We started looking at Psalm 23 last week, and we have come to a phrase that is a puzzler if you know much of anything about David's life. David says, "I shall not want." The Hebrew word for "want" (חָסֵר) has nothing whatsoever to do with desire. So put that meaning out of your mind. It means to lack or to be devoid of anything. And that's actually what the older English word "want" meant as well. And that is why most modern versions translate it as, "I shall not lack anything."
But even with that translation it is a puzzler. The reason this is puzzling is that David often seemed to lack plenty of things in his earlier years. He lacked political power when he was running from Saul. He lacked food and weapons when he had to ask the priest for holy bread and for Goliath's sword. He didn't have anything to eat. He lacked a wife when he had to run for his life from murdering government officials. He lacked respect for at least a while. The Psalms show that he lacked the joy of the Lord on occasion and cried out to God just like an incredibly thirsty deer panting in the wilderness. He was without a throne, without a country, far from his friend Jonathan. On one occasion the Amalekites took David's two wives and everything that David owned except for what he had been carrying on his back. It even looked like he lacked safety because his own men were going to stone him. How can David honestly say, "I shall lack nothing?"
And the answer is context and context. The first context is the first half of the verse — "Yahweh is my shepherd." If you have Yahweh as your shepherd, you don't lack anything because your Shepherd owns everything. It is only as David owns the Owner of all things that he can make that statement. And if you are united to Jesus, you can say exactly the same thing by faith. Using a different metaphor in John 15 — the metaphor of the vine, Jesus said that as long as you abide in the vine and the vine abides in you, you will bear much fruit, have joy full to overflowing, and have His power. In fact, he goes on to say, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, [and get this next phrase] that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." You shall lack nothing if you cling to your Shepherd; you shall lack nothing if you abide in the vine, and ask God for provision from that vine. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." In other words, without the first phrase of Psalm 23:1 you can't have the second phrase. If you don't have Jesus, you don't have anything. "...for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." (John 15:5-8) If you are a disciple, and you abide in Christ, and your passion is to glorify God in all that you do, you can ask God to provide for your needs and it is guaranteed that He will give you everything you need to glorify Him. This is why Ephesians 1 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Christ is our bank account, and we can draw checks in His name by faith. If you own the Owner of all things, you own all things. So the first context to help us understand this phrase is the earlier phrase, "The LORD is my shepherd " — my shepherd.
The second context is the rest of the Psalm. Why does the good shepherd have to give David green pastures in verse 2? Because David was hungry. But by going to his Shepherd for food he would not lack provision. Why was David given still waters? Because he was thirsty and cried out to the Lord for refreshment. And God gave it. Why does God have to lead David into the paths of righteousness? Because David found it so easy to be a wandering sheep. But as he cried out to God to preserve him from the evil one, God led him into righteousness. Why does God have to lead David through that scary valley of the shadow of death so that he will not fear? Because without Christ, David's natural tendency would be to fear.
In other words, you can have all kinds of needs and yet be able to make that statement if you own the Owner of all things. So long as you cling to your shepherd and follow His voice, and pray to Him, He will provide everything you need to successfully honor Him and glorify His Father — everything. If finances are needed, ask God for finances. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. But make sure you are asking as a steward who plans to use those finances to glorify God. When your goal is to follow the Shepherd and to abide in the vine, God is working all things in this universe together for your good. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says, "For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." It really is mind blowing when you realize that through Christ you have access to all things and all things are working together for your good. If all things are yours in Christ, then truly you lack nothing. 1 Corinthians 3 says, "Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:21-23). Do you see how those first two phrases in Psalm 23 belong together?
Can you say by faith, "I shall lack nothing"? It will be a fight of faith for you to say that on a moment by moment basis because there are so many things that will try to rob you of what you already own in Christ. I'll just give one example: the tyranny of the urgent can keep you from operating by faith. If our mind is not united to Christ as Colossians 3 commands, it will be so easy for every aspect of this Psalm to be turned upside down. When I was looking for illustrations for this morning's meditation I read a poem by Marcia Hornok that graphically illustrates this. The poem says:
The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted.
It leads me to deep depression.
It hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity's sake.
Even though I run frantically from task to task,
I will never get it all done,
For my 'ideal' is with me.
Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.
They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule.
They anoint my head with migraines.
My in-basket overflows.
Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.
I think that poem describes some of us more often than Psalm 23 does. And its because we are not practicing the presence, listening to His voice, adopting His priorities, abiding in the vine, and writing checks on our spiritual bank account by prayer. As you come to the Lord's Table this morning, I would urge you to not only thank God for giving you all things in Christ Jesus, but by faith lay claim to everything you need for this coming week. Make this communion meal your statement of faith: "The LORD is my Shepherd. I shall not lack anything." Amen.
By Marcia K. Hornok, Submitted to Sermon Central by Barb Stephens, Fort Collins, CO. ↩