The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
Every one of us wakes up each morning as a bundle of desires. Beneath even the most outwardly apathetic demeanor are loves, needs, and fears — each of them demanding our attention and obedience. Many of us move through our days largely unconscious of these basic emotions, even though they sit at the control panel of our hearts, pulling the levers that decide what we say and do.
A husband and father, for example, leaves work filled with a love for comfort. He obeys that love by coming home, not to his wife and kids, but to his couch and sports.
An employee walks into the office feeling a need for his peers’ approval. So he performs on the stage from nine to five, always listening for applause.
“We shall not want. Even in discomfort. Even in rejection. Even in the valley of the shadow of death.”
A young man, wounded from past relationships, fears the prospect of future pain. So he withdraws socially, insulating himself from anyone who might harm him.
Such loves, needs, and fears present themselves so persuasively, so forcefully, that we often fail to ask if they are feelings worth following. They can keep us from hearing another voice that has been speaking to us all the while, bidding us to walk a better path.
That Other Voice
God, in his mercy, makes us stop and listen. Behind the clamor of our desires, we hear the voice of a shepherd who invites us to green pastures and still waters. The trouble, however, is that his voice often leads in the opposite direction of our feelings. Our loves, needs, and fears push us toward one path; he calls us to another. To follow him, we must deny them.
In moments such as these, we encounter what C.S. Lewis calls “the real problem of the Christian life.” The decisions that define us as Christians often do not come with a flash and a bang. They come softly, almost noiselessly. They come, Lewis tells us,
the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. (Mere Christianity, 198)
And what does that other voice — that larger, stronger, quieter life — teach us to say to our rebel feelings? Four words: “I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
‘I Shall Not Want’
Imagine you wake up with an instinctive love for comfort. You just want to move from bed to office to couch to bed without interruptions. You can’t be bothered by other people today, especially the needy ones. You need more rest, more me time. That hard conversation can wait until tomorrow. But then you stop and listen to that other voice, which teaches you to say, “When I walk into discomfort, I shall not want.”
Or perhaps you wake up feeling a deep need for approval. You just want others to appreciate you, listen to you, love you. You wish you were better looking, less awkward. You’re ready to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny and say things you don’t believe. But then that other point of view wraps its arm around your shoulder, and helps you say, “I have one Master to please today. When others reject or ignore me, I shall not want.”
Or maybe you wake up with a vague fear of coming trials. You just want to hold what’s precious in your life out of God’s reach. A crowd of what ifs runs through your mind, and you answer by searching for something to distract you. But then that larger, stronger, quieter life comes flowing in, and you find yourself saying, “When trouble comes, I shall not want.”
“Jesus spilled his blood in Golgotha’s dust so we could lie down in green pastures.”
The wild pack of loves, needs, and fears has rushed at you, but you have beaten them back with this four-word shove: I shall not want. You are ready to follow your shepherd wherever he leads. They may come back in the afternoon, or even ten minutes from now, but you know what to do. You plug your ears to their persuasions and remember, again and again, I shall not want.
And so on, all day.
‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’
Of course, the four words I shall not want possess no magical qualities. We cannot charm away temptation simply by saying them. Rather, they are powerful only insofar as we believe the words that come before them: “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). How do we know with confidence that we shall not want, even when our loves, needs, and fears say just the opposite? Because the Lord Jesus Christ is our shepherd.
Jesus spilled his blood in Golgotha’s dust so we could lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2). He laid his soul in the grave so ours could be restored (Psalm 23:3). He allowed the valley of the shadow of death to swallow him so that it might become for us the highway to heaven (Psalm 23:4). Every morning, he sets a table for us, filled with rich food (Psalm 23:5). Every day, he sends his goodness and mercy to chase us, surround us, and keep us safe till we reach home (Psalm 23:6).
As we entrust ourselves to this shepherd, he takes his rod and his staff, and trains our feelings to follow him: to love him, to need him, to fear him. He teaches us, day by day, that as long as we are near him, we shall not want. Even in discomfort. Even in rejection. Even in the valley of the shadow of death.