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I Shall Not Want - Psalm 23:1


By Ted Schroder,
April 10, 2016

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

The 23rd Psalm proclaims that contentment is the result of experiencing that the Lord is my shepherd: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." If I know that I have the Good Shepherd looking out for me, I shall be content. If I know that the Lord, who loves me and cares for me, is sovereign and in total control of all the circumstances of my life, I can trust him to provide for me.

When I left home for graduate school overseas I had saved enough to get me through the first year. I had no scholarship or financial aid. I had worked five jobs to get me half way around the world and pay for school fees and room and board. During that first year I applied for every kind of scholarship that I could find but I came up empty-handed. I believed the Lord wanted me to be at Durham University in England and to graduate with my degree. In the end I was led to offer myself to the Church of England. In return for giving them two years of service they undertook to entirely pay my way for the remaining two years. The Lord provided for my needs and led me to serve in an exciting position in London for four years, where I received further training and experience that money could not have bought. It was the beginning of the realization that if I had the Lord for my shepherd, that I should not be in want.

Australian missionary bishop, Alfred Stanway has written, "Where God guides, he provides. God will pay all the bills for the things he ordered." This attitude flies in the face of our postmodern culture in the new millenium. We live in a consumer culture that constantly seeks to stimulate our wants. Colin Campbell in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, calls consumerism "self-illusory hedonism". It is "characterized by a longing to experience in reality those pleasures created and enjoyed in imagination, a longing which results in the ceaseless consumption of novelty. Such an outlook, with its characteristic dissatisfaction with real life and an eagerness for new experiences, lies at the heart of much conduct that is typical of modern life, and underpins such central institutions as fashion and romantic love." (p.134)

Consumer ideology teaches us to construct our identities through our lifestyle choices. When a person does not have an understanding of personal identity from within, e.g. that the Lord is my shepherd, that I belong to God, that he loves me and cares for me, that identity must be constructed from without. When we experience spiritual emptiness in our inner being, we have to fill it with something. "To have is to be. For many western young people.... The belief 'I am what I consume and what I have' remains strong.." (Gunter and Furnham, Children as Consumers, p.43)

Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount: "You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about the body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:24-27)
That does not mean that we should be passive and not contribute to our livelihood! The birds still have to go out and find God's provision for them. They work hard at feeding themselves and their offspring. We have basic needs in life that should be met: food, clothing, housing, education, love etc. But we can have them all and still feel discontented. We want more. Wealth does not bring contentment. Our need is primarily spiritual not material.

Jesus addressed this after feeding the five thousand. He said that true satisfaction is going to be found in a personal relationship with him:

"Do not work for food that spoils but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you... I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:27,35) If I have Christ and he has me I shall not want love, hope, peace, strength, courage, companionship, guidance, joy and protection.

Why is it that this satisfaction is not always our experience now? When Adam and Eve were created and living in the Garden of Eden they should have been happy and satisfied with their lives. But immediately they were confronted with the temptation of discontent. They wanted something they were told by God they did not need. The serpent persuaded them that they deserved to have everything, and that included the forbidden fruit. Eve saw that "the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom." (Genesis 3:6) They took and ate. This was the beginning of the confusion between our needs and our wants. It also resulted in guilt and shame.

The world is our environment that has a ruler who continually tries to tempt us to be discontented, to want more than is good for us, to look beyond our Garden of Eden, beyond our identity and purpose as children of God. The focus for our wants is confined to this world rather than eternal life.

In Overcoming Overspending, Olivia Mellan writes that overspenders believe money can buy, or substitute for, love or happiness. She says that it's like feeding yourself empty calories. "You may feel yourself gratified by the appearance, the aroma, the taste - the whole sensory experience of consuming - but shortly afterward you feel hungry again, because you haven't really been nourished." (p.29) "Overspending can also be a way of numbing ourselves to past or present fears, anxieties, or injuries. Like eating, spending is often the solace, we learn to seek when we're feeling lonely, sad, frightened, helpless, unfulfilled, or unlovable." (p.31) How is it possible to say, "I shall not want" when we have so many wants. We have to find a way to address our real needs beyond consumerism. This is true for government overspending as well.

One of the biggest issues of our time is borrowing from the future to supply the wants of the present. U.S. government spending is reaching a new high and piling up debt to pay for it. Mandatory spending is nearly 60% of the federal budget and climbing. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are the main drivers of the national debt which is now over $19 trillion (or roughly $59,000 per citizen). On this current trajectory, spending on health care, Social Security and interest on the debt will consume all federal tax revenues by 2045, leaving nothing left over for "discretionary" but necessary programs such as defense and other items.

What is the solution? Raising tax revenues or rationing benefits? But the fundamental answer is spiritual. It is to learn to be content in the Lord, by finding our needs met in the Savior. It is to look for security in the medicine of the soul, the courage to accept our mortality and the good news of the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

Almighty and eternal God,
You have breathed your Spirit into my life:
You have formed my mind to seek you:
You have inclined my heart to love you:
You have made me restless for the rest that is in you:
You have planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth.

Let me be in the world, yet not of it. Let me use this world without abusing it. If I buy, let me be as though I possessed not. If I have nothing, let me be as though possessing all things. Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ's sake. Amen.
(John Baillie)

The Rev. Ted Schroder is Pastor of Amelia Island Plantation on Amelia Island, Florida

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