Reading the Bible often means removing myself from 21st Century America and placing myself into a distant time and place. That cannot be more true for a verse than it is for Psalm 23:1b. “I shall not want.”
To an American today “I shall not want” means I have everything including a big enough house, a new enough I-phone with unlimited data and a plenty big battery, enough underwear so that I don’t have to do laundry this week, an SUV with enough of space, a tv big enough to be seen from my neighbors’ couch across the street, and money enough to go out to eat on average of five times a week, pay for my kids’ private education, and retire comfortably. It’s not really all that close to what Psalm 23:1 originally intended.
The word for “shall not want,” sometimes translated “lack nothing,” is also used in a verse in Deuteronomy chapter 2 in reference to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between slavery in Egypt and entering the Promised Land. Moses writes: “These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”
They lacked nothing. Do you see how Psalm 23 must not be referring to a 21st century American’s definition of “lack nothing?” There was no wifi. No air conditioning. No electricity. No plumbing. No property owned. No e-readers. Once I get past the shock of realizing that Psalm 23 isn’t promising me my dream house, my dream car, or my dream vacation life then I can begin to consider what Psalm 23 IS promising, and what it really means for me.
Both Deuteronomy 2:7 and Psalm 23:1 talk about lacking nothing, and both point to the exact same source of contentment: a relationship with an ever-present, ever-loving God. In that relationship, there is no want. There is nothing I lack when He is with me. If I do feel like I’m missing something it is only because I’m looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. Anything that fills my ‘want’ apart from God is going to come up short. Eventually the new car gets dinged and dings develop rust and rusty cars just don’t have the same appeal. Eventually you’ll get a bad piece of seafood and realize that even what looks like the best stuff on earth can be painful. Eventually your cutting edge technology will be replaced and you’ll keep chasing after the newer, the bigger, the best. Eventually you’ll lose your mind trying to fill a void that could be filled all along by Jesus.
Psalm 23 isn’t just a Psalm about eternal life. It’s a psalm about finding contentment TODAY. It’s to be found in a relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus. When you find that you’ll have no want.
Dear Jesus, help me find contentment in you. Amen.