The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
Each of us moves through this world as a bundle of loves, needs, and fears. In our earliest years, these passions show themselves in wailing and flailing. As we mature, so do our methods. But no amount of age changes the basic fact: we are born, we live, and we die loving, needing, and fearing.
Many of us live each day largely unconscious of these basic passions, even though they sit at the control panel of our hearts, pulling the levers that decide what we say and do. Left to ourselves, we simply treat these feelings as givens and let them lead us where they will.
We love comfort, and so we travel through our days on the easiest possible routes. We need acceptance, and so we live perpetually on stage, performing for our peers’ applause. We fear trials, and so we never honestly reckon with the inevitability of suffering and death. We scarcely consider whether we should trust these loves, needs, and fears, or whether a better voice might be beckoning us to reposition these passions in new directions.
God, in his mercy, makes us stop and listen. As C.S. Lewis writes, the battle begins the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. (Mere Christianity, 198)
And what does that larger, stronger, quieter life teach us to say to our rebel loves, needs, and fears? Four words: “I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
The Shepherd’s Voice
Imagine you wake up with an instinctive love for comfort. You just want to move from bed to office to couch to bed without interruptions. You can’t be bothered by other people today, especially needy ones. You need more rest, more time to yourself. Hard conversations can wait until tomorrow. But then that other voice stops you and teaches you to say, “When I walk into discomfort, I shall not want.”
Or perhaps you wake up with a deep need to be accepted. You just want others to appreciate you, listen to you, love you. You wish you were smarter, stronger, better looking, funnier, less awkward. You’re ready to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny and say things you don’t believe. But then that other point of view wraps its arm around your shoulder, and helps you say, “I have one Master to please. If others reject me, I shall not want.”
Or maybe you wake up with a vague fear of coming trials. You just want to hold what’s precious in your life out of God’s reach. A crowd of what ifs runs through your mind, and you answer with a shudder and search for something to distract you. But then that larger, stronger, quieter life comes flowing in, and you find yourself saying, “Even if the worst happens, I shall not want.”
The wild pack of loves, needs, and fears has rushed at you, but you have beaten them back with this four-word shove: I shall not want. You are free from the clamor of their voices and ready to get out of bed to follow your shepherd wherever he leads.
The Shepherd’s Hand
When we confront our sinful cravings with I shall not want, we are doing far more than reciting a mantra. Christians have no use for phrases that merely clear the mind, steady the breathing, and relax the muscles — no matter if they’re true or not. For all who are in Christ, I shall not want are words with roots that run ten thousand feet down into reality.
Why can we say I shall not want with authority? Because the Lord Jesus Christ is our shepherd. He has spilled his blood in the dust of Golgotha so we could lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2). He has laid his soul in the grave so that ours could be restored (Psalm 23:3). He has allowed the valley of death’s shadow to swallow him so that it might become for us the highway to heaven (Psalm 23:4). He sets a table for us every morning (Psalm 23:5), and each day sends his goodness and mercy to chase us, surround us, and keep us safe till we get home (Psalm 23:6).
As we entrust ourselves to this shepherd, he takes his rod and his staff and trains our feelings to follow him: to love him, to need him, to fear him. He teaches us day by day, that as long as we are near him, we shall not want. Even in discomfort. Even in rejection. Even in the valley of the shadow of death.