The Lord is my Shepherd. I have what I need. (Psalm 23:1, CSB)
How many times have you read or heard Psalm 23? Between church, funerals, and bookmarks and wall hangings in Hobby Lobby, probably more than you can count, right?
Growing up, I learned Psalm 23 in the KJV, and it went like this: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want”. To my 3rd Grade mind this verse meant that God takes care of me, so I’m not supposed to want anything I don’t have. The idea I picked up in Sunday School and Christian school was that if I was supposed to have something, God would give it to me, and that if I wanted something He wasn’t giving me, I was just supposed to stop wanting it.
That worked ok when I was 9 and wanted a bike like my friend had, but as a grown up, my wants became weightier and more important, and that all fell apart a bit. I wanted a husband and God said “no”, but what was I supposed to do with the deepest wants in me that were placed there by God Himself? What did it mean to be single and have an innate desire for physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy with another person? And was I sinning by wanting these things God was choosing not to give me?
You probably have your own story of wanting something God isn’t giving you. Maybe for you it’s a biological child. Maybe it’s physical health and wholeness. Maybe it’s a spouse who actually loves you and treats you with dignity and respect. Whatever your “want” is, it’s deep and it hurts to think about not having it.
Allow me to shed some light on this by showing you where a big part of the problem is:
The phrase translated in many versions of the English Bible as “I shall not want”, is actually not a good translation, and it contributes to the pain this verse has caused some of us. In Hebrew, what the verse really says is, “I shall not lack”. That changes the meaning of the verse pretty significantly, doesn’t it?
Translating the word “chacer” as “lack” instead of “want” changes the focus of the verse. When we read “I shall not want”, the pressure is on us to become someone who is perfectly ok denying his or her basic needs and deepest desires. (Obviously, this isn’t what God intended for us, since He created us with those needs and desires.)
When “chacer” is translated, “I shall not lack”, or as the CSB puts it, “I have what I need”, the focus, correctly, shifts off of us, and onto our Shepherd. God knows what we need, and He has already promised to provide those things.
Jesus reminds us of this truth when He says,
So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:31-33, CSB)
Jesus says we don’t have to worry that our needs won’t be met, or spend a lot of time asking God to do what He’s already said He’s going to do. Instead, He says, spend your time and energy asking God to show you how you can live out His kingdom on earth for the people around you. How can He use you to meet someone else’s need the way He uses people to meet yours? Life on earth is a big circle of need-meeting orchestrated by our Shepherd who knows what we need, when we need it.
Our needs will be met. That is a given. But what about our wants, even the deepest ones we have? The Bible gives no guarantee that our wants will be met. Yes, God gives good gifts to His children (James 1:17), but just like good parents don’t give their kids everything they want, God knows which of our wants will be good for us, and which will inhibit healthy growth.
I’ve had to learn that the only healthy, right thing to do is to take my wants to my Shepherd and tell Him about them. Then, I have to choose to trust Him enough to accept His decision. Again, just like we teach children to trust their good parents, even when they don’t like the answer, God teaches us to trust Him by showing us His love and faithfulness over and over again.
It’s a process, and it takes time, but as God shows us more and more of His faithfulness, it becomes easier and easier to trust Him. As I’ve learned that He is unfailingly trustworthy, it’s become easier to live with open hands. Living with open hands means that He is free to take what He knows isn’t what’s best for me. And I am free to accept whatever He does chooses to give me, knowing it will be good.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I have what I need. How great is that?
How has a time of seeing God’s faithfulness and care for you in the past made it easier to give Him your wants today?