The psalm appointed this week is the famous Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd. It is no coincidence that, with the bombing in Boston on Monday, this happens to be the psalm. I actually thought before looking at the lectionary that the psalm should be Psalm 23, and it just so happens the 23 was the appointed psalm. I didn't have to make any changes.
This is a psalm of comfort and it's fascinating to me that you can read this psalm over and over and still find something new. That's the way the Bible is: you can always find something new, because it says at the end of the Gospel of John the libraries on the world will not be able to hold all of the books that have been, or will be, written about Jesus Christ, and we see that continuing today. More and more can be found here in Psalm 23.
We read, "the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," and our United States mentality, our American sensibilities, our individualism, our materialistic culture tells us, "I should invest in the Lord because then he will serve all my desires; he will grant every wish; I will never want for anything, because he will provide everything I want, like a genie. Jesus the genie, granting us our every wish!" This is not what this means. This means God removes the spirit of wanting, the spirit of being materialistic, which is a sin. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and it comes from being materialistic.
Materialism is not necessarily a new thing. It's always been the case, whenever there has been inequality, whenever there's been evil, whenever there has been death: the three things that Jesus conquers in his resurrection body. There is envy and all other sins. These sins come upon us no matter what time. So, people wanted back then, and people want like crazy today.
"I shall not want." The spirit of wanting is gone. The Lord is my shepherd, and he takes away the desire for stuff from me. He takes away the desire for me to control my own life. He takes away the selfishness. As if to prove that this is the meaning of that line, that second half of verse one, I shall not want, we read the rest of the psalm: he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul, he guides me in the paths of righteousness. It doesn't say, "I wanted to lie down in green pastures, and so I snap my fingers, and the Lord said, hey! how would you like this pasture? I'll provide you a pasture!" It doesn't say, "I wanted to be beside quiet waters, and the Lord provided quiet waters for me." It doesn't say, "my soul needed restoring, and so I wanted to have you do that for me."
Notice how we in this culture change "want" to "need." We understand that the word "want" sounds selfish, and so what we do is we change the word to "need." It's still wanting something, but once we change it to need, then it sounds like it's something more than just some materialistic craving in our hearts, so we say, "I really really NEED this," and suddenly we can justify ourselves.
All of this is a lie, because the truth is we really don't WANT to be in the paths of righteousness. In fact, that is exactly the OPPOSITE of what we want. We, as fallen, sinful creatures do not want to walk in the paths of righteousness, but the Lord is not to be stopped. He guides us in the paths of righteousness. He guides us. He does these things. He is forcing himself upon us, because we don't want this, and here is the key: "for his name's sake."
For his name's sake. He's not doing this for US. He's not doing this because, "poor little Fred: he needs me!" He's doing this, because when he has transformed my life, when he has dragged me from my wanting to a place of peace, when he has dragged me where I do not want to go, I will be transformed into a child of God, and I will praise his NAME, and people will hear his name being praised, and they will respond. All of this is for God's name. God knows how to promote his name. I don't. I don't know the first thing about pushing God into the world, about promoting him. He knows. He will not be stopped.
Are we to just sit there and wait for God to work? Are we to just be thoughtless, mindless creatures who let our Lord take control of us, and possess us, and drag us wherever we don't want to go? Well that's not necessarily what removing the spirit of wanting from our lives is all about. Look at the sermon on the mount. Matthew 6: Jesus is talking about how we should not worry about where the next meal is coming from. We should not worry about our clothes, because God will provide.
Do not worry, then, saying, "what will we eat? or what will we drink? or what will we wear for clothing?" for the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you NEED all these things. He gives us what we need. He doesn't give us what we want. What we want is going to hurt us. He gives us quiet waters; he gives us peaceful beds; he gives us meadows; he gives us peace in HIM. He is the peace. The Good Shepherd gives us HIMSELF. He knows what we need: we need God.
And so he concludes: "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." So there is action on our part: seeking the kingdom of God, but a lot of people don't know what that looks like. It looks like prayer. It looks like looks like it's getting down on our knees and asking God to show us the kingdom, to ask God to take away the spirit of wanting in us and show us what we need, which is God himself, his kingdom, his righteousness. That is what we need, to take away the spirit of wanting.
Us actually getting on our knees and praying for God to take away the spirit of wanting is also an act of God. It's the Holy Spirit speaking to our soul, telling our souls, telling our justified souls to tell our sinful bodies to get on its knees and to say these words, and that is seeking the kingdom.