“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1
This most-famous psalm has held my attention for months now. As I sit in the familiar words written by David centuries ago, the vivid imagery helps me see who God is and who I am. I invite you to listen to these words again and pray you will receive comfort as I have.
Throughout this Psalm, I am reminded of God’s agency and sufficiency in my life, and this leaves me with certainty.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
None other than the God of the universe is the one who cares and provides for me. Because of God’s agency, I lack nothing. His care is sufficient. “Nothing” is a big word when I often look to my own agency and effort to compensate for what I think I lack: acceptance, competency, satisfaction, etc. etc. Because God relates to me in the way of a shepherd, I have all I need and I lack nothing. God’s active care is sufficient.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures,”
…not I. He, not I, is the one who brings me to the place I am and ensures that place will contribute to my flourishing.
“He leads me beside quiet waters.”
He leads me to rest. This is his agency, and it is sufficient to bring me there.
“He refreshes my soul.”
I do not have to (nor can I) refresh my own soul. God the good shepherd does this. This is who God is and what God does for his children. Can I trust his sufficiency here in what I most need?
“He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
This is one of my favorites. This is a place I see God’s agency doubly highlighted: He guides me for his name’s sake. Though my performance-oriented heart agonizes over what is the most-right path, the most righteous endeavor or direction, here God speaks saying, “I am guiding you and will guide you in the right way.” Then, even more humbling, he says, “And I am doing that for my own reputation and mission, not for you to either puff yourself up or somehow become more impressive or useful or lovable to me.” This is not only comforting but also freeing—that God is actively invested in me walking in the right path because that glorifies and agrees with and witnesses to him. It is neither about me, nor by my agency. His action is sufficient for keeping me in the right way.
But we know the right ways are not only happy, pain-free, and blissful, right? Is God’s leading and care sufficient when life is really bad? The psalmist knows about this too.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil.”
When I am there in the valley of the shadow of death, because I certainly am or will be, I will fear not that I will be completely overtaken, robbed of goodness and life…
“for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
God’s presence with me is the reason I can fear no evil. In this very dark time God seems even nearer, and I can know him even more closely. The psalmist’s language changes from “the Lord” and “he” to “you.” “You are with me. Your rod comforts me.” His presence and guiding — even correcting and protecting — is what provides me comfort in the darkest lows. He is the agent here still, and only his active presence is sufficient to keep me from evil. There is another element of this:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
God acts to provide sustenance, nourishment, indeed a feast for me in the very presence of my enemies. Implied here is that he does not take me away from my enemies — I wish they would be absent, obliterated! But in the very midst of opposition, bullying, injustice, animosity, and those who seek my harm, God sets the table for me to feast. Here at his table is sufficient rest and sustenance, regardless of external circumstances. Indeed, there is abundance. Would I trust him to sustain and feed me in these times?
“You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
God is the one who gives me dignity and determines my identity as one in God’s royal family, blessed by his designation. My cup overflows because his provision is completely sufficient and never skimpy or minimal.
Over and over, we see God is the subject and agent of every verse and action in this psalm. His agency is sufficient to bring about our provision, rest, flourishing, nourishment. Therefore, given all the psalmist knows and has experienced of God, he can say with certainty,
“Surely your goodness and love with follow me all the days of my life.”
This is not a generic “good times” but God’s goodness, derived from his self; and his eternal love, his very nature, will pursue and surround me every day, in all seasons.
“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Because of who God is and how God relates to me, I will reside with him, in his presence and domain not only now in this life, but for eternity.
I rejoice and experience deeper rest meditating on the fact that this is who God is and he continually acts this way for me for his name’s sake. I want you and me to know his agency and action is sufficient to bring all this about. Because of this you and I can rest from striving to achieve rest and provision for ourselves. Therefore, let us have certainty that his love and goodness will always be present with us. And in his love and goodness, you and I lack nothing.
— Mary Ann McCarty