1 The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
“I shall not want!”
Whoever believes this has arrived! They have peace. They know contentment. They have turned to the Lord with body and soul, spouse and child, in life and in death. They trust the All-Powerful Being, the Complete Provider, the only Totally Satisfying One, and our most highly exalted and absolutely holy Source of All Good.
Such a person understands, reflects on, and knows this in their heart: “I exist because of the exalted God who has created me. When he did, he already knew that there was a place for me in his world. He determined that I have a calling to fulfill in it. And I believe that he is powerful and determined enough to provide me with everything that I need to fulfill my calling. He does so at precisely the right moment.”
Whether that calling is prominent or ordinary makes no difference. Perhaps I have to be careful as a boy when I walk under a ladder on which someone else has climbed high to make a repair or to paint the peak. Perhaps I have to stand for my entire life alongside a busy street with a sign inviting people to turn in and buy what I’m advertising. Perhaps a young woman’s job of putting up displays in a store window may not seem very important, but she’s indispensable.
Never make comparisons! Pay attention to your own work, never that of someone else. And definitely never let yourself think or say: “God certainly could have given me something more important to do”! Because if you do, with that single thought you attack God’s absolute sovereignty. And the Lord has no patience for that kind of talk. He knows how things should go. He asks for no one else’s advice. And when you complain against God without knowing his intentions, you are attacking him and murmuring against how he arranges things.
This is what’s primarily involved in the statement “I shall not want”!
The manager of an enterprise gives every employee as much orientation, material, and other resources as they need to do their own job. In the building trades, for example, a contractor gives the rough carpenter basic instruction, the finish carpenter more advanced preparation, and the sculptor the most precise training. But to the lad who assists them, he gives almost no direction at all. But even he lacks nothing he needs. And if he simply accepts his role, he is happy, whistling his tune while he works, and he feels good about what he’s doing. He doesn’t need another thing.
Be absolutely sure of this. You will lack nothing for the work the Lord has assigned to you in his circle of servants. But when you step outside that role and want to do something for which God has not called you, then this promise definitely doesn’t apply to you. Then you will “want” or lack a great deal. The Lord God provides you with nothing in that case. And you won’t be able to buy it and you can’t generate it yourself.
But if you accept the position where God has placed you, you will definitely experience that you live without apprehension and a load of concerns. Fear and misgivings under those circumstances definitely indicate a lack of faith. This amounts to a lack of faith that you are in your real calling. They reflect a lack of faith that God the Lord rules over all things. A lack of faith that God is all-knowing and really does know what you need! A lack of faith that God has a purpose for which he has considered and calculated all the details! A lack of faith, in a word, that God is really God! That kind of doubt at work in you is really nothing more than God-forsaken despair in your heart. It’s the sin of Paradise. It’s Eve’s horrible wickedness that is now rekindled in your own heart and renewed in your life.
“I shall not want!”
This definitely is not to say that you have here a promise that you will bathe in luxury. My dear brother or sister, it might well be that you have to stand in the fiery furnace like Shadrach did. But it is a promise that even in that kind of oven you “will not want.” It is even possible that your life is one long succession of disappointments, of suffering poverty, of bitter pain in your heart. It is possible that God has destined you to demonstrate to Satan that however much poverty, suffering, or humiliation you endure, he knows how to nurture your faith and maintain your joy as his child.
The Lord God is mysterious in his ways. He causes some to be blind, others to be deaf, and still others to be emotionally ill. But all of these serve his inscrutable purposes. And the only thing of which people can be sure is that in their suffering or in their rejoicing they will lack nothing in dealing with their situation.
How does a person become a martyr? How can someone in living life submit to fire and sword and still sing psalms? I don’t know how! And you don’t know how, either, because neither of us has ever been given what was assigned to a martyr. They were given what belongs to their situation, but not to ours.
“I shall not want!” may never be construed as a fortress to which we can flee to avoid suffering. The affirmation should only be taken as a sure promise that we will be able to endure it. I would never say that we can endure it to assure us that we will enjoy a happy old age. No, we are enabled to endure it so that we might enter an eternal day following the dawn of our eternal morning.
“I shall not want!” ultimately means simply this: God will never fail us.
In God we have the highest, holiest source of all that’s good. So what do we really have to complain about?
This applies to both body and soul.
That’s why for your body you will lack nothing that is necessary for your soul. Similarly, you will lack nothing for your soul that is needed by your body. The text does not say: “I will lack nothing needed for my body.” It says, “I shall not want!” The focus is on the whole person, on you and me as we are.
If we need oil in our lamps, God provides oil. If the garden is parched, the rains come. If you thirst after the living God, God himself arrives. His messengers climb the highest mountains and shout: “Look, your God is here!”
If you stand too tall, God cuts you down to size. If you sink too deep, the everlasting arms mercifully appear to lift you up.
All of your grappling, all of your soul’s contortions must come down to this one thing, that you believe.
And what do you believe? Simply this: that you have total access to what already exists in God’s storehouse, ready and waiting! And that storehouse is Christ himself. Faith is the movement of the soul by which the Holy Spirit dispenses from Christ’s storehouse everything that you need.
Do you need good works? Behold, God “has prepared them for you so that you might walk in them.” Receive them and give thanks.
Do you need to be more submissive? God the Holy Spirit will control you like a difficult horse with the bit and bridle, and you will grow compliant and grateful. He will humble your resistant heart with faith in the Word.
Do you need faith itself so that you come crawling on your knees but still can’t pray? Do you feel like a thick cloud is hanging between you and God? Then your only deliverance comes not by torturing or tormenting or forcing yourself, because such responses only create more intense sin that pushes you even further away from God. It comes by reading God’s Word, where it says: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” It comes with the promise in hand and stammering with a quiet voice and a proper attitude: “Lord, teach me how to pray!” Even being able to pray is a gift given by our Lord God when in his all-sufficient grace he mercifully turns toward us.
May God the Lord grant that from now on you never go to bed without having that prayer answered. I realize that perhaps days will go by before true prayer flows freely from your heart. But what does that indicate?
It always says that whatever you might be experiencing at that moment, the most important thing is not the prayer but what you need to learn in your situation. It involves learning to depend much less on your own mutterings so that after a while you learn what godly prayer really is. Then you will come to realize that even the disappearance of a deep prayer life was a gift from the Good Shepherd, one as necessary as daily bread. Then you will see that it was given without your even knowing it is a gift.
Oh, the Faithful Shepherd, who had much preferred to listen to the voice of your suffering in faith, first carved out in you a riverbed along which your prayers would eventually flow. He did this so that you then might lack nothing that you really needed.
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms