May 14, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 23:1 (NIV)
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In Psalm 23, the former shepherd David reminds us that God, our great Shepherd, provides his sheep with everything we need. This is true even in the midst of life’s turmoils (including pandemics.) If the Lord is your shepherd—and Christians could equally say, “If Jesus is my shepherd”—you already have everything you need. That’s not merely a statement about what your desires ought to be, but rather a statement about your lived present condition: the daily life you already lead.
Have any of you ever found it difficult to hear a well-known passage afresh without it seeming trite? Psalm 23—David’s famous shepherd psalm—is one of the best-known and loved passages in scripture. It is beautiful and profound. As with other famous passages, however, its beauty and power can be lost in familiarity. That has sometimes been the case for me. Until 2020, that is.
This past year was not only one of a pandemic, but also of political divisiveness, social unrest, and economic turmoil—on top of a steady storm of environmental disasters including record-setting fires, a continually worsening storm season battering the Gulf Coast, and Arctic temperatures in Texas. Combined, these events have resulted in loss and uncertainty.
While I am not generally a person given to anxiety, since March of 2020 I have had moments in which anxiety welled up within me, setting my stomach into knots. Sometimes it happened sitting at my office desk during the day, or sometimes it brought me to bolt upright in the middle of the night, wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. The anxiety wasn’t one single particular identifiable fear, but a sort of overwhelming combination of everything: all the loss and uncertainties we seem to be facing as a family, a culture, and a world. Thankfully, a few things have brought me back to Psalm 23 with new eyes, leading me to return to it repeatedly in my meditations—especially as 2020 has dragged into 2021.
One practice that helped me see Psalm 23 anew was reading it in different translations that get closer to its actual meaning for readers of modern (American) English. Many of us are familiar with Psalm 23 in the King James translation (KJV): “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The NAS and NRSV have the same wording with just a slight change in punctuation. And that translation was accurate in the time of King James. In the early 17th century, the word “want” meant “need,” which reflects the original Hebrew words.
A century after the KJV was translated, however, the word “want” shifted meanings to something more like “desire,” which has carried over into modern English. If you say “I want some chocolate,” you probably mean “I desire some chocolate”. However, today’s readers who hear the KJV wording “I shall not want” and interpret that as a statement about our desires are missing something important in David’s original psalm.
This is why many modern translations use different and more accurate wording—even though it may sound less poetic to those familiar with the KJV. The NIV, for example, uses this translation: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Similarly, The Message translates Psalm 23:1 as “GOD, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.” The New Century Version (NCV) also gets at this, translating Psalm 23:1 as “The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” These translations suggest not an aspirational statement about our desires, but rather a statement about our actual present reality: “I lack nothing” and “I don’t need a thing”.
Did you catch that statement of assurance from the Psalmist? If the Lord is your shepherd—and Christians could equally say, “if Jesus is your shepherd”—you already have everything you need. That’s not merely a statement about what your desires ought to be, but rather a statement about your lived present condition: the daily life you already lead.
What is the one thing you need most? It is God. God, and all that comes with being in a relationship with God, is what you need. And so if you have Jesus as your shepherd, you have all that, because you have God; you are in that relationship with God that we were created to be in. If you can say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” then you can also affirm “I have everything I need.” Reflecting on that truth over the past year—repeatedly returning to it, dwelling on it, and reaffirming it—has been very reassuring to me in the midst of so much worldly uncertainty.
Why do you think the shepherd psalmist David, who experienced a lot of difficult and threatening challenges, was able to experience peace? How was he able to have such confidence in the Lord as his shepherd?
What makes you anxious or fearful at work? At home? Why do you think these things cause anxiety for you? How does fear or anxiety impact you at work? At home?
Write down the things that make you most anxious or fearful. Pray an honest prayer to God acknowledging these things that cause fear or anxiety.
Write down a list of ways that God has provided your needs in the past week, the past month, the past year. Pray a prayer of thanksgiving for these provisions.
Lord, you are my shepherd. I do, indeed have all that I need; in you, I lack nothing. For that I give you both thanksgiving and praise. But I also admit that I sometimes forget that truth and I succumb to anxiety and worry. So I also ask that you help me to hold on to the reality of your provision, and that I grow in my trust of you as my shepherd. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Lord Is My Shepherd
Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.
In the KJV, the second part of the first sentence is future tense (God will provide). In the NIV it’s present tense. I don’t know if there are tenses in the original, but I think it makes a difference. For someone who is unemployed and trying to buy groceries, I think future tense is a better expression of what I believe (based on other scripture) is God’s intent.