“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (NKJV)
As familiar as the 23rd Psalm is, it’s worth revisiting not just as a Psalm relegated to special liturgical occasions, but as a prayer and song for everyday life as we wrestle with the realities and challenges of our times. Today we’ll sit with the second half of verse one to consider the kind of life that the writer of the Psalm 23 is offering.
The more traditional rendering of this psalm is to use the phrase, “I shall not want” (NKJV). The NIV 2011 along with other versions translate the Hebrew to a more contemporary, “I lack nothing” (NIV 2011). This phrasing clarifies that it isn’t lack of desire that the Shepherd-led life brings, but a fullness of God’s goodness that results in no need for anything more. It is the abundant life of following the Shepherd even in dark valleys.
Interestingly, Jesus uses this shepherd imagery for himself in John 10, claiming to be a “good shepherd” (verse 11) and a “door” for the sheep through whom abundant life comes (verse 10). One can imagine that Jesus (and his listeners) had Psalm 23 in mind when Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd. Jesus points to himself when telling his listeners about the Psalm 23 quality-of-life that lacks nothing and has unending abundance.
Believing that God offers a life that lacks nothing might be theologically simple for some, but for everybody there comes a time when our daily lives clearly don’t feel like a life of abundance. Right now the world is feeling the effects of the coronavirus. On top of that perhaps comes the cancer diagnosis. We lose our sobriety. Our investment gains are wiped out. Isolation is deteriorating our mental health. Our leadership is criticized. A rumor spreads. Where is this “life without lack” that Psalm 23 offers when life seems to crumble?
As we continue to meditate on the 23rd Psalm, we will be reminded that the writer actually believed God was a good provider even though it appeared he lacked many necessities. Jesus proclaimed abundant life for all who followed him even though he himself was heading toward the cross. Perhaps you also might need to be encouraged that God has not abandoned you during this apparent season of lack, for He promises not to take away the dark valleys but to be with us in the dark valleys. He Himself is the abundant life that is being offered.
Living Out God’s Word
Dallas Willard prayed every day his own paraphrase of Psalm 23, beginning the Psalm like this: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have life without lack.” A book was posthumously released by Larry Burtoft based on Willard’s lectures to a Sunday school class and aptly titled, “Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23” (Thomas Nelson, 2018). Apparently up until his death, Willard believed and lived his life experiencing the abundant life that Jesus offers. He truly believed God at his word that those who followed him would lack nothing as they centered their lives around the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
Just yesterday I reached out to someone I hadn’t spoken to for months and found out that she was just released from the emergency room the day prior and was in need of some help! The Lord must have put that random thought in my mind to reach out to her so that He could be glorified because she was so encouraged to know that God was not deaf to her cries for help (and she was really grateful for the package of toilet paper that miraculously showed up at her doorstep that day from our church).
One thing we’ve been inviting you to do is to “take 5 for 5”: take 5 minutes to talk with 5 people and ask, “How are you doing? How can I pray for you?” As we continue to connect with others by calling, emailing and participating in our various online groups, we can choose to be a messenger from the Lord who gives hopes in these trying times. Maybe the Lord will prompt you to reach out to someone today.
“Lord Jesus Christ, We are so thankful to you that you have said, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ We are thankful for the ease with which you walked upon this earth, the generosity and kindness you showed to people, the devotion with which you cared for those who were out of the way and in trouble, the extent to which you even loved your enemies and laid down your life for them. We are so thankful to believe that this is a life for us, a life without lack, a life of sufficiency.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack (p. xiii).
**An earlier version of this devotional can be found at https://depree.org/life-for-leaders/