world creeps up on us, we get our eyes off of Jesus, and we lose our contentment. This precious first verse of Psalm 23 becomes more poetry than fact. It’s hard to rest in Him when we are hurting.
I hope these verses, and the link to this video will encourage you as much as they do me. May we declare together, “I shall not want.”
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. … 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.John 10:14,15 &27-29