(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Brothers and sister in Christ
Having looked at the first 5 words of verse one, today we look at the 2nd five words “I shall not be in want.”
I don’t know about you, whether we translate this verse I shall not be in want, or I shall not want - it boils down to the same thing. It makes the basic claim that all this sheep’s needs are met. From the sheep’s perspective, he has not need unsatisfied, not want unmet. Because of the character, the faithfulness, the unmixed attention of the shepherd, this sheep lacks nothing.
When applying this, I invite you to consider that being “wantless” is reflective of a deep condition of the soul. It would be all to easy to identify ourselves as these sheep - especially since we are the richest people in the world, at least in the top 5 to 10%, especially since our material wealth can purchase for us certainly everything we need and almost everything we might want. But David who wrote this went through long periods of hunger and thirst when he was fleeing from king Saul. Christians throughout the centuries have been known for their giving even though their own basic needs are hardly met. Paul himself learned to be content, be want-less, even though at times he was in deep need and at other times he was in plenty. These 5 words in this Psalm push us not to consider the condition of our lives, they push us to consider the condition of our souls.
The problem that this Psalm presses us to is the fact that even though we are in one of the greenest pastures in the world, I Want! How can I confess “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want?”
Phillip Keller in his book “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23" tells of one of his sheep who was well fed, well cared for, especially compared to the sheep on the other side of the fence, robust and healthy, but no matter how well he took care of the sheep, it always saw the grass on the other side of the fence as greener. It repeatedly would break out of the pen and lead the other sheep with its discontentment. Some sheep want. Let me make this very human. Though I am fairly certain you do not know these people, I have changed their names for their sake.
It was a Sunday morning after church in a place far away from here. I had just led the morning service and I spend some time chatting with the members of the congregation hoping to get some positive feedback (- now there’s a confession - I want). I went up to a group of elders talking together, and as I listened in, I notice Joe was pointing out the finer details of his latest purchase, a Dodge charger which he had invested $1000s into to turn it into a car that though still street legal was on the edge of breaking every noise and speed law there is. From the 400 plus cubic inch engine to the supercharger to the just street legal tires with racing air in them, to the extra heavy duty piston return springs, Joe was in his glory and the other men were drooling. As I watched the conversation, it was as if I had witnessed a moment of worship. Joe, though a very rich man, wanted more. He was using his wealth to meet one of his deepest needs, to be admired - in his less than admirable life.
But if we belong to the Good Shepherd, Jahweh is his name, the promise of the gospel is that he will meet all of our needs. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to worry about what we will wear, or what we will eat or what we will drink. Our Father in heaven knows what we need and He who clothes the flowers of the fields in splendours far beyond King Solomon, and he who feeds even the little sparrows that flutter by the thousands, will he not also cloth and feed us? Seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
He has promised
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall
not be in want, he makes me lie down in green pastures. Surely goodness
and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in
the house of the Lord forever.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but if there is anything we want in North America - it is security. Security from terrorists, security from thieves, security in health, security on gas prices, security in the stock markets, financial security for retirement. We want security and we are willing to spend billions to achieve it.
Let me tell you about another Joe. Joe struggled financially for years. He had worked and studied hard to become and certified accountant, finally at the age of 30 he secured a job that paid well, by the age of 40, his two sons had grown into teenagers with jobs, his Christian School financial load over, he felt he could start putting together his nest egg. Joe and Jane decided to have her tubes tied - just that little bit of security to make sure nothing would go wrong with their future plans. Wouldn’t you know it, three months after the tubes were tied, Jane was pregnant. Joe was livid. He felt like his entire future just went down the tube metaphorically speaking. He was ready to sue the doctors and the hospital. Now I am thankful that Joe was a Christian and abortion was not an option, though I wonder how many babies have been sacrificed on the altar of security. Well, Joe and Jane’s baby was born, a beautiful little girl that is the joy of their life. Maybe if you were to talk to Joe today, earthly security is not quite so important anymore.
See the problem is I want, we want. How is it that we are so desperate to have security when He has promised to be our security.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, even in the presence of my enemies, he prepares a table before me, when I walk through dark and grief filled places, I will fear no evil. Isn’t that what the Lord has promised to his sheep, the people of his pasture? He who never slumbers nor sleeps, he who watches over us so that even a hair cannot fall from our heads without his will, he who promised us that absolutely everything that occurs to us will in the end have its beneficial effect on our salvation, if Christ is for us, who can stand against us - if all these promises are ours, how can it be that we want?
Notice that there is still another thing that this Psalm promises - that our Good Shepherd will lead us in pathways of righteousness. If there is a want that most of us have, at least in one point of our lives, if not when we hit 45, it is the want to have purpose, significance, meaning in who we are and what we do.
This time another Jane - Jane who had lived a lot of her youth somewhat aimlessly, now as she became older the worst dread in her life was to live and die without her life having a sense of meaning, without her life having a sense of importance, doing something significant for this world, for those around her. Her worst dread, dying and nobody would notice the difference. She wanted purpose, meaning, significance. A very understandable concern.
The promise of this Psalm is that when we belong to him, the Good Shepherd will lead us in right pathways. This truth is promised again and again in scripture. Psalm 119 - commit you ways to the Lord and he will direct your paths. Psalm 16 - he will make known to us the paths of life. When we belong to the Lord, our lives are significant. We might not be able to see that immediately, but then again, neither could Ruth was ended up being an ancestor to Christ, neither could David before he became king, and neither did a few fisherman until Jesus called them fishers of men. The promise of scripture is that when we wholeheartedly give ourselves to Christ - he has a plan and purpose for our lives that we are going to fulfill. He will accomplish that plan and purpose, after all, he is our manager. He appoints us to our task.
The problem - We want
Which brings us to a question. Why do we want when we know so well that he has promised to provide our needs, our security our purpose in life? What is the condition of our souls that would make us, sheep, in one of the greenest pastures on earth, materially speaking, still be people who Want?
Isn’t it that we fear? Isn’t the problem that we fear that even though our Shepherd has promised that he will provide for our every need that is really a need, we don’t trust that he will keep his promises? Isn’t the problem that when push comes to shove, we don’t really trust that Jesus will faithfully provide for us, even though at times his provision may feel more like discipline, even though his medicine may be painful, even though life will at times hurt deeply. Isn’t the reason why, when we are challenged to give surrender completely to Christ and his rule over our lives, committing ourselves to be sheep of his flock, within his church pen, resolved to be for his kingdom alone, isn’t it because somewhere deep down inside, we don’t trust that he will take care of us if we are his? Don’t we need to keep some control ourselves? To commit myself to someone else is foolishness.
Often our fears are understandable. In our lives, we have experienced authorities who have used their power in ways that cared little for us. We have seen authorities who have used their influence in our lives to feed their own needs. Maybe we have had mothers or fathers who were not there for us when we needed them and we have to deal with the struggles of life all alone. Maybe those whose role was to shepherd us when difficult times came abandoned us because they cared more for themselves. Like the hired man in John chapter 10, when they saw the wolf coming, they ran for cover and left the flock to fend for itself.
Let me conclude this morning by reminding you of what Jesus did. When the wolf came to devour the sheep, unlike the thief, unlike the hired man, he laid down his life for the sheep. When we were defenseless against the accusations thrown by the enemy, he laid down his blood. There is no condemnation... Where we ourselves should have faced judgement and even well deserved death, he proved that he loved us even more than he loves himself be taking upon himself the wrath of God upon the cross. This is how he demonstrated his love for us - while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Is there anyone worthy of our
allegiance - its Jesus.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.