Connections 04.21.2024: I Shall Not… What?

Psalm 23

The twenty-third psalm is a challenging Scripture.

Well, maybe not the parts where God “makes me lie down” and “leads me beside still waters” and “restores my soul.” And not “he leads me in right paths,” or “I fear no evil, for you are with me,” or “you prepare a table before me.” And definitely not the “goodness and mercy” that “shall follow my all the days of my life,” and not how “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Those parts are full of comfort and promise. All those parts of Psalm 23—nearly all of Psalm 23, actually—are the reasons we repeat this text to proclaim our trust in God, who leads us and cares for us. In our most vulnerable times, these words bring us encouragement.

But there at the very beginning, just after the psalmist proclaims that “The Lord is my Shepherd,” he throws down a gauntlet: “I shall not want.”

Most likely the psalmist means this as a comfort and a promise, a snappy way of saying “God takes care of all my needs”: I’ve got plenty of green grass to eat, cool water to drink, a trustworthy guide to get me where I need to go. In times when we face fearful situations and leering enemies, and in times when we feel lost and alone, it is good to know we “shall not want” for courage, or victory, or guidance, or God’s presence.

But for those of us who live in modern culture, “I shall not want” also feels like an impossible commitment: if the Lord is our Shepherd, then we shall not be in want no matter what commercial comes on TV or what sponsored posts show up on our social media. I’m sure the psalmist was thinking theologically but I wonder what it would mean to faithfully not-want a summer wardrobe overhaul or a different body shape to dress. I wonder what it would mean to faithfully not-want a particular outcome to a sporting event or an election. I wonder what it would mean to faithfully not-want more, or better, or new. The Lord our Shepherd promises us care, shelter, direction, and dwelling. Can we promise God our faithful contentment in return?

Discussion

  • Many people in our world are deeply, painfully in need and “wanting.” How does the Lord our Shepherd provide for people’s needs through those who belong to the Shepherd’s “flock”? How might God be inviting you to care for those who have material, emotional, mental, or spiritual needs?
  • Psalm 23 poetically lists many ways God cares for God’s people. How do all these actions meet our needs and wants?
  • What else might “I shall not want” mean? How is contentment a faithful response to God’s gifts?
  • It’s easy to understand why contentment is important when it comes to accumulating material goods. Do you think “not wanting” is also important when it comes to other priorities in our lives—like who wins an election, the decisions our church leaders make, or the ways we strive to improve ourselves at work or in school? How do we practice contentment and “not wanting” even while we try to grow personally and professionally?
  • How might faithfully practicing “not wanting” help to generate a culture of peace?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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