“I Shall Not Want”
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Psalm 73: 21-28
focusing this month and next on the 23rd Psalm – A Psalm for Tough
Times because for some of us these are tough times…frightening times. Jobs are being downsized, pensions are being
devalued (the retirements of United Methodist pastors in our conference are
down by 66 percent this year!), and real estate is iffy. No one really knows
if we have hit bottom or if we will bounce when we do and how high the bounce
will be. Someone told me recently there are 6,000 unemployed lawyers in
The 23rd Psalm begins with a bold assertion: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd, thus, I shall not want.
Is this just a nice lyric for an ancient hymn, or is this something we can believe in? This is the question I am wrestling with and I hope you might wrestle with along with me.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The word “want” has two aspects to its meaning here. One aspect is subjective and the other is objective. The subjective meaning is easier, so let’s talk about the subjective meaning first.
Want is, in part, subjective. Desire is subjective. It is a feeling.
The liberation theologian Leonardo Boff says “a human being is fundamentally a being of desire.”
“There is nothing that has not been the object of human desire,” he says. “We have gone to the moon, and now we are going out of the solar system toward the heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way.…What object,” he asks, “is adequate to human desire?” Human desire is infinite.[i]
sometimes am afraid that my personal capacity to want is infinite. The other
day I was walking down
In the back of the store there is a pretty impressive selection of baseball gloves, and suddenly I really wanted a baseball glove. I haven’t played baseball in 25 years. I don’t intend to try to start playing baseball again. I watch baseball but I don’t play baseball anymore. But I suddenly wanted a baseball glove, not to play baseball, but to wear it around the house – to wear it while I am watching baseball on TV.
And, as I looked at the selection of baseball gloves, I not only wanted a glove. It turned out I wanted the most expensive one.
Do you know what saved me? I knew if I bought one I’d have to explain it to Jane when I got home. One of the good things about committed relationships is that they can save us from ourselves.
Our human capacity to want is infinite, Leonardo Boff says.
Part of what Psalm 23 is saying is that we do not need to be slaves to our wants. We can learn to come to want what the Lord, our shepherd, provides for us.
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” we say, as though we have no control over what we want. Not true.
The New Testament talks about our capacity to set our hearts and minds on different things. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” the book of Romans says. (Romans 8:5)
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” Colossians 3:2 says.
Froneo, the Greek word we translate “set,” means to direct our mind or heart in a certain direction. The assumption is that we have the capacity to control our thoughts and feelings, and thus our wants and desires.
How do we do that? Well, there is another part of the definition of the Greek word froneo.
The other part of the definition is: to be of the same mind, to agree together, to cherish the same views, to be harmonious.
Our wants are shaped by what we set our hearts and minds on – and what we set our hearts and minds on is largely shaped by whom we associate with.
You know who was the best pope of the past century, maybe the best pope since Peter, maybe the best pope ever, maybe better than Peter (if Peter ever was a pope which we could debate)? Anybody want to take a guess?
Pope John XXIII. As a result of his leadership, the Catholic Church became more human and humane, less arrogant, more connected with ordinary people.
know why? Pope John the XXIII was the first pope in the 20th century
to make pastoral calls. He became pope in 1958 and, on Christmas Day 1958, he
visited children suffering from polio at a hospital in
to take walks. He insisted on taking walks throughout
He managed to reset the mind and heart of the Catholic Church because he staying connected with ordinary people and that kept his mind and heart set on the right things. He refused to get swept up in the kinds of abstract thinking and politics that happens behind closed doors as much in church as anywhere else.
We can set our minds and hearts, and thus our desires and wants, by where and with whom we spend our time…where we turn our attention…with whom we spend time and thus come to share the same mind.
I am amazed again and again by how warm-hearted our Walk-In Mission volunteers are. Some of that may be self-selection. People who are warm-hearted tend to volunteer with the homeless, but I also think that spending time with the homeless causes our hearts to become more generous and caring.
youth sometimes tell us that the Appalachian Service Project changes the way
they think and feel about their lives and futures. Volunteering in
I go to
Our relationship with God and with the family of Christ, the least of these, has the capacity to set our hearts and minds and wants and desires on things above.
To say the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want says, first of all, that I do not need to be a slave to my subjective feelings of want and desire. I can reset my heart and minds on godly things.
But it is meant to also be an objective statement, and this is a bit harder to wrestle with, at least for me. Psalm 23 also means that if the Lord is my shepherd, I will not objectively be in need. I will have what I objectively need.
This is a little harder to trust in.
said “The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want,” it would be
easier. There is an article in the latest Harper’s
about a world hunger summit held in
We live in a world where there is enough for everybody. The shepherd has provided enough so that no one should need to be in need of the basic sustenance of life. The Lord is not the problem. We are.
But the psalm says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not need,” and so the question is “Can I trust the Lord with my needs?”
It is a question that maybe needs to be answered with another question: Whom or what can I trust?
I don’t know if it is true – I heard a story about a church – one of the liturgical churches – where this past Easter the pastor started his sermon by saying: “The stock market is risen,” and without thinking someone in the congregation answered, “It is risen indeed.”
John Ortberg preached a series of sermons recently on the theme “Never Waste a Crisis” and his point was that crises help us ask important questions.
Whom or what can we trust? Where do we find our security? In what do we invest ourselves?
For the past couple of thousand of years people have gathered in churches and in homes and sometimes under trees, and they have not said: The dollar is risen. They have not said: My 401(k) is risen. My bank account is risen.
We have this funny expression. If we add up our financial assets, whatever they may be, and we subtract from them our financial liabilities, we say that this gives us our net…worth. If our liabilities are higher than our assets we even say that we have a…negative net worth.
Who here thinks that you are worth less to God than you were when the stock market was 700 points higher a year ago? Who think you are worth less to your friends? If you are, maybe you need new friends. Who thinks you are worth less to your partner or spouse? Who thinks you are worth less to your children or to your nieces and nephews?
The question is from where we get our worth and value? Where do we find riches that do not rust and that thieves can not break in and steal?
When John D. Rockefeller died – he was one of the richest people in history – someone asked his accountant, “How much did John D. leave behind?” the accountant answered: “All of it.”
Never waste a crisis. A crisis asks us ultimately whom or what we can trust?
Saint Theresa of
Let nothing disturb you
Nothing frighten you,
God does not change,
Patience achieves all.
One who has God
Will not want.
God alone suffices.
Everything else passes except God. One who has God will not want.
What is it that we really need? Sure, we need food to eat, clothes to wear, a place to sleep.
But just as important, we need love. We need community. We need meaning…something worthwhile to do with ourselves. We need hope.
The second list may be even more important than the first. Remember where it is that we can find love, community, meaning and hope.
[i] Leonardo Boff, The Lord is My Shepherd: Divine Consolation in Times of Abandonment (Orbis Books, 2006), 55-6.