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)

Who wears the crown?

When the virus stalks in our midst,
And spreads its woe unseen,
Who wears the crown?

When fear crowds in,
And all must isolate,
Who wears the crown?

When jobs and money are no longer secure,
And provision is scarce,
Who wears the crown?

When those nearest to us are vulnerable,
And safety means distancing ourselves,
Who wears the crown?

When our leaders admit their limits,
And their strategies rely on hope,
Who wears the crown?

When we can only see an unfamiliar future,
And we are shaken into sudden change,
Who wears the crown?

He is near to the lonely and broken-hearted,
And with all His heart consoles the afflicted,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He is our provision and provider,
And by His Word we live, breath and have our being,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He is not caught off guard,
And all things work together for our good,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He knit us together in our mother’s womb,
And every day of our lives are known to Him,
For Jesus wears the crown.

He may not be seen in the ways we expect,
And yet his presence is found in those He loves,
For Jesus wears the crown.

His love drives out all fear,
And death is swallowed up in His death,
For Jesus wears the crown.

A response to corona – the ‘crown’ – virus.

Wings extended

Her unassuming way
Was no indicator of the
Strength within; a heart
As tender as a dove and
Strong as steel.
It didn’t matter how unclean
You were, how insecure,
How needy or how far you’d
Fallen,
With a simple, unconscious gesture,
She would extend her wings,
Exposing the softest down,
And shelter you in warm comfort
Beneath her protective pinions.
Her open heart was
Her mother’s touch, and
No matter whose child you
Were, she could, and would
Be your mother too.

For Sheila

The boat’s righting

As the hull leaned,
Under windward strain –
Perilously exposing its deck,
Like an open mouth
Ready to gulp the ocean –
She climbed the mainmast
(Although how, she did not know),
And once atop leaned out
Leeward, facing the storm
With all its blustering rage.
As she hung there, cruciform,
The hull righted and all souls
Aboard were rescued from the
Swallowing sea.
As she maintained her position,
Painfully exposed, she heard
On the wind a silent whisper,
“Hold fast to righteousness
And do not be afraid,
For this storm turns the tide,
And clears away the dead wood
And all that is not held fast;
This lifeboat will not succumb,
For you are its righting, and in
The morning’s calm you will
Lead my people ashore to
Rebuild a new land, patterned
On my kingdom.”

Thou genesis word

Be formed in me,
Thou genesis word,
Thou Logos which wert
And art, forevermore;
Thou Word spoken
In the beginning,
And now being heard
For such a time as this.
Form me around thee
Living Word made flesh;
Once, then, as Immanuel
And again, now, in thy
Body Temple.
Expand my spirit
Through thine own;
A new wineskin transformed
From the old, lain down.
Then pour thyself forth
Into me that I might overflow
With thee, and with creation
All, proclaim thy glories —
Thy cross and resurrection —
As an emissary shaped, living,
By thy genesis word.

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.