“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1 NIV)
I’ve got a confession to make. I have long loved the first clause in the sentence above,”The Lord is my shepherd.” Simple, beautiful, faithful, strong.
But I have mixed feelings about the second clause, “I lack nothing,” or in the phrasing of the old King James Version, “I shall not want.” Whatever the translation, it points to the provision of God. I’ve generally assumed a causal relationship between those two clauses: because “the Lord is my shepherd,” it follows that “I lack nothing.”
Here’s the up side. In this simple, powerful confession, David is attributing all of his provision to the Lord’s faithful hand. This is quite a statement. David insists on giving God the credit for what he has and resists taking some of the credit for himself. Good model for us.
Here’s where I’m squeamish. In times of plenty, or even simply enough, I can make this confession. I’m trained in it. I believe it. But I know people who lack much. And I want the Lord to be their shepherd too. But I don’t know that putting their faith in Christ and trusting him as their shepherd will automatically result in greater material provision. Maybe I lack faith. Maybe I’m avoiding a simplistic reading of this verse.
So, it is helpful to read Scripture alongside Scripture at this juncture. Let me be clear, this is not to be understood as proposing that biblical passages are contesting one another. This practice is meant to put passages in conversation, if you will. As opposed to an argument where one side wins and the other loses, the sort of conversation I have in mind is one that ends up shedding more light on both participants’ perspectives, hence leading us to potentially richer understanding of each.
So, let us try this by bringing Paul’s perspective into the picture from Philippians 4:10-13.
This is where we find the bold declaration in verse 13: “I can do all this through him who strengthens me.” And when we read that verse into our lives, we imagine incredible personal victories of all sorts. I don’t have a problem with that thinking. It is fine. But it is incomplete.
Here’s verse 13, in context with the preceding verses:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul is in prison at the time of writing this letter. In fact, he is likely to be in prison for the rest of his life and he seems to sense it. And here we find Paul speaking a lesson about contentment–“in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And he concludes this sobering reflection, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Reading verse 13 in context, understanding Paul’s setting, and hearing his faith-filled, matter-of-fact tone, I can imagine him reciting Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” And meaning every word.
Prayer: God, thank you for caring and providing for me. Help me to trust in your provision and to recognize it even when it isn’t what I expected. Amen.