Friday, April 13, 2007

Psalm 23 versus Lust

The Lord Is My Shepherd, So Why Do I Want?

Perhaps the three most well known and popular Scriptural passages are Psalm 23, John 3:16, and the Our Father (Matthew 6 & Luke 11). Perhaps this is due to the frequency of their use in the liturgical heritage. Perhaps it is because of the words of comfort. Perhaps it is because of the common connection between them.

While the Scriptures speak as a whole and share one common focus as the Holy Spirit has decreed, these three are especially clear in their common focus. That focus is that the Lord is our God and Father and Savior, who looks upon us from His eternal omnipotence and omniscience with love and mercy and tenderness. These passages tell us that God truly loves us in a personal way, with a purity that we can only attempt to imagine. These Scriptures tell us that we are dependent upon God for everything and that He stands ready to supply our every need, and does so even before we ask. These Scriptures assure us that we have no reason for lustful thoughts, that trusting in the goodness of the Lord our God we have no wants because He supplies our every need.

Yet in our daily lives we find that we do want. Our hearts continually lust after all sorts of things, creating within us lusts of the most compelling urgency. Then we worry. Then we look not only to what we think that we must have in order to find happiness and satisfaction for ourselves, but we also begin to look at what our neighbors have. Then we become jealous and envious. Then we wish to have their belongings. If we cannot get what they have we resent them. This can grow to such proportions that it completely consumes us so that no sense of happiness remains and eventually even our own identity becomes blurred or eradicated.

Why does this happen? Why do we, who profess to trust in the Lord, have wants?

The answer is really quite obvious! Isn’t it?

We really don’t trust in the Lord as our Shepherd. We don’t really believe Him to be our good and gracious Father who always has our best interests in mind. We really don’t believe that what He has declared to be our sufficiency is truly sufficient. We say, "I trust You, Lord. I believe Your Word. I love You, Lord. I’ll follow You wherever You lead me. I’ll be faithful until death." Then we turn around and seek to do better for ourselves than what He has ordained. We read the Scriptures and interpret them according to the times or the circumstances. We pray and pray, but never really listen for the answers that God has already given.

Then we cry out, Lord, why don’t You help me? Lord, why don’t you answer me?" Then we continue onward, down the same path that we have chosen for ourselves, seeking to do for ourselves by the same ways that have failed from the day that Adam chose to stand in his own wisdom and strength.

This is why the Lord continues to work to effect repentance in us. This is why the Holy Spirit never stops calling to us. This is why Baptism was ordained for us and the Holy Supper. By these God calls us to Himself where once again He supplies our every want. What we strive for and cannot find, He freely supplies without limit. This is what Psalm 23, John 3:16, and the Our Father teach us.

But these blessed Scriptures do not have the power to supply us what we need. They are only the record of God’s words. We cannot use these to take for ourselves what can only be received by grace through faith. This is why we continue to want, no matter how many times we pray the Our Father and no matter how many times we cry out to Lord as our Shepherd and no matter how hard we try to believe the promise of everlasting life that is in Christ Jesus.

If we are to be free of wants, the Lord must be our Shepherd. We cannot drive ourselves to Him. He must come to us and bring us back to the good pasture of His mercy. This is why He comes to us through humble means. He comes to us through water and bread and wine so that we may behold the reality of repentance being His work. He turns us around so that we see Him and His faithfulness. He uses simple and common things to accomplish complicated and uncommon things. As we return to the waters we observe that faith is renewed even as our hearts have been turned by this from our sinfulness to His grace. As we come forward to eat the bread and drink the wine, again we have been turned from our worldly thoughts to things that cannot be grasped except by the faith that the Holy Spirit gives. Therefore even with only a morsel of the bread and a sip of the wine our souls are refreshed in connection with the fullness of the deity dwelling in the body and blood of Christ, which He promises are given with the bread and the wine. Thus even as Elijah ate and drank twice from the hand of the angel of the Lord and then journeyed forty days and nights to the mount of God at Horeb (1 Kings 19), so also we are refreshed for all things by what is supplied through meat and drink supplied at the fount and at the altar.

It is true, the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want. He has supplied all that we need for body and soul. Shall we believe it or shall we continue to seek what He has already supplied us in full measure? Why do we want? Because we do not believe that the Lord is true to His Word. We want because what He has given us we do not count as sufficient, and so what we already have in rich measure we cast aside and keep searching.

Yet the Lord continues to be our Shepherd. Even though we resist Him and fight against Him, He does not stop coming to us in Word and Sacrament. He never ceases to call out to us and to bring us back to the safety of His presence. How can we imagine that this is not enough?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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