Shalom
2. I shall not want

The second part of the first line of the Psalm — “I shall not want” — is multi-faceted in meaning. Here we will consider two of these facets.

The need for need

The first is that because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Of all the possible ways in which we can understand the axiom, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the writer chooses to express it through ‘provision’. His ability to provide for me is what makes the Lord my shepherd. If he could not, or would not provide, he would not be my shepherd.
Without need, provision has no purpose. Yet we know we have needs, many and varied; some simple and some complex.

To “not want” is an expression of having all my needs met.

As we stated previously, shalom is everything in the right place and nothing in the wrong place. Or we could say, ‘shalom is all my needs met and not being in want.’ To live in shalom requires an awareness that I have needs and wants and the belief that my shepherd, who is my provider, meets them. If I believe I have no needs, then I cannot have shalom, because I will not be open to receive what I need. Often the things I need most are those I am least aware of and so do not think to ask for these. But if I choose to have my needs met by the Lord who is my shepherd, even those needs I am unaware of will be met, because if “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”.

100%

If we were to imagine what life might be like with shalom — everything in the right place and nothing in the wrong place — most of us would agree that we live our lives at less than 50% most of the time. In some part, this is because our lives are affected — even afflicted — by external factors over which we have little control. Still, it is for the most part that we don’t know how to access more. It is possible to be born with physical disabilities, living with many limitations, and still experience a fuller life above 50%. Conversely, it is possible to be born with ‘perfect health’ and live only at 10%.

To “not want” means living at 100%. Although we might never achieve this entirely in the present world, it is possible to live at a much higher level of vitality, health, purpose and shalom than one might realise. To have shalom, I must choose to have more life than I currently have. Without making a choice, I won’t aim for more, or desire more, and so will never have more. I must choose. I must choose to allow the Lord, who is my shepherd, to provide for the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

Therefore, I shall not want.

The provider provides

The second facet to consider here is the confident assurance that whatever the size or complexity of my need, if the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. This bold assertion requires us to decide: do I believe that the Shepherd will provide for all my needs, or do I need to also seek from someone or somewhere else?
Is that someone else ‘me’?

Deciding is essential, because unless you are clear on what you believe — and live out those beliefs — you will end up trying to go in many directions at once. Being unclear on your beliefs is a fast track to confusion and getting ‘lost’. The Shepherd makes no demands that we follow him, but is willing to lead us with the confident certainty that he can and will take us on the right path. Many of us live our lives without ever asking this question and therefore avoid the decision to follow the Shepherd. However, not deciding is still a choice, albeit a passive one. It is a choice which often leads us down a path we don’t know and into situations for which we are not prepared. Without a shepherd to guide us, we often end up lost.

Making my own path

Most of us begin the journey of meeting our needs on a path of our own design. Our thinking may follow this logic: “I believe, for a good reason, that no one knows me better than I know myself, and that I am the only one who truly knows what my needs are. Therefore only I can decide what the right path is.”

The hidden problem with this line of thought is that it is the same ‘me’ that got me to where I am today who now believes can get me to where I need to be. Yet it is the same ‘me’ — nothing has changed. How can I get myself out of my own problem? How can I guide myself along the right path to address a need to which I am blind? It’s true that some people discover the right path anyway, and may well believe it was all their own doing. If it’s true that only the Shepherd can lead us on the right path, we may experience the benefit of getting ourselves on the right path on our own in the short-term, but because we don’t know how we got there, we won’t have any assurances for the way ahead.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
(Matthew 6:8)

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father
who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9–11)

Our heavenly Father knows our needs and has the power and the means to provide for them — all of them. If we ask him, he will not give us anything that won’t meet our needs, like a stone instead of bread; he will only give us good things so we might know his shalom.

Trusting this truth — that the Father only gives us good things — is crucial if we are to live in shalom. Why? Because we all know that life has its share of suffering, pain and grief, and if we lose sight of the Lord shepherding us through these times as part of his provision, we will find ourselves lost in futility and despair. Jesus has come that we might have life in all its fulness (John 10:10) — fulness includes suffering, pain and grief, but it also includes love, hope, peace and joy. To live in shalom means the acceptance of those things we might otherwise choose to avoid and instead, the discovery of ‘the Lord who is my Shepherd’ leading us through those times and ensuring we are being filled up with his provision.

Only the Lord can provide joy in the midst of suffering. Only the Lord can give us hope in the midst of despair. In our pain, Jesus promises that his grace is sufficient for all our needs — that means enough grace each and every time. And when we grieve, Jesus is the one who weeps with us (John 11:35) and wipes away every tear (Rev 21:4).

This is shalom: to not just believe, but to know that ALL things work together for our good, if we love the Lord (see Romans 8:28).
Therefore, if the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord will meet your every need.
May you know that there is ALWAYS more life and you are free to choose it.
May you know that the Lord only gives you good gifts.

Shalom
1. The Lord is my shepherd

Shalom – a definition

This simple ancient Hebrew word expresses an entire worldview about our human experience. Often translated as ‘peace’, shalom is about harmony, wholeness and the transcendent peace that proceeds from these.

Shalom means that everything is in the right place, and nothing is in the wrong place.

Shalom gives attention to both aspects of this reality: a life lived in shalom is one that is full; complete of the things that produce harmony and wholeness. It is also one that actively and necessarily excludes everything that reduces these.

Most, if not all of us, desire to live in shalom, yet most, if not all of us, do not know how to live this way. This series of reflections provides a paradigm for shalom intended to help those who seek to live it.

Psalm 23 — An expression of Shalom

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

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.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
(ESV)

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd.

The journey of shalom begins here.

This simple first line introduces a very profound concept: shalom is not something I can achieve on my own — I need guiding. Furthermore, living shalom is not a fixed state, but a life led by one who acts like a shepherd.

Here the Psalmist names the shepherd as the Lord (also Yahweh or Jehovah) which is the self-revealed name of God, who is also the Creator. The Bible begins with — and indeed has as its premise — God as Creator. So we could say, “My Creator is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Which leads us to a more profound discovery: reality itself only makes sense through the ‘shepherding’ of the one who created it. In other words, our understanding of the world, our lives, and any sense of ‘purpose’ come from the Creator and what he chooses to reveal to us.

Accepting this is crucial because it is the paradigm with which we can understand shalom, and without which we cannot. There are, of course, other ways of perceiving reality, the universe, our lives and our purpose, but none of these would be ‘shalom’.

We cannot separate shalom from this crucial understanding:

The Creator has structured reality with shalom as its purpose,
and is continually and actively involved in bringing it into being.

To live with shalom, I must choose to submit myself to be led by the Shepherd. I must also know who he is — the Creator of all things. I cannot lead myself because I am not the Creator, and therefore don’t know how. If the Lord is my Shepherd, he knows everything — everything about who I am, and everything about where I need to go. His purpose for me is shalom, and if I follow him, he will lead me.

Therefore, the Lord is my shepherd.

I AM the Good Shepherd

“I am the Good Shepherd”
(John 10:11)

With this claim, Jesus reveals himself as both the Creator and the Shepherd. The “I AM” part is undoubtedly a reference to the same “I AM” God uses to reveal himself to Moses at the burning bush. John’s gospel begins with clear statements that Jesus is God — the ‘word’ that was there in the beginning and through whom all things were made. It is John who repeatedly records Jesus making his “I AM” claims. When we hear Jesus say, “I AM…” we are supposed to hear those words as being the voice of God spoken through the one who is the ‘living word.’ Jesus makes seven such claims in John’s gospel — no accident as seven is the number of perfection and a further hint of Jesus’ divine nature.

In this particular claim, Jesus reveals himself as the Creator Shepherd. As we saw earlier, reality itself has been created with shalom as its purpose and Jesus as Creator is continually and actively involved in bringing it into being (see Colossians 1:15-17 & Hebrews 1:2-3). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus knows that we must be led if we are to live in shalom. He knows our needs and we recognise his voice. He calls us forward from our past into a future of hope, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

As our Good Shepherd, he says to each one of us, “follow me.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that the Lord desires it for you.
May you know that the Lord made you and will also lead you.
May you know that the Lord is your shepherd.

A Sabbath Season

We had so much leisure,
But never enough rest.

We had so much wealth,
But valued all the wrong things.

We were prosperous in many ways,
But in many more we were unfruitful.

We had the best healthcare in history,
But we still made ourselves sick.

We had the best survival rates for infants,
But we prevented many from being born.

We built our cities greater than cathedrals,
But we let our society go to ruin.

We could predict the weather like never before,
But we still built our houses on the sand.

We developed crops that could withstand devastation,
But we overworked and poisoned the soil.

We produced enough food to feed the world twice over,
But many still went hungry.

We had the world as our oyster,
But we missed the pearl of great price.

We forgot the Sabbath, and did not keep it holy,
But God did not forget, and now is his season of rest.

Come to me

Come to me in your busyness.
Come to me in your weariness.
Come to me in your heaviness.
Come to me in your loneliness.
Come to me in your emptiness.
Come to me in your sadness.
Come to me in your sorrowfulness.
Come to me in your illness.
Come to me in your sickness.
Come to me in your uselessness.
Come to me in your hopelessness.
Come to me in your desperateness.
Come to me in your darkness.

Come to me in your usefulness.
Come to me in your happiness.
Come to me in your joyfulness.
Come to me in your hopefulness.
Come to me in your lightness.
Come to me in your quietness.
Come to me in your stillness.

Jesus says,
“Come to me in your all-ness.
And I will give you my sabbath rest.”

(For a time of isolation and sudden change)

Blessed

Blessed are those whose kingdom is heaven,
For they are poor in spirit.

Blessed are those who have been comforted,
For they have mourned.

Blessed are those who have inherited the earth,
For they are meek.

Blessed are those who are satisfied,
For they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

Blessed are those who have received mercy,
For they are merciful.

Blessed are those who have seen God,
For they are pure in heart.

Blessed are those who are called sons of God,
For they are peacemakers.

Blessed are those whose kingdom is heaven,
For they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Rejoice and be glad, all those whose reward in heaven is great,
For you have been persecuted and evilly and falsely spoken against,
For so it is with all prophets.

 

Full

My life is full.
I have witnessed the birth of my child,
And held the hand of my dying mother.
I have had good health and vitality,
And suffered from injury and disease.
I have known comfort and success,
And endured sleepless nights of worry.
I have achieved outstanding results,
And failed at often simple tests.
I have loved and been loved,
And been betrayed and hurt others.
I have given and received wisdom,
And practised and dispensed folly.
I have been overwhelmed by joy,
And flooded with despair.
My life is full,
And there is more to come,
And although I don’t know what
Today or tomorrow may bring,
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy,
But I choose to live life in all its fullness.

Grace

As the Godhead gathered in Heaven, the Father turned to the Son and said, “I love you with the very essence of my being. You are for me the very expression of love itself, and your essence is true love. I delight in you with all of my being and the reality of your being increases and enhances my love, for in you it finds its perfect expression.”

On hearing this, the Son turned to the Father and said, “Truly, truly You are for me a Father. Your heart is overflowing love, for surely I am an expression of that overflow. Your love for me is life for me. To receive your love is to know life, and to love you back is life overflowing.”

The Father, moved by His Son’s words, had an idea. “My greatest and deepest desire is to love you even more, yet within this relationship alone you are limited to only being able to receive my love and the Spirit’s love. Although there is no greater or more complete love possible, yet I desire to love you more. Therefore, I will create for you a universe made of the very essence of our being; not made of us, but from us, as a reflection of us, so that in and through it you can discover even greater dimensions and depths of my love for you.”

The Son was pleased, yet at that moment experienced for the first time something unexpected; he experienced sadness. As the very idea of his Father creating a universe to express his love for him entered his mind, the Son realised that anything made that was not in itself part of their shared being would be inferior to them and would, necessarily, be prone to imperfection and loss. Furthermore, the Son realised that for such a universe to exist it would require creatures with the ability to experience and express love, and for that to be possible, it would also be possible for these creatures to reject love and to turn to hatred.

The Son replied, “Father, if you create for us a universe beyond ourselves, with creatures that can express our love, then surely they might also reject our love. Why would you risk allowing the rejection of our perfect mutual love?”

The Father, smiling, replied, “I will not make this universe from our love alone; I will also make it with grace. Even if the entirety of it, and every creature in it, were to reject our love, grace would still provide a way for love to win through. Grace will continually offer our love, over and over, until one being in this universe finally receives and expresses true, pure, perfect love back to us. Even if no being is able ever to receive and return our love perfectly, grace will still give meaning to my creation.”

”Then let me share in this great creation,” said the Son. ”Let your grace and love flow through me that the universe might indeed be made for me. If there is no being capable of receiving and returning our love, let me be that being, that the universe will always have someone to complete your work. Let your grace provide a way for your perfect love – our complete love – to overcome the very worst imperfections and rejection of our love. If it would fulfil your desire, let me give even my life so that grace might always produce the highest expression of love even at its point of greatest rejection.”

The Father and the Son agreed and sent forth their Spirit to create for them this universe which would fulfil their desire for increased love.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Measure of faith

You assign to me the measure
Of faith that keeps me firmly
In you, and yet invites me to
Walk more deeply into the
Grace you have given and
Are continually giving to me.
As this faithful grace fills up
In me a gracious faith it leads
Me to the One that is higher
Than I – Highest in the highest –
So I can know who I really am
And in truth whose I really am.
Only from that place of knowing,
And being known, can I see,
With sobering clarity, that you
Raise me up higher than I deserve
Through your mercy and love,
And that the path of righteousness
You set before me – the one
Bearing your name – is the road of
Humility leading to overflowing life.
May I walk this path in the light
Of your truth about me and know
The fulness of life lived out by a
Faith that grows in the measure
Of the grace I receive from you.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Romans 12:3

Dear body

Dear body,
I’m sorry that
I haven’t always
Loved you just
As you are, with
Your odd bits here
And creases there.
You’ve always looked
After me even when
I haven’t looked after
You, often dealing with
Things unseen and
Unnoticed that gave
Me health and wellbeing
And kept me safe.
I have not felt enough
Gratitude for all that
You are to me but today
I want to give you thanks.
You see, my mind has
Taken in so many images
And ideas of how a body
Should be that I forsook
The reality of what you
Really are to me – an
Inseparable partner on
My whole life’s journey
Who will be faithful to
The end and who will
Tell me when it’s time
To move into a new body.
They never told me that
You are the outward form
Of my inner soul and I
Was taught that you
Were subservient to my
Mind and ought to be
Forced into whatever shape
My twisted thoughts decide.
This is wrong and I am
Sorry that this has not been
An equal partnership.
I promise to value you and
Cherish you for who you are,
Just as you are.
I accept all the unique strengths
And weaknesses that make
You you and choose to
Recognise that those vain voices
That fearfully define our body image
Only have the power that
My mind allows them to have.
You have been a blessing to me
Even from my mother’s womb
And henceforth I want to be a
Blessing to you all the days
Of our shared life together.
You are a gift to me and I am
A gift to you. May we receive
Each other as that gift and
Love each other with the
Full and true value of our being.
Thank you for being my body
And for reminding my mind –
In your quiet unassuming way-
Just how much I love you.