Introduction: Life Without Lack
From Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 available February 27, 2018.
We have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because the Lord is my shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . . . I will fear no evil; For You are with me.
I am glad you are reading this book. Read it as if we were having a personal conversation—just you and me talking together, with the Lord between us. I hope you will find in these pages a warm invitation into the incomparably rich and fulfilling life that Jesus makes possible.
One of our greatest needs today is for people to really see and really believe the things they already profess to see and believe. Knowing about things—knowing what they are, being able to identify them and say them—does not mean we actually believe them. When we truly believe what we profess, we are set to act as if it were true. Acting as if things are true means, in turn, that we live as if they were so.
The words of the Twenty-Third Psalm are among those things that people profess to believe. Many can recite the Twenty-Third Psalm from memory, including people who don’t believe much of anything about God. Some have learned the psalm purely as poetic literature. But far too few have experienced in their own lives the vivid reality described by the psalmist. Unfortunately, “The Lord is my Shepherd” is a sentiment carved on tombstones more often than a reality written in lives.1
The title of this book—Life Without Lack—reflects the very first verse of the psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” It describes the life we all desire—a life in which we want for nothing, or better yet, lack nothing. The psalmist is portraying a life we were meant to enjoy, one that is imminently available to us. But do you believe this verse is actually true? Few people act as if it were.
This book is a series of in-depth meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm intended to help you really see it, really believe it, and to live as if it were true. To gain the most from your reading, I encourage you to meditatively read Psalm 23 for ten minutes or so before you read each chapter. This will help renew your mind by giving the Holy Spirit opportunities to teach you about what it means for the Lord to be your Shepherd.
Memorization is an essential element of a life without lack. It is a primary way we fill our minds with the Word of God and have our thoughts formed by God’s thoughts. Memorizing Scripture is even more important than a daily quiet time, for as we fill our minds with great passages and have them readily available for our meditation, “quiet time” takes over the entirety of our lives. Memorization enables us to keep God and his truth constantly before our minds, allowing his Word and wisdom to help us.
Memorizing this beautiful psalm will strengthen your concentration on the Good Shepherd by eliminating the distraction of trying to remember the words as you meditate. So, if you have not already done so, please make sure you have the Twenty-Third Psalm memorized.2
I hope you will learn to see God in a new way in the pages that follow. We will begin by focusing on the glorious, eternal, all-sufficient, omnipotent Creator of the universe whose greatness surpasses anything we could imagine. Unlimited in resources, just as he is unlimited in love, he is the Good Shepherd who generously provides for our every need.
We will look at why he created humankind, why he desires to be in relationship with us, and how Satan attempts to interfere with God’s good plan for human history. Then we will examine three conditions that must be present in our own lives if we are to experience the fullness of the wisdom, power, and love of God: faith, death to self, and agape love.
The final chapter of the book provides an exercise in how to live one day with Jesus so that every day can be a grace-infused masterpiece. This is where we put into practice the words from Psalm 23 that we believe are true:
The Lord is my shepherd.
In other words, I’m in the care of someone else. I’m not the one in charge. I’ve taken my kingdom and surrendered it to the kingdom of God. I am living the with-God life. The Lord is my shepherd. And what follows from that?
I shall not want.
That’s the natural result. I shall not lack anything. That’s what Jesus teaches: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and everything else will be added (Matt. 6:33).
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
What kind of a sheep lies down in a green pasture? A sheep that has eaten its fill. If a sheep is in a green pasture and she’s not full, she’ll be eating, not lying down.
He leads me beside the still waters.
A sheep that is being led beside still water is a sheep that is not thirsty. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13–14).
He restores my soul.
The broken depths of my soul are healed and reintegrated in a life in union with God: the eternal kind of life.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
The effect of the restoration of my soul is that I walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf as a natural expression of my renewed inner nature. As I walk these paths, my trust in the Shepherd runs so deep that I can declare:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
A life without lack is one that carries no fear of evil. Our confidence in God soars far above wants and fears. Would you like to have a life without fear, a life of soaring faith? It seems like Jesus was constantly saying to his friends, “Fear not! Fear not!” Imagine what that would be like. No fear of life, aging or death, disease or hunger, no fear of any person or creature, not even the loss of all your possessions. You can live without fear even in the midst of a world dominated by fear.
I could easily have chosen “fear no evil” as this book’s theme, because we are talking about a life from which fear is eliminated. While the psalmist clearly knows about life’s dangers, he can still say, “I will fear no evil.” Why? Please read his answer out loud:
For You are with me.
The central truth of this book is that the complete sufficiency of the life without lack is based upon the presence of God, and he is most clearly and fully present to us in Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.3
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
I know from experience that the rod and staff represent the Shepherd’s strength and protective care. In this safe place where I have no fear, I am at liberty to enjoy the overwhelming generosity of my Shepherd.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Since I love my enemies,4 I would not feast upon a delicious meal in their presence and let them stand there hungry. The abundance of God’s provision and safety in my life is so great, I would invite them to enjoy what God has prepared for me.
You anoint my head with oil.
Here you might think in terms of hot showers and warm fluffy towels, things that make us feel clean, comfortable, and special, and how God makes that possible. He is not only interested in my having something wonderful to eat, but also in blessing me with a life that is full and free and powerful in him—including clothing, comfortable furnishings, joyful experiences, and deep relationships. So much so that the abundance of God’s provision rings out from the psalmist’s pen:
My cup is full!
Is that what it says? No. “My cup runs over.” I have more than my cup will hold. So much that I can be as generous as my Shepherd without fear of ever running out. So much so that I am convinced:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This is a description of the eternal life available to us now in the kingdom of the heavens; the abundant with-God life that comes from following the Shepherd, where we dwell and abide with God in the fullness of his life—a life in which all the promises of Christ’s gospel are realized. Because of this we have no reason to be anxious (Phil. 4:6–7); the world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.
Many other passages in Scripture show this divine abundance and would be valuable to memorize,5 including two beautiful passages from the Old Testament that I’d like you to read with me. The first was written by the prophet Habakkuk, a man who had just seen his country completely devastated by war. Imagine what that would be like for you as someone who trusts in God. How could God allow this to happen? Surveying the destruction, all you see is famine, disease, and death.
Nevertheless, a vision of God’s restorative power and love overcomes your grief, and you exclaim:
When I heard, my body trembled;
My lips quivered at the voice;
Rottenness entered my bones;
And I trembled in myself,
That I might rest in the day of trouble.
When he comes up to the people,
He will invade them with his troops.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet
I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
These are the words of someone who trusts in God’s abounding goodness and power in conditions of complete desolation! I believe that one of the reasons we resist fully surrendering our lives to God is the fear that he might allow desolation in our lives. This book will help if you are struggling with doubts about the plentiful provisions of God in circumstances that are anything but abundant. A life without lack is a life in which one is completely satisfied and sustained, no matter what happens. No matter what happens! It’s not merely a matter of gritting your teeth and hanging on. It is a matter of real provisions directly from God to you.
The second passage worth memorizing is found in Psalm 103, an exuberant celebration of God’s sufficiency and abundant goodness:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness
and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The psalm continues with more of the extravagant mercies of God, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Such merciful provision for his people is simply an expression of God’s unchanging goodness, as true today as it has ever been, and as available.
Before we begin chapter 1, remember to recite the Twenty-Third Psalm, out loud if possible, and take your time. Relax in this moment alone with God, say a verse or two, and then pause to allow God to fill your thoughts. If you do this prayerfully as you work your way through the book, I am certain that you will move increasingly into the experience of a life without lack.
1. See Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 105. Return to text.
3. Matthew 1:22–23; see Isaiah 7:14. Editor’s Note: This idea of the essential relationship between our experience of sufficiency and living in the presence of God developed into the concept of the “with-God life” that is a central emphasis in the Renovaré Movement and the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005). Return to text.