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”.
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.”
“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!”
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.