All I Need – Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
This verse reminds me of a scene in the movie The Jerk (1979).
Steve Martin plays Navin, who is having a fight with his girlfriend because fame and fortune have changed him from the simple man he was when they first fell in love. The argument escalates to the point where Navin says, “I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone or anything.” He starts heading for the front door, and as he’s leaving, he says, “All I need is this….ashtray.” He looks around, and then grabs a paddle game. “All I need is this ashtray and this paddle game…and this remote control.” He keeps adding to the list, grabbing somewhat random objects until his arms are so full he can barely walk.
Did Navin really need all those things? Could he really survive with just those things? No and no. Like Navin, we sometimes have trouble being wise about what we need. We get focused on things we think we need. We neglect things we don’t realize we need.
In the 70’s, the world was going through a crisis of a different sort than the one we’re having now – an energy crisis. In 1973, OPEC placed an oil embargo on the U.S. The result was an oil and gas shortage across the country. And fear of running out. People would wait for hours in long lines at gas stations. I had friends who got paid to wait in those lines for people.
A lot changed from that crisis. Before that happened, gas was only $0.36 a gallon.
There were some good changes:
- That’s when manufacturers started making cars smaller and more efficient.
- Carpooling became a thing, and in fact Steve Martin carpooled to the set of The Jerk with the director Carl Reiner to save gas.
Things were changing then, just like they’re changing now.
Many of us are afraid. We’re thinking of all the possible outcomes. What if I get sick? Or someone I love gets sick? What if I can’t go to the store? What if, what if, what if. There’s a lot that can happen. Jesus said, “In this world we will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Here in Psalm 23, the psalmist says, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything that I need.” The problem is that our expectations of God are based on what we think we need instead of what God thinks we need.
With all the schools closing, there was a story this week about a mom who realized that her kids were constantly eating and if they kept it up they were going to quickly run out of food and the kids were going to be unhealthy. So she set up a basket for each of her children and each day she puts in the basket that day’s allotment of snacks. This was in addition to their breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, they could decide what and when to eat, but only what was in their basket.
The children thought they needed to be eating all the time, and they probably weren’t hungry as much as they were bored. The mom had wisdom that the children didn’t have yet. She made sure they had what they needed and in the process also taught them a bit about how to self-manage their wants.
God knows what we need. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Whatever we need for that day. God knows what we need, and God knows us better than we know ourselves. Trusting God includes trusting that God our Shepherd gives us everything we need.
In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks to this. Let’s look at what he says in the first chapter at verse 8:
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.
Part of what grabbed my attention there was that he’s talking about Asia, and we should note that in Paul’s time, Asia was the Roman province that is now Turkey. But what really stands out to me is verse 9:
We expected to die. But as a result we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God.
When we face extreme challenges, we have the opportunity to grow in our reliance on God. We’re having that opportunity now in new ways. We have the opportunity to reassess our stewardship, how we take care of our things, our relationships, our time, ourselves, and our faith, to consider what’s really important and what we have been taking for granted.
This includes paying attention to how we use the things we have so that we’re not wasteful. For example, paper towels. Now that we’re being so conscientious about handwashing, we’re using more paper towels, and I don’t want to run out of them. I need paper towels. But I realized this week that I have a whole drawer full of kitchen towels that I hardly use. I need to start using those kitchen towels to dry my dishes again, instead of using up the paper towels.
We don’t always need what we think we need. During this time when availability is changing, we can stop and consider what God’s perspective might be about our needs. There are lots of things we think we need, but ultimately, what we really need more than anything is love, and especially the love of Jesus.
One of the images on the news about COVID-19 that’s troubled me the most are the people in isolation in hospitals. Their families can’t be with them. Their only human contacts are doctors and nurses who’s faces are mostly covered. It troubles me that these people are suffering and dying alone, and I’m fearful of that for myself and for others.
Psalm 23 verse 4 says: Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Some versions call that dark valley “the shadow of death” or “death valley.” In the face of death, I will not be afraid because Jesus is walking with me. I think that it’s future tense there because we are afraid, but we’re trusting that God will help our fears to subside.
The footnote in my Life Application Bible points out that Jesus is the one we want to be walking with us through that dark valley of death, because Jesus is the only one who can walk all the way through death with us and be with us on the other side as we cross over into eternal life with him. Jesus has overcome death.
Verse 5 says: You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
I used to think that the Psalms talk about enemies too much. After all, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them (Matthew 5:44). The psalms seem to be so antagonistic toward enemies. Partly that’s because the psalms are real, uncensored expressions of human emotions.
What if our enemies aren’t people, but instead ourselves – our negative attitudes, our stubbornness, our prejudices, our sins. In the presence of all those, God prepares a feast for us. It’s a feast of love and forgiveness. Despite all our fears and failures, our emotional enemies, God offers us an abundance of grace and hope and salvation.
One of the ways I think we’re seeing that feast right now is through the use of technology to overcome the barrier of social distancing. One of the basic tenets of church is that it’s not the building, but instead the people gathering together to praise God and encourage one another, and to work together to serve the world and share God’s love. We can’t meet together in person, but God has given us lots of tools for connecting in new ways.
We’ve gotten pretty good at using phone calls, texts, and emails to connect with each other, but I’m now a big advocate for video calls. I really miss seeing faces. I know you’re out there, but I miss seeing your smiles! I’m thankful for Face time (for you iPhone people), Skype, Facebook messenger, Zoom.
Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need. One of the things we need is rest. Verse 2 says: He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
In the midst of this crisis, we have the opportunity to rest because we can’t do all the things we normally do. We need rest because that helps us gain perspective.
A painter that’s working on a painting gets up close to the painting, busily working on the fine details of the picture. But periodically, the painter has to stop painting and step back and look at the whole picture.
We get so busy and focused that we can lose perspective on what we really need. God knows we need time to rest and recharge and renew our perspective. This time of change is giving us the opportunity to step back and renew our perspective. It’s an opportunity to look to God for what we see in verse 3 – God renews our strength and guides down the right paths.
The Message version says: …you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
How might God be giving us a course correction during this time?
The last verse of Psalm 23 gives us a look at God’s perspective:
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Forever. God’s perspective is forever. We get caught up in what’s happening right now, but God sees our long-term future.
None of the things we get caught up in now will matter in the end except love – the love of God and the love we have for one another. Everything else is gravy.
Do I need paper towels to love God and love my neighbor? No. Can I use them for that? Yes, by thanking God for them, using them more carefully, and being willing to share them.
What else have we taken for granted? Is it our access to the stuff we consume? Is it our time? Is it our relationships? Is it our faith? What lessons might God have for us in this season?
If you’re like me, you probably had some moments this week when the fears about tomorrow were overwhelming. Or maybe there has been anger and frustration about what’s happening. In these times we can’t help but be real about all this. That’s ok. Jesus told us there would be times like this. But Jesus promises to walk with us through this dark valley.
And he keeps on pursuing us.
Some of our translations say “pursue.” Some say “follow.” According to one of my seminary Hebrew professors, the Message version captures the meaning of that word the best. It says that God chases after us. Every day of our lives.
Today let’s stop running and give thanks to God for everything.
 It was predicted before it happened! https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/05/what-america-looked-like-the-1970s-gas-crisis/257837/
 NLT Life Application Bible, Large Print Edition (Tyndale), pg. 1142
 Rabbi Elliott Dorff, “Keep Shabbos or Else!” https://www.accidentaltalmudist.org/table-for-five/2020/03/18/keep-shabbos-or-else-vayakhel/