Today I want to share some thoughts on one of the most popular verses in the Bible: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” Psalms 23:1 (ESV).
Through this simple illustration of God being our Shepherd, we see how God tenderly takes care to provide, guide, and protect us.
Interestingly enough, King David, who was once a shepherd himself, wrote this Psalm. Now in Israelite culture, to be a shepherd was considered lowly work given usually to the youngest family member, like David -- who was the youngest of his brothers and overlooked by his father. Now I find it intriguing that David, who was also warrior and then a king, chose to look back at his time as a shepherd to paint a picture of how God cares for our needs.
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Why it Matters that God Is Our Shepherd
A shepherd represents a more close and intimate relationship. Whereas a king might do what's best for the majority, a shepherd knows each one of his sheep.
In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus asks:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? - Luke 15:4 (ESV).
A shepherd has a deep concern and cares not only for all his sheep as a whole but also for each and every single one.
This is how God cares for us. He knows each of our comings and goings, he knows every hair on our heads, he knows when even one of us is lost and has made every provision to find us through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Spiritual Implications of Being Sheep of God
Now if the Lord is our Shepherd, that makes us the sheep. Prone to wander. Entirely and always reliant on our Shepherd, whether we realize it or not.
But here's what we need to understand: we can't see God as Shepherd if we don't see ourselves as sheep. When we open our eyes to how much we really need and rely on God for everything, the more we realize His provision in our lives. But if we live in the lie that we can do this on our own, we wander and drift away from our true source, looking for satisfaction in artificial places.
So when David says "I shall not want" he is acknowledging how completely reliant he is on one God as his Shepherd.
“I shall not want” because God, as a good shepherd, will ensure I have everything I need. “I shall not want,” not because of what I've done or can do but because God loves me. “I shall not want” because I know God personally as Shepherd.
What Does it Mean that “I Shall Not Want”?
Now notice that this Psalm does not say I shall not need. In Matthew 6, Jesus makes it clear that God is going to provide for all our physical needs and we shouldn't even worry about that. Psalm 23, however, says I shall not want, speaking to our desires.
It's saying not only can God take care of my physical needs, but that He can also fulfill me. He can satisfy my heart.
The word "want" in today's text means to lack, decrease, empty, or run dry.
So when David says “I shall not want” he's saying two things:
One, there are areas in my life that only God can fulfill and He will fulfill them.
Two, I've made the decision not to desire anything outside of the scope of what God wants for me.
In this shepherd-sheep relationship with God, I am satisfied.
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“I Shall Not Want” While Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
In the same Psalm where David boldly declares “I shall not want,” he also writes of walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
David didn't say, "I shall not want" in a season of abundance. He said it in a season of darkness. So what that tells me is, this satisfaction that our Shepherd provides is not conditional. We don't have to live by the statements:
If I had this then this. . . .
If this happened then I would. . . .
If they accepted me then this. . . . .
When the Lord is our Shepherd, and He is, then we lack nothing. Period.
Now it's really hard to get to that point because we constantly live in this lack mentality, to always think of what we don't have, haven't done, or haven't achieved yet. But this Psalm is telling us it doesn't matter what you've done or accomplished God is enough. When He is leading and guiding us we are not lacking. He will fulfill us in ways that we simply can't on our own. An empty cup cannot pour into itself. A sheep cannot lead itself. We cannot be truly fulfilled without God. But with Him, we shall not want.
I wonder when David said "I shall not want," was it a statement that he already accepted as true, or was it a reminder to himself not to seek satisfaction outside of God.
I wonder how much would our lives change if we didn't live from a mental lack but lived by the truth that “the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.”
We'd then be able to look at the dry and empty places in our lives and truly see how God is still providing and protecting us even when we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
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We Can Trust God Has Us Here for a Reason.
We may not have all we desire, but we trust that God is providing for us every single day
We may not receive the recognition we want, but we trust God sees us and knows exactly where we are
We may be struggling, but we know God will not place more on us than we can bear
We may be struck down, heartbroken, in despair but we trust that the God of the universe has never left our side
We don't say "I shall not want" because we have everything we desire we say it because God is fulfilling every void in our life with Himself. We may not have everything that our heart desires, but we have everything that we need in Christ. I pray that we grow more to see the Lord as the shepherd and live from the truth "I shall not want."
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Now I'd love to hear from you Beloved, please comment and let me know, how do you see the Lord as the Shepherd of our life, and how does that fulfill you? I can't wait to chat more in the comments.
Christina Patterson is a wife and stay-at-home mom with a passion to encourage women in the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. When she is not folding laundry or playing blocks you will find her with her head deep in her Bible or a commentary. She holds her Masters in Theology from Liberty University and is the founder of Beloved Women, a non-profit providing resources and community for women to truly know who they are in Christ: His Beloved. She blogs at belovedwomen.org.
This article first appeared as a blog post on iBelieve: https://www.ibelieve.com/blogs/christina-patterson/i-shall-not-want.html
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy-to-read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within the Scripture context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
"Pray Without Ceasing"
"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made"
"Faith Without Works is Dead"
"Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart"
"All Things Work Together for Good"
"Be Strong and Courageous"
"Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go"
"Love Your Neighbor as Yourself"
"Take Every Thought Captive"
"Do Not Fear"
"God is Love"
"Eye for an Eye"
"Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"
"I Can Do All Things Through Christ"
"The Lord is my Shepherd"
"Be Still and Know that I Am God"
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Originally published Wednesday, 12 January 2022.